Understanding Grades for Buffalo Nickels
Buffalo nickels are relatively small but are made out of 75% copper and 25% nickel. Nickel is a tough metal that is hard and does not easily produce a nicely struck coin. Therefore, the highest points of the coin are usually flat and lacking detail due to an incomplete strike. Grades of mint state or uncirculated also take into account the fact that the coin may not be fully struck. Coins produced in the Denver and San Francisco mints from about 1917 to about 1928 are usually lacking in detail because they were not fully struck at the mint.
The photo illustrates the highest points on the Buffalo nickel design (indicated by the color red). Click on the photo to open a new window with a larger version of the image.
About Good-3 (AG3 or AG-3)
Obverse: The Indian's head is completely lacking of detail and only an outline exists. The date is barely readable yet distinguishable. The rim of the coin is merging with the letters of "LIBERTY".
Reverse: The Buffalo is completely lacking in detail. The head, shoulders, and rear flank are flat and provide only an outline of the design. The letters closest to the rim are merged with the rim in most areas.
Tip: Click on the photos at the left to view a larger and more detailed image.
Good-4 (G4 or G-4)
Obverse: The fundamental details of the Indian's head (feathers and hair) are starting to appear. The date is clearly readable without any strenuous effort. On poorly struck examples, the letters of "LIBERTY" may be merged with the rim.
Reverse: The buffalo is well worn but the major details (head, shoulder and rear flank) are visible. The top of the buffalo's head is flat and devoid of all details. The legends are clear, but may be touching the rim in a few spots.
Very Good-8 (VG8 or VG-8)
Obverse: The details in the Indian's hair are beginning to show. The hair near the cheek and forehead is flat and lacking any detail.
Reverse: The buffalo's head is mostly flat but the lower part of the horn is starting to show. The legends are clear and distinct. Some detail on the very top of the buffalo are visible.
Fine-12 (F12 or F-12)
Obverse: Entire design is clear but flat in spots. Three-quarters of the details in the Indian's hair and braid are visible. The hairline near the cheek and forehead is discernible.
Reverse: Major details in the buffalo's shoulder and rear flank are becoming visible. The horn is starting to show and the tuff of hair on the top of the head is more distinct. All lettering is bold and clear.
Very Fine-20 (VF20 or VF-20)
Obverse: The Indian's hair and cheek are noticeably flat but not lacking in detail. Partial details in both feathers are showing.
Reverse: The hair on the buffalo's head is worn and the horn may be incomplete. The hair on the top of the Buffalo's shoulder has some detail.
Extra Fine-40 (EF40, XF40 EF-40 or XF-40)
Obverse: The Indian's hair, braid and feathers are lightly worn but the overall design details are bold. Minimal wear is visible on the ribbon lines in the hair braid.
Reverse: The buffalo's horn is virtually complete and the details in the buffalo's hair are bold. Only minor flatness exists on the buffalo's shoulder and rare flank.
About Uncirculated-55 (AU55 or AU-55)
Obverse: Only slight traces of wear are evident on the Indians cheek and top of the braid. At least half of the original mint luster remains.
Reverse: Minor traces of wear are visible on the buffalo's shoulder and rare flank. All other design elements are bold.
Mint State-63 (MS63 or MS-63)
Obverse: There are no obvious signs of wear on the Indian's cheek. Mint luster must be full and complete but may be impaired.
Reverse: The buffalo's shoulder and rare flank show no signs of wear but may be lacking in detail due to a less than full strike. Mint luster is complete an unbroken.
Mint State-65 (MS65 or MS-65)
Obverse: Mint luster is complete and unimpaired. The strike is full and complete and even minor details exist on the highest points.
Reverse: A full strike is evidenced by the detail in the buffalo's hair. There are no major distracting marks on the surface of the coin.