The 15 Most Valuable Nickels

A Few of These Nickels Are Worth a Small Fortune

Illustration of hands magnifying nickel

Illustration: The Spruce / Adrian Mangel

At one time, a nickel could buy a bag of candy at the corner store or an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Of course, those days are gone, but these once common nickels can now buy a luxury condominium in Manhattan or the yacht of your dreams. These are the most valuable nickels:

  • 1937-D Buffalo Nickel–Three Legs
  • 1935 Buffalo Nickel–Doubled Die Reverse
  • 1924-S Buffalo Nickel
  • 1919-S Buffalo Nickel
  • 1880 Shield Nickel
  • 1927-S Buffalo Nickel
  • 1918-S Buffalo Nickel
  • 1867 Shield Nickel–Proof With Rays
  • 1920-D Buffalo Nickel
  • 1917-S Buffalo Nickel
  • 1913-D Buffalo Nickel–Type 2
  • 1916 Buffalo Nickel–Doubled Die Obverse
  • 1926-S Buffalo Nickel
  • 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel–Doubled Die Obverse
  • 1913 Liberty Nickel–The Olsen Specimen

Pay attention to the photos and details below to see if you have one of these valuable nickels in your piggy bank.

  • 01 of 15

    #15 1937-D Buffalo Nickel–Three Legs

    1937-D Three Legged Buffalo Nickel
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $97,750

    Grade: NGC MS-67

    Sold: November 2009; Bowers & Merena, The November 2009 Baltimore Auction

    The 1937-D Buffalo nickel is one of the most significant coins of the 20th century. A worker at the mint created this die variety when he tried to repair the surface of a coin die by polishing it to remove some imperfections. These imperfections must have been substantial because the worker polished the die beyond usual standards. The overzealous die polishing removed the buffalo's front leg but left the hoof on the ground. Additionally, some of the details on the back leg were removed.

    Buyers must be extremely cautious when purchasing these coins because unscrupulous people have shaved off the front leg on a regular 1937-D Buffalo nickel. One way to recognize an altered coin is to look for what appears to be a stream of water coming from the buffalo's belly. If this imperfection is not present, it is a clear indication of an altered coin.

  • 02 of 15

    #14 1935 Buffalo Nickel–Doubled Die Reverse

    1935 Buffalo nickel double die reverse
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $104,650

    Grade: PCGS MS-65

    Sold: August 2007; Bowers & Merena, Rarities Coin Auction

    During the reverse coin die manufacturing, sloppy workmanship resulted in this die variety. Properly creating a coin die requires multiple impressions from the master hub. If the hub is not correctly aligned with the coin die, some aspects of the coin will appear doubled. To accurately identify this coin, look for a strong doubling on the reverse of the coin. Specifically, the denomination FIVE CENTS and minor doubling on the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM.

    This coin is the only one in the Buffalo nickel series with a significant doubling on the coin's reverse. Therefore, coin collectors who seek to assemble a complete set of Buffalo Nickels actively seek one of these coins. Most of these coins found their way into circulation; therefore, uncirculated examples sell for a premium price.

  • 03 of 15

    #13 1924-S Buffalo Nickel

    1924S Buffalo Nickel Graded PCGS MS 66
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $105,750

    Grade: PCGS MS-66+

    Sold: November 2016; Stack's/Bowers, November 2016 Baltimore Coin Auction

    The 1924-S Buffalo nickel is by no means a rare coin in circulated condition. With a mintage of 1,437,000 coins, many of them have survived and are available to collectors today. This coin's high level of preservation and dramatic eye appeal make it an extremely valuable coin.

    Receiving a grade of MS-66+ means that the coin has only minor imperfections on the surface, was minted from a fresh set of dies, and was well-struck to bring up all the details of the coin. In addition, its natural toning around the rim enhances its beauty and appeal to coin collectors.

  • 04 of 15

    #12 1919-S Buffalo Nickel

    1919-S Buffalo nickel graded PCGS MS-66
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $109,250

    Grade: PCGS MS-66

    Sold: October 2006; Heritage Auctions, 2006 October Dallas Signature Coin Auction, Dallas, TX

    The San Francisco mint struck most Buffalo nickels in 1919 poorly. The poor striking quality may have been an effort by mint workers to extend die life or just a lack of attention to quality. Regardless, 1919-S Buffalo Nickels saw a production of over 7 ½ million coins. They are readily available in circulated grades but very rare in well-struck high grades. This coin possesses all the qualities that make it a great rarity and commands such a high value.

    Continue to 5 of 15 below.
  • 05 of 15

    #11 1880 Shield Nickel

    1880 Shield nickel graded PCGS MS-66
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $117,500

    Grade: PCGS MS-66

    Sold: January 2015; Heritage Auctions, FUN U.S. Coins Signature Auction, Orlando, FL

    For those coin collectors who are not familiar with the Shield nickel series, the 1880 specimen may come as a surprise. They were only 16,000 coins minted for circulation, and that makes it the lowest production quantity in the entire series. Additionally, 3,955 Proof coins were struck for coin collectors of the era. Therefore, the total number of coin collectors that would be able to assemble a complete set of Shield nickels will be less than 20,000. The low production quantity has resulted in fierce competition for well-struck coins that are in pristine condition.

  • 06 of 15

    #10 1927-S Buffalo Nickel

    1927-S Buffalo nickel grated NGC MS-66*
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $125,350

    Grade: NGC MS-66*

    Sold: April 2008; Bowers & Merena, The April 2008 Chicago Rarities Sale

    With over three million 1927-S Buffalo nickels minted, this hardly qualifies this coin as rare or scarce. You can purchase a well-circulated coin from a reputable coin dealer for just a few dollars. However, well-struck uncirculated coins that exhibit the finer details of the design are few and far between. Why more uncirculated examples were not saved is a mystery to numismatists. So, when one of these true gems crosses the auction block, it always brings many bidders and fierce competition.

  • 07 of 15

    #9 1918-S Buffalo Nickel

    1918-S Buffalo nickel graded NGC MS-66
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $125,350

    Grade: NGC MS-66

    Sold: April 2008; Bowers & Merena; The April 2008 Chicago Rarities Sale

    In 1918 the United States was in the midst of World War I. Industrial production was primarily focused on producing war goods, and places of public entertainment were closing. This may be why so few uncirculated examples were saved for coin collectors. Circulated coins of this date are scarce but obtainable for the common collector. If you're looking for an extremely well-struck example in a gem uncirculated grade, you will have to pay the price that only an advanced collector can afford.

  • 08 of 15

    #8 1867 Shield Nickel–Proof With Rays

    Proof 1867 Shield nickel graded NGC PR-66
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $132,250

    Grade: NGC PR-66

    Sold: January 2004; Heritage Auctions, 2004 January Long Beach Signature Sale

    Nothing is more eye-catching to a coin collector than seeing a Proof coin. Unfortunately, between the mid-1800s and the late 1800s, the United States Mint only produced Proof coins to the demand of collectors. Couple this with the fact that the mint changed the reverse design by removing the decorative rays in between the stars further adds to the low production numbers for this coin.

    Most Proof coins in this series had production runs of approximately 1,000 coins. However, in 1867 only 25 Proof coins were minted, with no more than 10 of them surviving today. This coin's extreme rarity and its pristine condition makes it the most valuable coin in the Shield nickel series.

    Continue to 9 of 15 below.
  • 09 of 15

    #7 1920-D Buffalo Nickel

    United States Buffalo or Indian Head Nickel
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $138,000

    Grade: NGC MS-67

    Sold: November 2008; Bowers & Merena, The November 2008 Baltimore Auction

    The 1920-D Buffalo nickel has a reasonably low mintage at slightly less than 10 million coins. Therefore, it is scarce in circulated grades and rare in mint state grades. However, not only is the surface of this coin problem-free, but it is also exceptionally well-struck. The detail in the Buffalo's horn is evidence of a quality strike. Additionally, the brilliance of this normally ruddy coin sets it apart from all others and commands such a high value.

  • 10 of 15

    #6 1917-S Buffalo Nickel

    1917-S Buffalo nickel grated NGC MS-67
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $138,000

    Grade: NGC MS-67

    Sold: July 2008; Heritage Auctions, Baltimore, MD (ANA) US Coin Signature Auction

    In 1917 World War I was raging in Europe and manufacturing processes were gearing up to produce war goods. The San Francisco mint in 1917 mostly produced poorly struck Buffalo Nickels. To find such a pristine example coupled with a highly detailed strike is a true rarity.

  • 11 of 15

    #5 1913-D Buffalo Nickel–Type 2

    1913-D Buffalo nickel Type II graded NGC MS-68
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $143,750

    Grade: NGC MS-68

    Sold: January 2008; Bowers & Merena, The January 2008 Orlando Rarities Sale

    In 1913, the Buffalo nickel was first produced. The Type I coin has the denomination FIVE CENTS on the reverse below the Buffalo on a raised mound. The denomination was the highest point on the coin and was the first feature to wear away. By recessing the denomination below the Buffalo, the mint corrected the problem of the denomination prematurely wearing off the coin. These Type II coins are extremely rare in gem uncirculated condition of MS-68.

  • 12 of 15

    #4 1916 Buffalo Nickel–Doubled Die Obverse

    1916 Doubled Die Obverse Buffalo nickel graded PCGS MS-64
    Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS)

    Value: $281,750

    Grade: PCGS MS-64

    Sold: August 2004; Bowers & Merena, Rarities Auction

    Here is another mint error caused by the improper manufacturing of a coin die. You can see the doubling of the last two digits on the date as evidenced by a duplicate set of numbers offset to the right of the original digits. It took years before a numismatist discovered these coins in circulation. Therefore, a majority of them are classified as circulated.

    It is amazing that this dramatic mint error was never discovered for many years. One does not need a magnifying glass or microscope to see the dramatic doubling on the last two digits of the year on the obverse of the coin. Regardless, many of these coins circulated for years before being pulled and put in somebody's coin collection. Here is a rare example of one that was saved before it ever experienced the harsh environment of circulation in commerce.

    Continue to 13 of 15 below.
  • 13 of 15

    #3 1926-S Buffalo Nickel

    1926-S Buffalo nickel Indian head nickel
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $322,000

    Grade: NGC MS-66

    Sold: April 2008; Bowers & Merena, The April 2008 Chicago Rarities Sale

    Of all the Buffalo nickels ever produced, the production run at the San Francisco mint in 1926 yielded only 970,000. This is the lowest mintage of any coin in the Buffalo Nickel series. From the beginning, the odds were against any large number of these coins being saved in uncirculated condition. However, this single example of a high-quality specimen commands the extraordinary price that advanced coin collectors are willing to pay.

  • 14 of 15

    #2 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel–Doubled Die Obverse

    1918 Doubled Die Obverse Buffalo nickel graded PCGS MS-65
    Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS)

    Value: $350,750

    Grade: PCGS MS-65

    Sold: August 2006; Bowers & Merena, 2006 Denver ANA

    Just like the 1916 doubled die obverse Buffalo nickel, this coin was also the result of sloppy workmanship at the United States Mint. It is obvious that there is a numeral 7 lurking underneath the last digit in the date. Most examples circulated for almost 15 years until Paul M. Lange of Rochester, New York offered an example for sale in an auction on March 1930. Therefore, uncirculated examples in pristine condition are few and far between. When one comes to auction, it is certain to realize a record price.

  • 15 of 15

    #1 1913 Liberty Nickel–The Olsen Specimen

    The Olsen Specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel Graded NGC PR-64
    Heritage Auction Galleries

    Value: $4,560,000

    Grade: PCGS PR-66

    Sold: August 2018; ANA Stack's Bowers; Session 3; Rarities Night

    The King of 20th Century Coins is the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. There are only five known examples, and this one is the finest graded by any of the third-party grading companies. It is not known why the United States Mint made only five coins. Some researchers speculate that unscrupulous mint workers used Liberty Head nickel dies that were intended to be used to produce Liberty Head nickels in case the Buffalo nickel dies were not ready in time for production in 1913.

    The Liberty Head nickel is surrounded by controversy from its very beginnings. The first nickels produced in 1883 did not have the word CENTS on it. Some people gold plated them and tried to pass them off as five-dollar gold pieces. The mint quickly added the denominations to the reverse of the coin. Coin dealer B. Max Mehl of Fort Worth, Texas, spent a fortune on advertising to enticing people to search their pocket change for valuable 1913 Liberty Head nickels. He offered to pay the princely sum of fifty dollars per coin. This created a lot of hype and demand and that has never died over the years.

    Regardless of the circumstances that created this extremely rare nickel, every coin collector would love to have one of these in their collection. It's this demand coupled with its limited supply that makes this the most valuable nickel ever!