How to grade Buffalo or Indian Head Nickels?

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  • Good has the entire design well worn with little detail remaining. LIBERTY is weak and merged with the rim. The buffalo is flat but well outlined. The legend is weak but readable.
  • Very Good shows the outline of the hair at the temple and near the cheekbone. LIBERTY merges with the rim. The date is clear. Some detail will show in the buffalo’s head. The horn is worn flat but partially visible. The lettering is all clear.
  • Fine has clear and bold design. ¾ of the details show in the hair and braid. Major details are visible on the buffalo’s back. The horn and tail are smooth but ¾ visible.
  • Very Fine has all major features sharp. The hair shows nearly full details. Feathers and braids are worn but sharp. The buffalo has wear on the leg and hip. The tail shows plainly and the horn is worn but full.
  • Extremely Fine has very light wear on only the highest points. There will be slight wear on the hair above the braid with a trace of wear on the temple and hair near the cheekbone. The buffalo will show light wear on the high points of the hip and thigh.
  • About Uncirculated coins have only a trace of wear on the cheek. The buffalo will show a trace of wear on the hip.The horn and tip of the tail are sharp and complete.
  • Uncirculated coins have no trace of wear but may have blemishes. The surface may be dull or spotted and lack full mint luster.

Due to the amount of detail on the coin, several areas must be considered when grading.

On the obverse, check for wear on the hair above the braid, check for wear on the temple and hair near the cheekbone. Also check the feathers for wear. The date should be clear on Very Good coins and better.

On the reverse, the buffalo will show light wear on the high points of the hip and thigh. The horn and tip of the tail should also be checked for wear.

Many buffalo nickels are often weakly struck and lack details even on uncirculated coins. The following dates are unevenly struck with weak spots in the details: 1913-S type I and II, 1917-D, 1917-S, 1918-D, 1918-S, 1919-S, 1920-D, 1920-S, 1921-S, 1923-S, 1924-D, 1924-S, 1925-D, 1925-S, 1926-D, 1926-S, 1927-D, 1927-S, 1928-D, 1928-S, 19298-D, 1931-S, 1934-D and 1935-D. The 1913 through 916 matte proof coins are sometimes spotted or stained.

Indian Head Nickel Obverse – BU

This MS64 T1 has full detail in the hair, feathers and braid. There is no trace of wear on the cheekbone or temple. The hair above the braid and hair near the cheekbone show no trace of wear.

Indian Head Nickel Obverse – Extra Fine

Extremely Fine coins have very light wear on only the highest points. Notice the wear on the hair above the braid. The braid itself also shows slight wear.  There is a trace of wear on the temple and hair near the cheekbone. The feathers show a slight loss of detail.

Indian Head Nickel Reverse – BU

There are no traces of wear on the tip of the tail or the hip. The horn is complete and the hair has full detail. The upper front leg has full detail.

Indian Head Nickel  Reverse – Extra Fine

The buffalo shows light wear on the high points of the hip and thigh. The horn and tip of the tail are sharp and nearly complete. There is a slight loss of detail in the hair on the head and shoulder.

1937D 3-Legged Buffalo

The famous 3 legged Buffalo Nickel. This was probably a result of over polishing the die.

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