1936 Buffalo Nickel: How to Determine Grade and Value

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Buffalo Nickel Overview

Most commonly referred to as the Buffalo Nickel by collectors and the general public, the Indian Head Nickel was minted from 1913 till 1938. We’ll learn more about these coins, especially the 1936 Buffalo Nickel.

The iconic Indian Head on the obverse and American Bison on the reverse were regarded as one of the most beautiful coins in circulation at the time. The designer of the obverse and reverse of the Buffalo Nickel was sculptor James Earle Fraser.

Before being commissioned to make the design for the Buffalo Nickel, Fraser was an assistant to the famous engraver, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This association led to the US mint selecting Fraser’s preliminary designs to be used to create America’s next nickel.

Fraser’s final design featured a bust of a Native American wearing a traditional headdress facing right, with the word “LIBERTY” on the obverse.

On the reverse is a depiction of the American Bison standing on a hill, with the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” above and “FIVE CENTS” below. After realizing that the hill the bison was standing on wore away quickly in circulation, Fraser changed the design midway through 1913, removing the hill.

Each Buffalo Nickel is composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel and has a weight of 5.00 grams. The diameter of the coin is 21.2mm and it does not have reeding on the edges like modern day dimes or quarters.

History of the 1936 Buffalo Nickel

The year 1936 was a very big year for the Buffalo Nickel. Almost 119 million examples were minted, making the 1936 Buffalo Nickel the most minted year in the series. All 119 million pieces were minted at the US mint in Philadelphia.

One problem that was prevalent across the entire series was the short life span in circulation. This was due to the high-design details as well as the coins’ heavy and wide use in circulation. The 1936 Buffalo nickel is no exception to this problem, which leads to most examples having average to below-average condition.

This does not mean that all coins suffered the fate of being worn away. There are still a few 1936 Buffalo Nickels that are still in Uncirculated condition. Most of these coins were kept at banks or businesses and never released into circulation. These high-grade examples of the 1936 Buffalo Nickels are still cheaper than high-grade examples from the mid to early 1920s.

1936 Buffalo Nickel

Image Source Flickr user Tom Woodward

Grading 1936 and Other Buffalo Nickels

Knowing what grade to assign to your 1936 Buffalo Nickel will help you in determining its value. Since there is a wide range of conditions that 1936 Buffalo Nickels can be found in, there are many different grades that can be assigned.

Here are some simple rules to help you grade your 1936 Buffalo Nickel:

  • Good 4 - Date is readable, but some numbers may be very light or worn away. Most details are worn away on the obverse and reverse, including the Bison’s tail. Rims are completely worn away.

  • Fine 12 - Similar to good but has a general increase in the number of details. Rims are mainly intact and the date is full. Half of the bison’s tail can be seen.

  • Extra Fine 45 - A coin that was not in circulation for a long time. Has almost full detail and a good amount of luster present. Bison’s tail is full but may have a small amount of wear.

  • Uncirculated 60 - Shows no signs of circulation and all details on the obverse and reverse are sharp. Full mint luster is still present. Bison’s tail is full and sharp with no wear present.

  • Gem Uncirculated 63 - Greater mint luster than that of the Uncirculated 60 grade. Little to no contact marks on the Indian’s cheek from the minting process. All other details are incredibly sharp.

Because of the problems with wear, most 1936 Buffalo Nickels will be in the range of Fine 12 and Good 4. Although rare, it is possible to find 1936 Buffalo Nickels in uncirculated condition. Any coins in uncirculated condition should be taken to a coin dealer for a second opinion and to make sure it has not been cleaned at any time.

Since there are more surviving 1936 Buffalo Nickels in Uncirculated condition than other years in the series, it is not worth sending them to third party graders unless they are in Gem Uncirculated 63 condition.

1936 Buffalo Nickel Value

Like most coins that were minted in mass amounts, the 1936 Buffalo Nickel holds only a small premium in conditions less than Uncirculated. This is due to most coins being worn easily from circulation.

In Good 4 condition, 1936 Buffalo Nickels are worth $0.50 and in Fine 12, approximately $1.00. Most examples from 1936 will fall into either of these two categories.

Graded Uncirculated examples are worth much more than those in average grades. For example, a PCGS graded MS-60 1936 Buffalo Nickel is worth $17. This price jumps considerably if a coin is graded in MS-63 condition, when the price becomes $40.

Currently the 1936 Buffalo Nickel is not worth a large sum, however, the prices of these coins have been continually growing over the years. The increase is due to the coins’ growing popularity with collectors and the slow increase in scarcity. Because of these factors, it may be worth holding onto your 1936 Buffalo Nickel, even if it isn’t in a high grade.

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