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What Are Buffalo Nickels Made Of?

What Are Buffalo Nickels Made Of?

September 04, 20232278 view(s)

Since their debut in 1866, nickels have passed through countless hands, tumbled in innumerable pockets, and echoed in countless piggy banks. Yet, how many of us pause to consider the journey of these humble five-cent coins or ponder what they're actually made of? 

Contrary to what the coin's name might imply, the composition of U.S. nickels isn't entirely nickel. Modern U.S. nickels, also known as Jefferson nickels, are crafted from a copper-nickel alloy, with 75% copper and 25% nickel. This particular mix gives nickels their signature hardness, durability, and distinct silvery sheen.

However, the nickel's composition hasn't always been this way. From 1942 to 1945, in the throes of World War II, nickel became an important resource for the war effort. This led to a temporary shift in the nickel's composition to a silver-manganese alloy. These special coins, known today as "War Nickels," are made up of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.


Grasping the makeup of nickels isn't just about understanding their metal content; it's about appreciating the influence that historical context and material scarcity can have on a coin's value. Whether in response to global crises or shifts in economic dynamics, the elements that compose our coins can change. This not only transforms their physical attributes but can also amplify their numismatic worth.

In fact, many investors and collectors consider coins like wartime nickels particularly interesting. Their unique silver-manganese alloy composition is a result of a specific and remarkable period in history. Ultimately, this enhances their desirability and, therefore, their potential worth.


The evolution of nickels, from their initial release to today, tells a compelling story about our changing world. So, the next time you find a nickel in your pocket, remember — it's not just a coin. It's a tangible asset, a piece of our collective history, and potentially, an intriguing addition to your investment portfolio.

From hidden wartime exigencies to modern-day metallurgical practices, the story of a nickel's makeup is more than just a question of what meets the eye — it's a tiny testament to evolving technology, economy, and societal needs. This guide will delve into the fascinating world of valuable, rare, and treasured U.S. nickels. Additionally, we'll explore how investors can leverage these unique pieces to diversify and potentially enhance their precious metals portfolio.



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The 1918 Buffalo Nickel

The 1918 Buffalo Nickel is more than just a coin. It's a snapshot of American history, a piece of art, and for some, a lucrative investment. This iconic nickel, designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser, features a striking profile of a Native American on one side and an American bison on the other, giving it a distinctive aesthetic appeal.

When we trace the Buffalo Nickel's story back to its roots, we find it was minted from 1913 to 1938. The 1918 edition holds special intrigue as it was struck during the height of World War I, a period of profound societal and technological change.

Now, let's look at what makes the 1918 Buffalo Nickel unique beyond its historical context and stunning design. The nickel's date was placed on a raised part of the coin's design, making it prone to wear. Many Buffalo Nickels, including the 1918 version, have seen their dates worn off with time and use.

The date's vulnerability to wear, seen as a design flaw, becomes an allure for numismatic enthusiasts. As many dates on these nickels have faded, finding a well-preserved 1918 Buffalo Nickel becomes a rarity, spurring demand collectors and investors pay for.

Case in point, a 2021 Heritage Auctions event, where a pristine 1918 Buffalo Nickel instigated a bidding war. With a visible date, stunning luster, and impeccable design, it fetched $20,000.

These events underscore the returns offered by rare coins like the 1918 Buffalo Nickel. Their historical and artistic significance and investment potential create a unique asset that continues to fetch high prices in the numismatic market.



What are Nickels Made of?

The Liberty Nickel

The Liberty Nickel, sometimes referred to as the V nickel due to the Roman numeral on the reverse, is another coin that numismatics enthusiasts and precious metals investors keep an eye on. The coin, minted from 1883 to 1912, owes its name to its obverse design featuring Lady Liberty, who is elegantly portrayed in a left-facing profile.

One of the most noteworthy features of the Liberty Nickel is the controversy surrounding its initial design. The first batch of these nickels minted in 1883 didn't include the word "cents," which led to unscrupulous individuals gold-plating them and passing them off as five-dollar gold pieces. The U.S. Mint quickly caught on and adjusted the design to include "cents" beneath the "V."

This design mishap inadvertently created a rarity. The "no cents" Liberty Nickels are scarce, and a well-preserved example can fetch a high price in the numismatic market.

For instance, in 2010, an 1885 Liberty Nickel from the "no cents" batch, one of the rarest in the series, sold at an auction conducted by Heritage Auctions for $89,125. It was in near-pristine condition, with a grade of MS66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service.

While the Liberty Nickel doesn't carry the same level of precious metal content as the 1918 Buffalo Nickel, it offers investors an opportunity to diversify their portfolios with a coin possessing historical significance and a fascinating backstory. But like any investment, it is crucial to carry out due diligence, authenticate the coin, and ensure it is well preserved to maintain its value.


Are There Other Rare U.S. Nickel Coins?

Just like the Buffalo and Liberty Nickels, a collection of other U.S. nickels captures the blend of history, design, and rarity that attracts collectors and investors alike.

Consider the early Jefferson Nickels, minted since 1938, including the silver-rich 'War Nickels' of 1942 to 1945. Shield Nickels, minted from 1866 to 1883 and known as the original five-cent nickels, also attract attention with their unique shield face and scarcity due to their age.

Then there are key-date coins, specific years of low mintage, such as 1950-D Jefferson Nickels and 1885 Liberty Nickels. Their rarity boosts their value significantly.

Price ranges for these rare U.S. nickels vary greatly, with modest condition coins starting in the hundreds and those in near-mint states reaching into the tens of thousands. The value of these coins lies in their history, design, and rarity, providing investors with a fascinating way to diversify their portfolio and collectors with tangible pieces of American history.

What are Nickels Made of?

The U.S. Gold Bureau: Your Trusted Precious Metals Dealership

The journey of a nickel, from its inception to its current state, is a testament to the intricate dance between history, economics, and artistry. Just as each nickel tells a story, so does every precious metal piece that finds its way into an investor's collection. At the U.S. Gold Bureau, we understand the profound significance behind each coin, bar, or bullion. Our commitment is to provide the highest quality precious metals and the knowledge and expertise that empowers our clients to make informed decisions. 

Whether you're intrigued by the historical allure of rare nickels or looking to diversify your asset holdings with other precious metals, our team stands ready to guide you. Dive deeper into the world of precious metals investment and discover the potential treasures that await. Ready to embark on this journey? 

Chat with our experts live or call us at (855)-626-2305 for personalized insights and recommendations.


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