August 15, 2008
The 3-Legged Buffalo nickel is definitely a coin variety with the potential of capturing the attention and aspirations of many collectors.
I still remember my childhood stories of the elusive 3-Legged Buffalo nickel. I can still envision my grandfather wearing his dark green camouflage hat with his maroon and gray Pendleton while drinking a steaming cup of hot coffee. There he was, swinging in his rocking chair telling my brother, sister and me how he once owned the rare and elusive 3-Legged Buffalo nickel worth tens of thousands of dollars.
However, like most tall tales, he went on to say he misplaced the coin and for years he searched with hopes that it would some day reappear. Today, I realize it must have just been another story of a regular Buffalo nickel, as most stories usually turn out this way. But since I was a child at the time, you can probably understand why I still went through my piggy bank (made from a tin cookie jar by cutting a coin slot on the lid with a kitchen knife). I always hoped to someday fill that piggy bank with a large sum of money instead of loose change by finding a 3-Legged Buffalo nickel. But of course, that never did occur.
The 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel was created by a clashing of the dies without a blank planchet between the obverse and reverse dies. According to Walter Breen, a fairly inexperienced mint employee by the name of Mr. Young was under pressure to produce coins. Somehow, the coin feeder which sends blank planchets to the coin press became stuck and failed to feed any blank planchets to the press. As a result, the two dies clashed against each other without a planchet being present in between both dies, and consequently the dies received impressions from one another.
After the dies clashed, Mr. Young used an emery stick to try and polish off the clashing evidence instead of switching the dies, which would have been the more appropriate procedure. Due to the over-polishing of the dies, Mr. Young accidentally removed the details of the bison's front right leg from the reverse die. Therefore, any coins struck from this die will be missing one of the bison's legs on the reverse design – this is how the 3-Legged Buffalo nickel came into existence.
Today, the 3-Legged Buffalo nickel is an extremely well-recognized variety by collectors and many non-collectors. Since this variety commands a strong premium, many counterfeiters have tried to alter the third leg on the bison on regular 1937-D nickels to give it the appearance of a genuine and quite expensive 3-Legged Buffalo nickel. Therefore, authentication is strongly recommended for this variety as PCGS graders are well aware of the distinctions between altered and genuine 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickels. Plus, once the coin is in a PCGS holder, PCGS will guarantee the coin's authenticity and the grade we assign the coin.
Some of the characteristics which PCGS graders look for on a genuine 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel are on one of the rear legs of the bison. An authentic 3-Legged Buffalo nickel will have the rear right leg displaying very weak details. The motto "E Pluribus Unum" is further away from the bison as opposed to a regular 1937-D Buffalo nickel, where the letters "E" and "U" of "E Pluribus Unum" touch the bison's back. The portion where the bison's leg is missing should also be clear of any marks or possible alterations with the intent to remove the bison's leg. These are just some of the characteristics PCGS graders look for to determine the authenticity of a 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel. But to be certain your coin is genuine, coin authentication is strongly recommended as different and more sophisticated altering methods are always being used.
Now that decades have passed by, I still cherish my grandfather's stories and am glad I can frequently resurrect them once again. So, any time a 3-Legged Buffalo nickel makes an appearance, it brings back heart-warming memories for me personally. I am certain we all probably have our own coin which in some way takes us back to the past. If you don't have a special coin which brings back memories for you, it is never too late to have a significant coin with you in a special moment. Hopefully, it can someday assist you in reliving those special moments as the 3-Legged Buffalo nickel does for me.