by Peter J. Miksich, Jr., a Buffalo Nickel Devotee
The story of the newly discovered (in 1996) 1914/3 Buffalo Nickel overdate to some might be viewed as a “Fairy Tale”. The Fairy Tale moniker might be apt, in the sense that a percentage of seasoned collectors look at the discovery and subsequent value of specimens with a certain amount of disbelief.
If you view this overdate in comparison to the 1918/7-D, it is understandable that a perception like that would be justified.
There is no question that the 1914 and 1918 overdates are what they are: Overdates. The two dates, however, should not be considered identical in all respects. They are second-cousins, produced at different stages of the die making process. Actually, in respect to blunders, the 1914/3 wins hands-down between the two!
Philly Follies in 1913
From October till the end of the year, every year, the Mint was very busy producing dies for the remainder of the current year, as well as the upcoming New Year.
Both were done, side by side, at the same time. That in itself is a recipe for mistakes.
The essential difference between the 1914/3 and the 1918/7 was that the Overdates were produced at different stages in the die making process. The 1914/3 was by far the bigger mistake. A Working Hub was overdated. Working Hubs are used to produce Working Dies. A lot of them! Working Dies were wrongly impressed with the overdated Hub. The 1918/7 is unique in that only one Working Die was overdated. The 1914/3 happened one step earlier in the die making process, the result being that multiple-overdated dies had been produced.
PULL THE DIE!....now what?
The horrendous mistake was eventually discovered after an undetermined amount of Working Dies had been produced. It is estimated that 4 to 5, maybe 6, were created. The overdated Hub was pulled and destroyed, but the damage had already been done. The die making process involves numerous steps, and is very labor intensive. It cost The Mint real money in terms of wages, material, fuel for the annealing furnaces, and lost time to make good a mistake.
The solution to this blunder was carried out in the following manner:
The overdated Working Dies were re-processed by grinding down and polishing away as much of the overdate as was possible. Each die was identified, and re-worked to remove traces of the underlying “3” in the last numeral of the date. That would re-coup the labor involved in their creation.
The Mint did this with varying amounts of success. Every Working Die that was discovered to have been overdated subsequently received abrasion treatment to remove as much as possible of the underlying “3”. The abraded and re-polished dies were then sent onward to the production stage (the actual coining of Nickels).
A natural chain of events ensued. Some of the re-conditioned dies were shipped by Express Messenger Service to the Branch Mints in Denver and San Francisco for the coining of 1914 dated Buffalo Nickels, and some remained in Philadelphia for coining there.
Their creation, circulation, and anonymity lasted until 1996 -- an astounding 82 years later!
The Medina Specimen is Discovered
Unlike this Overdates cousin, the 1918/7-D, which features a very prominent and untouched date, none will show that bold feature. However, some very early die-state and high-grade specimens do exhibit an Overdate that can be seen with the naked eye.
They all were coined and released into general circulation Nationwide with the above mentioned abrading. Given the Buffalo Nickels’ often weak strike, coupled with the all too common clash marks and strike doubling, all were dismissed as being afflicted with any number of the above maladies.
In 1996, Bill Fivaz (of Cherrypicker's fame) sponsored a contest through CONECA in which a $100.00 prize would be rewarded for finding a new and unknown overdated coin. R.A. Medina, from San Antonio, Texas submitted the 1914-P Buffalo Nickel as his entry into the Contest.
It was graded Very Fine, struck from worn dies, and immediately caught the fancy of the Contest Sponsors. It quickly made the rounds from one expert to the next, and was determined to be a new Overdate.
But, hesitant to officially confirm the coin, it was agreed to wait for someone to submit a higher-grade specimen for analysis.
Several months later, another San Antonian, Roger Alexander, submitted a higher-grade 1914-P coin struck from an earlier die-state
After examining Alexander’s coin, the new Overdate was confirmed.
The 1914/3-P Buffalo Nickel began appearing in price guides, and was recognized by the major grading services who would slab qualified specimens in a holder with the 1914/3 designation on it.
Now the Fun Begins
It was either still unknown, or was not thought to be the case to everyone involved in the Hobby from the outset that the 1914/3 might have been manufactured from more than one die.
A specific and very rigid set of variables had to exist for any specimen to qualify for slabbing at that very early stage.
I personally had one rejected by PCGS that I had sent with a local coin dealer in my area to The Long Beach show in California. It was an EF specimen that I “cherried” shortly after hearing of the discovery.
PCGS told the dealer that while it looked like it possessed the diagnostic “notch” at the top and to the right of the “4” in the date, it did not have all the diagnostics needed to holder the coin.
I began to understand why some individuals called this Overdate a “fairy tale”. I was so disillusioned and disgusted with the pronouncement that I took the coin home and threw it into a box of spares and “junk” that I had accumulated over the years.
That was then. This is now.
Today it probably would be holdered, but for the life of me, I can no longer find the coin. I have absolutely no idea what happened to it!
A 1914/3-S is Discovered
In 1997, Thomas K. Delorey sent a San Francisco minted coin “around the horn” that displayed diagnostics hinting of the Overdate. The notch at the top of the “4” was there, but was considerably diminished compared to the P Mint specimen.
It now became apparent that more than one die existed, meaning that a Working Hub was the culprit. There was more than one Overdated die floating around.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle 1914/3-D
The challenge started by Bill Fivaz was actually ended by him late in 2000.
With the knowledge that multiple dies existed for this Overdate, and no specimen discovered from the Denver Mint so far, Bill found an EF specimen that looked right. The Denver coin was less obvious and displayed fewer details of an Overdate, but it, and a second specimen grading VF were declared as the Denver Overdate after “making the rounds” to die specialists.
The Denver coins, both struck from the same Obverse die, sport a long die crack from the left rim through the Indians head. It can easily be seen with a small amount of magnification.
This single Obverse die was paired with two different reverses during its production life. The “D” mintmark on one specimen is very close to the “C” of Cents. It stands straight, with no tilt to it.
The second specimen displays a “D” which is tilted slightly to the left and is so close the “C” in “CENTS” that it looks imbedded.
Six or more dies. Specimens from all three Mints. 82 years in hiding.
What’s not to like?
1) The Mint caught this one. To save production costs, each offending die was re-worked to remove traces of the “3”. Higher grade specimens seldom seen by the general public, however, are reported to display a much better Overdate than we regular folks can see. These “high-end” specimens make the rounds being sold and traded between Dealers. “Bang for the Buck” being the operative words here, A good percentage of collectors feel that the amount of Overdate present does not justify the cost of obtaining a specimen.
2) Should it be included in Albums? Yes, it should. It is what it is. It should only be included as an optional slot though, for those of us who do not want to ante up the cost to display it.
3) This specimen hid so well for 82 years, and given the extra fragility of all the dates on the very early Buffalo Nickels, is mostly lost to the ravages of wear and have been sent to “Dateless Heaven” (the mythical place I envision as existing somewhere in Montana where the Buffs did roam at one time... their numbers so large herds often covered an entire State!)
Price and Pops
NGC Census Report
129 graded specimens with the curve starting high at AG-VF, then dipping and again rising at 55-65 Three specimens are at 65. 47 are in Mint State.
2 graded specimens, both circulated, with grades of VF and XF-45. No Mint State specimens.
34 graded specimens with 20 in Mint State. 4 are at 64.
I have no access to any other POP reports, perhaps a Forum Member would like to submit additional onfo in a reply to this Story.
Coin Universe (PCGS)
G-390, VG-650, EF-1350, AU-2400, MS-60, 3600, MS-63, 7000, MS-64-13000, MS-65-36000, MS-66-75000
Knowledge is power.