An Underrated Buffalo: The 1918-S
To collectors unfamiliar with the Buffalo nickel series, the 1918-S Buffalo issue might appear as “just another mintmarked date” from fairly early in the series. But in truth, the 1918-S is among the most challenging S-mint emissions from the teens.
In the PCGS Registry Set Composition which provides a numeric point value between 1 and 10 for each Buffalo issue, the 1918-S has a value of eight points, the second highest of any regular issue in the series.
Other issues in the series given an eight-point value include the 1919-S, the 1923-S, 1924-S, and 1927-S; in other words, some of the most difficult issues in the series (and not entirely coincidentally, all S-mints.) The only Buffalo nickel issues given a higher nine-point rating by PCGS are the 1920-S and 1926-S. By way of comparison, the 1913-S Type Two–generally acknowledged as a key issue but occasionally found in nice high Mint State, is given a six-point rating.
The elusive nature of high-grade 1918-S Buffalo nickels is the product of a confluence of factors. Produced during the last year of World War I, the 1918-S was the victim of economic measures, in more ways than one. In order to save dies and prolong their life, the dies were, for the most part, set too far apart to deliver strong blows to the coins. As David Lange explains in his Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels (third edition, 2006):
“This was done as a economy measure to reduce wear on both the dies and press and to thus extend their useful life. Such economy was practiced even more vigorously during the 1920s, as the budgets of most governmental departments were slashed by the parsimonious Harding and Coolidge administrations.
“The Buffalo Nickel was a coin of relatively high relief, and it did take quite a toll on the dies. These wore rapidly, and such erosion is often evident on the actual coins. The reverse dies in particular were used too long, as they didn’t need to be discarded at the end of each calendar year. The combination of increased die-set distances and worn dies produced the mushy, disappointing coins so often seen in this series.”
The Coin Pictured here ( 1918-S 5C MS66 ) will be avaialble at Heritage’s Dallas Auction on October 23-25
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