The “Three Legged” Buffalo Nickel represents an intriguing and highly collectible variety of the Buffalo Nickel series. As implied by the name, on the reverse of the coin it appears that the Buffalo, or American Bison, has only three legs. The right foreleg appears to be missing, while the other three legs are present. The variety was accidentally created by a Mint employee and has remained extremely popular with collectors since its initial discovery.
During normal production of 1937 nickels at the Denver Mint, excessive clashing of the dies occurred. This was noted by a newer and somewhat inexperienced Mint employee, Mr. Young. Normally, when dies were severely clashed, they would be replaced, but Mr. Young tried to solve the problem by re-polishing the dies. This was a common practice at the early United States Mint, and was still done to remove minor imperfections from the dies, but the problem was severe enough that extensive re-polishing was needed for the reverse die.
During the re-polishing process, part of the area of the already much used reverse die was over-polished and not only the die clashes but some detail of the design was removed. This detail turned out to be the right foreleg of the buffalo, resulting in the creation of the well known variety. Perhaps overlooked or not deemed important at the time, the now erroneous reverse die was put back into production, and the coins that were struck were quickly dispersed into circulation. By the time inspectors discovered the error many thousands of coins were already circulating and it would not take long until the public discovered this mistake.
There are some key diagnostics to look for when identifying a genuine 1937-D Three Legged Buffalo Nickel. First of all, as the reverse die had been heavily used before the die clashing occurred, part of it is worn, most notably on the back of the Buffalo which appears mushy. Additionally, the right hind leg of the buffalo appears extremely weak, although not completely missing. There also is what appears to be a “cloud”, or irregular line, which is seen behind the legs, coming from the Buffalo and moving down to the bottom. Finally, unlike the majority of 1937-D nickels, the letters U and P in E PLURIBUS UNUM should not be touching the Buffalo.