Counterfeit Detection: 1926-S Buffalo Nickel

Two clues reveal that this nickel isn't worth a fortune.

With a mintage of only 970,000 pieces, the 1926-S Buffalo Nickel ranks as the rarest regular issue in the entire series. Examples are scarce in all grades and are even more elusive at the Mint State level of preservation. The NGC US Coin Price Guide reports values of $5,050 in MS 60, $10,650 in MS 63 and $110,000 in MS 65.

A stark contrast to the 1926-S is its no mintmark Philadelphia counterpart, which had a mintage of more than 44 million coins. Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia issues can be acquired for a fraction of the price of the San Francisco issues. According to the NGC US Coin Price Guide, an MS 60 trades for $35, an MS 63 trades for $95 and an MS 65 trades for $220.

This vast difference in rarity and price has long tempted counterfeiters, who will add an “S” mintmark to a Philadelphia 1926 Buffalo Nickel in an attempt to trick a collector into believing it is the far more valuable 1926-S. NGC frequently receives added “S” 1926 Buffalo Nickels.

Less often seen are outright counterfeits of the 1926-S, but NGC graders did identify one recently. This piece appeared to be a normal, circulated example at first glance, but upon closer examination a number of major issues became apparent.

Counterfeit 1926-S Buffalo Nickel
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Close-up of the date on the counterfeit 1926-S Buffalo Nickel
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When the date was studied more closely under a loupe, it was obvious that the details were unusually soft, especially at the “1”, which seemed to melt into the field. On a genuine piece, even one in this condition, the date should be sharper. The reverse of this coin has an even more glaring issue, however.

Close-up of the buffalo on the counterfeit 1926-S Buffalo Nickel
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On the reverse, the body of the buffalo features some raised lumps, which are commonly seen on many forgeries. These protuberances are the result of the process that the counterfeiter used to create the false dies. Since these defects were recessed in the die, the forger was unable to remove them. As a result, every counterfeit struck from this die will have the same issue.

The combination of soft details and raised lumps on this 1926-S Buffalo Nickel help to prove that it is not a genuine US Mint-struck Buffalo nickel. These defects are diagnostics for many fakes, so it is important to always be on the lookout for similar problems on other coins. If you have any doubts, consider an NGC-certified coin, which is guaranteed to be authentic.

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