Stunning 1926-S Buffalo Nickel, MS66
1926-S 5C MS66 NGC. Long celebrated as the regular-issue key
to the series, the 1926-S Buffalo nickel boasts a series-low
mintage of only 970,000 pieces. The issue is particularly elusive
in Uncirculated grades, with David Lange reporting "Mint state
example are very scarce, gems nearly unknown."
Tied for Finest Certified
The coin offered here is a strong candidate for finest known honors, as it is tied with just two other specimens certified at the Premium Gem level by NGC, with none finer; PCGS has yet to grade any coin in this exalted numeric grade (6/10). The high technical grade of this piece is fully matched by the intangible qualities that constitute eye appeal, making the present coin one of the most memorable examples of its type.
The general public was unexcited about the 1926-S nickel at its time of issue, and the great majority of the small mintage was released into circulation. Few specimens were saved at the time, and collectors attached little importance to the issue until the mid-1930s. The situation would change dramatically in the following decade, but by then the supply of Mint State specimens had dwindled to almost nothing.
Collecting minor coinage was a popular pastime during the Depression era, which saw the advent of cardboard coin folders with printed mintage statistics and the first regularly issued numismatic price guides. When this kind of information became available, collectors soon realized the scarcity of the 1926-S. The 1936 edition of Wayte Raymond's Standard Catalog of United States Coins & Currency listed a price of $0.75 for the issue, not bad in those Depression years for a nickel only 10 years old at the time. The coin's popularity and price grew exponentially over the years, and the issue began to appear regularly in auction catalogs by the 1940s.
A landmark appearance occurred in the famous Dunham Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1941), lot 1681. Mehl's lot description simply stated, "1926 San Francisco Mint. Uncirculated. Rare. Listed at $10." The lot realized $12.25, an increase of 245 times its face value for a 15-year-old coin. When the first Guide Book of United States Coins was published in 1946, the 1926-S Buffalo nickel had a listed price of $35 in Uncirculated condition. The upward trend continues unabated today, with an MS66 NGC specimen listed as lot 420 in our 2010 June Long Signature Auction realizing $250,000.
The San Francisco Mint seems to have suffered many quality control problems during the production of the 1926-S Buffalo nickels. In A Guide Book of Buffalo and Jefferson Nickels, Q. David Bowers outlined some of the issues that plague the average Mint State example of this date:
"Among Mint State 1926-S nickels, many are dull, stained, artificially toned, or otherwise unsatisfactory--including more than a few in certified holders. The striking is unremarkable, the result of inaccurate die spacing and, perhaps, keeping dies in the press too long. The net result is that neither I, nor any contributor to this work, have seen a Full Details coin. Even a Sharp Details coin with rich luster would be a numismatic prize."
Keeping Bowers' comments in mind when appraising the present coin, it becomes apparent that this piece is an extraordinary treasure. The strike is much stronger than usually seen, with only slight softness on the bison's head and the Indian's hair. The surfaces are bright and lustrous, with an overlay of light gray, lilac, and rose patina. Overall visual appeal is fantastic, and the well-preserved surfaces are virtually mark-free. Clearly, the coin offered here is one of the finest survivors of this important issue. The chance to acquire another example in a similar state of preservation may not occur for years.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 22S7, PCGS# 3959)
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