How to Spot a Fake 3-Legged 1937-D Buffalo Nickel


Recently this coin appeared in a Gary Ryther auction on Proxibid. To Ryther’s credit, he notes in his description that the coin may be altered and provides a close-up of the severed leg. That is the wrong place to look if you lack numismatic expertise.

Coin dealers and skilled hobbyists regularly confront easy, clever and difficult to detect fake 3-legged Buffalo Nickels. A worn regular 1937-D may cost a few bucks. Tool a foreleg on the reverse, and puff!, you have become an alchemist, changing nickel and copper into gold–literally.

Genuine 3-legged nickels are coveted. Given the popularity of the overly polished coin (the reason for the missing leg), the demand for the variety is intense because so many already are in sets, registries and holders.

The above example in the Proxibid auction is easy to detect as a fake. Ryther focuses on the missing foreleg in this close-up photo:


The hoof of the missing leg is struck too strongly for a genuine 3-leg nickel. And tooling is evident. But many collectors will not be able to identify that.

The best way to detect a fake is to look at the “P” in pluribus and the “U” in unum Those letters do not touch the back of the buffalo, as in this authentic NGC example offered by SilverTowne on Proxibid:


The Ryther example has the reverse of a common 1937-D nickel. Let’s use an uncirculated one to see how closely the “P” and “U” are to the buffalo’s back:


Now let’s look at the Ryther example:


An obvious fake. The “P” and “U” are touching the back.

More difficult fakes concern “very good” circulated regular 1937-D nickels treated with acid so that the surface is corroded and the “P” and “U” not easily discerned. Those coins are sent to a bottom-tier holdering companies and come back graded as authentic but damaged. See this post for more information about that.

The most difficult fakes to uncover are from China. Beginning counterfeiters can’t afford real 3-legged coins and so tool regular 1937-D coins. In those cases, the “P” and “U” test still applies. Top counterfeiters use computer programs to scan an authentic 3-legged coin and then create dies from that. Those require a top grading company with records on fakes to uncover, tracking examples with similar bagmarks and other tell-tale die marks.

As for the Proxibid fake, I’ll use the company’s “report this item” link. We’ll see if the auction company removes the lot or labels it a fake. More later on that.

How about you? Have you any experience with 3-legged fakes? Why don’t you share your experience below?

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