Specimen 1927 Buffalo Nickel, SP65
    Probably Struck From Chromium-Plated Dies
    One of Only Three Pieces Known

    1927 Special Strike 5C SP65 PCGS. Twenty years ago, I closely examined one of the most interesting discoveries that has ever crossed my desk. Three Specimen 1927 Buffalo nickels had just been certified by NGC after being sold to Jim Halperin at a coin show. The source of these pieces was unknown. However, after consulting with Walter Breen it seemed reasonable to conclude that these coins came from the estate of John Sinnock. Sinnock was a "quiet and unassuming" man, according to Neil Harris, former editor of The Numismatist, but he was "always trying new things." Sinnock's collection was consigned to the joint ANA-CNA auction conducted by Kelly and Charlton in Detroit in 1962. In that auction, lot 352 contained 10 Buffalo nickels. Three were dated 1927, three 1930, and four 1934. All were described as Uncirculated and the lot sold for $60 on a $75 estimate. Of course, no one knows today whether the three Specimen coins were the same three 1927 nickels in this lot from Sinnock's estate, but Walter Breen thought it was a reasonable conjecture.
    One of the problems encountered when these coins first appeared is that they were totally unsuspected. There is no actual documentation that says such coins were struck. No one knew they existed. And yet when they appeared the physical evidence from the coins themselves was incontrovertible. When John Albanese of NGC examined the coins, he stated: "I could have sworn they were Proof." However, "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 purchased two of the coins from an unspecified source. His impression at the time was noted in a Coin World article shortly after purchase: "Two of the coins came to me as standard MS-65s, but when I examined them, I was impressed by their extraordinary texture. It 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."
    Several months of on-again, off-again investigation of these pieces ensued. It was suggested that these special nickels were distributed to members of the Assay Commission. The problem with this theory is that the Assay Commission only dealt with gold and silver coins. There also was a medal struck and given to members of the 1927 Assay Commission. What was certain about these pieces is that the reverse die was leftover from the matte proof strikings from 1913-1916. This was first observed by Walter Breen who wrote an opinion of one of the coins where he stated in part: " ... with complete knife rims, in all details comparable to 1913-16 'Type I' Proofs. Surfaces are satin finish and untampered. (The diagonal line on reverse flat rim about 8 o'clock is in the original die from which hubs and working dies came; no business strikes are brought up enough in strike to show it.)"
    The first breakthrough in discovering the origin of these coins came from an entry in the 1928 Report of the Director of the Mint: "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." George Hunter at the Philadelphia Mint said chromium-plated dies had been used on U.S. proof coinage since 1972, and he said these dies left telltale signs when they were used. Chromium-plated dies show microcracking in a "crazing pattern." In more common parlance, coins struck from such dies show a "dry riverbed look" in the fields. This microcracking is very subtle and is more easily seen toward the edge of the coin in the thin area between the light and dark areas of the coin's surface. Strong magnification is also required, he suggested between 10x and 50x. The three coins all had evidence of microcracking. On this particular coin the evidence can only be seen on the obverse because the plastic lip of the PCGS encasement covers the reverse rim.
    It is our opinion that these Specimen strikings most closely conform to Dr. Judd's definition of an experimental coin:

    " ... include those struck with any convenient dies to try out a new metal, such as aluminum, a new alloy, such as goloid, or a new denomination; those which represent a new shape, such as the ring-dollars; those which represent a new use of an accepted metal, such as nickel for a ten-cent piece; and those representing changes in planchets for the purpose of preventing counterfeiting, sweating, filling or the clipping of the edges of the coins. Those struck in the proper metal, where it is specified, are experimental pieces ... ."

    While these pieces do not neatly fit into any of the categories listed by Dr. Judd, one can easily see that coins struck from a new process would fit into the experimental coin category.
    The striking details on this piece are, of course, beyond reproach. No trace of weakness can be seen on either side. Because of the plastic encasement it is impossible to see the curved die scratch on the left side of the reverse rim. The coin displays all the necessary features to qualify it as a Satin Finish proof. Each side shows lovely light blue and rose colored toning. This particular coin can be distinguished from the two others known by the presence of a tiny spot on the end of the Indian's nose, a cluster of carbon specks below the chin, and several in the reverse field that are no higher than the bison's hooves.
    Ex: Jim Halperin; Larry Whitlow; Andy Lustig; "Southern Gentleman." (NGC ID# 278W, PCGS# 3987)

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

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