1927 Specimen Striking Buffalo Nickel, SP65
1927 5C SP65 NGC. CAC. At the FUN show in January 1989, Jim
Halperin purchased three unusual 1927 nickels. The special nature
of these coins was unknown and unsuspected to the numismatic
community. When I saw them, my initial reaction was one of
puzzlement. Why would the Mint produce specimen nickels in 1927?
Examination showed that there was definitely something different
about them. But what exactly? Over the next few months numismatic
heavyweights rendered opinions, and ultimately each coin was sold
to dealers who understood the special nature of the pieces.
One of Only Six Pieces Known
Reverse Struck From the Matte Proof Die
John Albanese, president of NGC, issued this statement to Coin World:
"I could have sworn they were Proof." Each coin has a wire rim, but "it's terribly hard to call them a Proof without any backup." ... We couldn't call them Uncirculated or a Proof. They are definitely something special. We felt classifying them as Specimen was the proper thing to do."
Jim Halperin had acquired the three original coins from an unspecified source and submitted them to NGC. (Three other coins entered the market a few months later.) His opinion was, "It [two of the coins] reminded me of the Satin Finish Proofs minted in 1936, but to see texture like that on a 1927 mintage was unbelievable! It didn't seem possible."
The first clue about a possible explanation of the texture of the coins' surfaces came from Atlanta dealer, Jeff Notrica. He noticed the reverse die that was used was the same one used to strike the reverses on matte proof nickels from 1913 to 1916. That was the conclusion Walter Breen came to as well, noting, "Surfaces are satin finished and untampered. ... All features point to at least two perfectly aligned blows from the dies, as normal in Proofs but not business strikes. Surfaces are like those of 'Roman finish' 1909-10 gold Proofs, and certain Proof commemoratives."
The real breakthrough occurred when the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint was examined. The report dated 1928 covers the calendar year 1927. The first sentence under Additions and Improvements on page 7 states: "At the Philadelphia Mint a chromium plating plant has been installed and is being used for greatly improving the wearing qualities of dies, coin collars, machinery parts, and models." A phone call to the Mint's George Hunter told what the characteristics were of coins struck from chromium-plated dies. Hunter stressed the subtlety of the characteristics, usually only apparent with 10x-50x magnification. Such coins will exhibit microcracking from the chromium plating. He also called it a "crazing pattern" and said it resembled a "dry river-bed look."
Microcracking is most evident when the coin is tilted and the area is examined between the light/dark separation near the rims. The Mint began using chrome-plated dies for proofs in 1972. Apparently the chromium plating plant established in 1927 had been abandoned by 1972, and dies had to be sent to Canada for plating as the U.S. Mint lacked such a facility. On this particular coin, evidence of microcracking can most easily be seen behind the back leg of the bison and between the back two legs. Evidence is almost nonexistent on the obverse, and is only faintly visible between the field and rim.
Only the reverse is struck from a confirmed proof die on these coins. Technically, that would make these 1927 nickels "one-sided proofs," an awkward term at best. Probably the best way to classify them is as experimental pieces. It has long been our belief that these pieces should be listed alongside patterns, dies trial strikings, and other experimental strikes.
These specimen 1927 nickels most likely came from the estate of John Sinnock, chief engraver and a well-known coin collector. Sinnock's estate contained several unusual pieces, including proof commemorative halves. Most of his estate was sold at the 1962 joint ANA/CNA, Kelly/Charlton auction. Lot 352 of that auction contained three 1927 nickels along with three 1930 and four 1934 nickels.
To our knowledge, only one of the three coins has traded hands. It was one of the two pieces Larry Whitlow owned and is identifiable by a spot below the 1 in the date. This particular piece is identifiable by three faint obverse spots: one in the field out from the Indian's upper lip, one in the field directly below the chin, and another in the left field just above the shoulder. As one would expect, the surfaces are satiny. The reverse is exceptionally strong since it was struck from the 1913-1916 proof die, and the obverse is equally well brought up. Faint shades of lilac and golden-brown can be seen on each side, but most of the underlying brightness is still readily visible.
Ex: Heritage via purchase by Jim Halperin at the 1989 FUN Show; Larry Whitlow; prominent Midwest collector; the present dealer-consignor.
From The Teton Ranch Collection. (NGC ID# 278W, PCGS# 3987)
View all of [The Teton Ranch Collection ]
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