Reader "Dusty Farmer" sent the following question: I have a Buffalo Nickel with no date on it, and I was wondering if you could tell me the year it was made and how much it is worth. I looked on a lot of Web sites that said there are Buffalo Nickel key dates for the S and D Mint mark, but this nickel has an E on it. Can you help?
The dates on many Buffalo Nickels have worn off because the date was on a raised portion of the design and Buffalo Nickels circulated very heavily for many decades. Once the date has been lost, the coin isn't worth anything to a collector because without knowing the date, you can't determine its value or know how rare it is. Undated Buffalo Nickels are worth about 15 cents each, but only because people use them for jewelry and shirt buttons. Normally nickels without dates on them are only worth face value.
The E you see on the "heads" side under the place where the date should be is actually an F, which stands for (James) Fraser, the artist who designed the coin. All Buffalo Nickels have this letter, regardless of the Mint they were struck at. If your coin has a Mint mark at all, it will be under the buffalo on the reverse ("tails") side of the coin, below the words FIVE CENTS. If there is no letter there, the nickel was minted at the Philadelphia Mint. D stands for the Denver Mint, and S stands for the San Francisco Mint.
Recovering the Date on Buffalo Nickels
Sometimes it is possible to recover the date on a dateless Buffalo Nickel by putting a drop of ferric chloride on the spot where the date should be. This chemical, called a "date restorer," is sold under the trade name "Nic-A-Date." Although it will cause the date to reappear on a Buffalo Nickel which has lost its date, ferric chloride also leaves a blotchy, rough, acid spot of damage on the coin that totally ruins any value the nickel might have had. In addition, the date will fade again over time, and each time you use the chemical again, it brings back less and less of the date (leaving an increasingly ugly acid mark instead.)
Never used chemicals on the surface of your nickels to restore partial dates because partial-date Buffalo Nickels are worth more than totally dateless nickels. Depending on which digits are showing, the nickel can be worth anywhere from 50 cents (if the part showing is the first 2 or 3 digits) to about 20% of market value if the digits showing are the last 2 or 3 (thereby revealing the actual date the Buffalo Nickel was struck.)