1937-D THREE LEGGED BUFFALO – HOW’D THAT BUFFALO LOSE A LEG?
The 1937-D Three Legged buffalo nickel is an interesting and elusive rarity and is arguably, one of the most intriguing U.S. coins of the 20th Century.
Did you know: The model for the Buffalo Nickel was rumored to be a handsome devil of a buffalo named Black Diamond who resided in New York’s Central Park zoo.
WHAT KID DOESN’T WANT TO FIND ONE IN A JUNK BOX?
I remember when I was a child, my mother would take me and a few of my friends to the local coin shop and drop us off for an hour. The shop owner must have rolled his eyes when he saw us coming, knowing full well that the famed Buffalo nickel would not be in there because he already looked himself, but the ignorance of youth can be bliss. He always had a shoe box with cheap buffalo nickels out on the counter, all in old 2×2 cardboard holders. I was convinced there had to be something good in there, and spent time searching in vain for the three-legged buffalo.
HOW DID THAT BUFFALO LOSE HIS LEG ANYWAY?
By most accounts it was literally sanded off the die (ouch!) with an emery board to fix a “Clashed Die”. For the record, A clashed die is when the 2 coin dies smash together without a blank between them. (Again, Ouch!!) They are usually damaged by this, sometimes destroyed. In the case of the three-legged Buffalo, the Denver Mint error occurred when an inexperienced employee attempted to remove the clash marks. He succeeded but his zealous polishing went a bit too far and the buffalo became a tripod.
CAN YOU REALLY FIND ONE?
Ok, I admit, finding one that a dealer hasn’t already identified is difficult. But more likely, You may be offered one that isn’t certified and you need to be able to tell the difference. The Three Legged buffalo has some cool diagnostics that can help you tell a genuine piece from a fake. Like everything else, any time a coin is rare and valuable someone is out there trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Buyer Beware!
This can be helpful as you rummage through your local flea markets cheap buffalo nickel box. Bring the antibacterial cleanser with you because it can get pretty funky. Although my childhood coin shop is no longer there, there are plenty of flea markets and small shops with a similar box of cheap coins on the counter. If you are lucky enough to come across one of these nickels, use your best poker face when buying it. Examples in Very Fine condition sell for about $700.00 or so, An MS62 with nice luster recently sold for about $2,000.00
A Superb Gem MS67 Sold earlier this year for over $85,000.00!
Of course if you really need one for you collection, just buy a nice certified example but, if you feel like hunting….
To authenticate the 1937-D Three Legged Buffalo you must first, and most importantly, of course, count the legs. The front right leg will be missing above the hoof, but the hoof remains in place. On the obverse, the back of the Indians neck is always rough and pock marked looking, like a bad case of neck acne. This is on the die and is seen on all examples. Once you’ve seen a few, it’s easy to spot. There is also a raised series of dots below the bison’s belly that looks like he’s relieving himself. The area is raised and is also seen on all examples. This buffalo has some serious medical issues! The letters “P” and “U” of E. Pluribus Unum do not touch the buffalo on the reverse. And the rear right leg is always weak. This is one of the easiest ways to spot a fraudulent Buffalo from a real one. A savvy shopper will know what to look for and make it harder for counterfeit copies to circulate.
I have found that many dealers tend to undergrade the 1937-D Three Legged Buffalo coin especially in AU55-MS62 range. They can be a little dull and rough looking in comparison to other later date buffalo’s in this grade range. When buying a higher grade certified one, wait for and example with above average luster. VG-XF examples tend to be marked up a bit, so you can wait for one with good surfaces.
Feel free to contact me if you want to add this popular coin to your collection. – Vic
PS: What did the Mama Buffalo say to her son when he left for college?