The Buffalo Nickel series, running from 1913 through 1938 and designed by James Earle Fraser, yields many rare and alluring varieties. These include rare overdates, scarce doubled dies, and even missing anatomy on the bison that appears on the reverse of the coin. And then there is the fascinating 1938-D D Over S Buffalo Nickel, minted during the last year of production for series.
The 1938-D D Over S variety is one that, on the surface, may prove mystifying. After all, no Buffalo Nickels were minted at the San Francisco Mint in 1938, so how could the 1938-D D Over S overmintmark variety have occurred? Surely, it must have been intentional, right? And intentional it was. The U.S. Mint had originally appropriated Buffalo Nickel dies for San Francisco, but this decision was later recalled. However, with preparations already underway to begin production of the Jefferson Nickel that debuted later in 1938, the powers that be at the United States Mint deemed it more economical to salvage the Buffalo Nickel dies intended for San Francisco. They did so by repunching a “D” mintmark into the “S”-mint reverse dies and then shipped them to Denver for use on the production line.
The variety was first discovered by collectors C.G. Langworthy and Robert Kerr and reported in the September 14, 1962 edition of Coin World. Over the years, subsequent research of this variety as well as further findings have demonstrated that three different reverse dies struck the D Over S variety. The overmintmark was reproduced quite robustly by one of the dies, while the other two dies created far less obvious impressions. Examples showing the strongest evidence of the overmintmark feature a tripling of the “D” mintmark over the “S.”
PCGS estimates that a total of about 20,000 of the 1938-D nickels carry this overmintmark variety, with fewer than half of those known in uncirculated grades. While there are at several distinct variations on the 1938-D D Over S variety, only those exhibiting the strong repunched mintmark – seen as a clear tripling of the “D” – carry any significant premium. However, the variety isn’t categorically rare, even in mid-range Gem Mint State grades. In fact, a typical uncirculated specimen exhibits decent luster and good overall eye appeal. This is owed in part to large quantities of the 1938-D Buffalo Nickel being saved in roll quantities since their release, which is perhaps no surprise given the issue’s relatively low mintage of 7,020,000 pieces and the fact that collectors knew it represented the last year of production for this popular, beloved type.
PCGS recognizes the 1938-D D Over S OMM-1 and OMM-2 specimens as a generic “D Over S” variety, a designation reserved for those pieces representing the strongest examples of the overmintmark variety. Such specimens fetch the highest premiums and enjoy the widest appeal on the marketplace, particularly with Buffalo Nickel aficionados and PCGS Set Registry members. So-called under-variety specimens exhibiting signs of repunching but not to the magnitude of the generic 1938-D D Over S variety are awarded designations of OMM-1, OMM-2, OMM-3, or OMM-4.
A typical circulated example can be bought for right around $25 in XF40, while springing just 10 bucks more can buy a nicer AU55. For about $50 one can buy a PCGS MS60 or PCGS MS61. Those who want a nicer specimen still could spend $150 for a PCGS MS65 or up the ante to $220 to obtain a PCGS MS66. The highest grade for which any regular marketplace trades are regularly notched occurs with the PCGS MS67 specimens, numbering fewer than 300 specimens and commanding close to $500 a pop. Meanwhile, the finest-graded example is a PCGS MS68, estimated to have a value of $25,000.
- Breen, Walter. Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. And Colonial Coins. Doubleday, 1988.
- Fivaz, Bill and J.T. Stanton. Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins Volume I. Whitman Publishing, 2009.
- “Item of the Week: Buffalo Nickel Error an Affordable Option.” Numismatic News. March 17, 2020.