Question: People in my local coin club were discussing the 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel. It brought up the topic of authenticity and how to determine if they were real. What are the diagnostics that help distinguish if a 3-Legged Buffalo is real? Are those diagnostics the same for the 3 ½ Leg Buffalo too?
Answer: The 1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo nickel is one of the most popular issues in its series making it one of the most commonly faked. Two diagnostics found only on genuine 1937-D 3-Legged nickels are notable die erosion on the back of the Indian’s neck (appears rough) and some subtle die lumps coming down from underneath the Buffalo (cannot be seen on low grade examples). These two diagnostics are unique to the 1937-D 3-Legged nickel and do not apply to the 1936-D 3 ½ Leg nickel.
There are some relatively simple ways to detect real 3-Legged nickel across the board. First it is vital to understand you are likely not looking for a counterfeit coin at all, but an “altered” coin, as in a genuine coin that has been altered to be missing some or all of the leg. For both issues you should look for extreme polishing or tooling marks where the leg is missing. If there is notable activity in the area that is inconsistent with the rest of the coin, then avoid that coin. The use of a loupe to magnify the area is recommended. Lastly, if you find your evaluation to be inconclusive then we recommend you pass on the coin or consult a trusted expert.