How and why it works
The reason I chose the name "Buffalo Reincarnations" for my website is because that name pretty well describes what I do. I take old, worn out, dateless Buffalo Nickels and I bring them back from the dead. I reincarnate them.
I'm able to do this because of the composition of the coin and the physical properties imparted upon the coin back when it was stamped at the mint.
The nickel is an amalgam of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The chemical I use to restore the date, the horn and a lot of the other details on the nickel works ONLY upon the 25% of the coin that is nickel. As the chemical comes in contact with the coin, it dissolves away a small percentage of the nickel it comes in contact with.
The reason the date and the horn and other details "emerge" during this process is because, as a percentage, they have a little more copper in them than the surrounding areas. They have more copper because the stamping process forced a higher percentage of the softer copper out of the copper-nickel amalgam and into the incused areas of the die that represented the date, the horn and other details of the coin. The chemical does not work on copper, so the "fields" around these features, which are "nickel rich", erode faster.
During the process it appears that these features are rising up out of the coin but, in reality, everything on the coin is actually being eroded. The critical features, like the date and the horn, simply don't erode away as fast as the area that surrounds them.
The Early Days
Before I get into the actual process, I want to give credit where credit is due. I think that my restorations are the best that you will find, but that didn't happen because I'm exceedingly smart or inventive or have a degree in metallurgy. I would have gotten to this point on my own, eventually, but I got there a lot sooner because of some great advice I received when I first started selling on eBay.
The first nickels I listed on eBay were date-only restorations. The kind an eight year old could produce with a pile of dateless nickels and a bottle of Nic-a-Date. In fact, Nic-a-Date was exactly what I was using. Then one evening I received a call from a gentleman who explained that he had been restoring Buffalo Nickels for countless years and it was his opinion that I would improve my sales if I restored the entire coin and not just the date. He explained that a nickel with a full horn and some other revitalized details was a lot more desirable than one that merely had a legible date. He also told me where I could buy bulk quantities of a chemical that was more potent and worked better than Nic-a-Date. He had some other good ideas, as well.
His motives for sharing these ideas with me went a little beyond just being a nice guy. He had dateless nickels, nicely restored nickels and other goodies he hoped to sell to me. His prices for these things were reasonable and his quality was good. We had a pretty good relationship for over a year. He moved a lot of stock through me and I made a decent profit from it. Having some of HIS restored nickels available to sell gave me the chance to catch my breath when the world got too hectic for me to spend the time necessary to restore enough nickels to make a decent, weekly showing on eBay.
In short, the relationship benefited BOTH of us.
Unfortunately, both he and I are very stubborn people and in early 2007 we had a falling out concerning certain aspects of our business relationship, and we haven't spoken since. I nevertheless suspect that, in time, he will find his way to this web page and I want him to know that, differences aside, I remain grateful for his help back in the early days.
The Process Today
I really can't tell you too many specifics about the process. It would be sort of like MacDonald's giving out the ingredients and recipes for their "secret sauce." Before you know it, everyone would be selling hamburgers from their homes and MacDonald's would go out of business.
What I can tell you is that it is dirty, tedious and time consuming work. Check out some of my photos on this page and you'll see what I'm talking about. The chemicals make a mess and they are potentially unhealthy.
I sell an average of 17 nickels every week and I've got it figured out that each nickel takes an average of ONE hour's worth of work. The restoration process itself doesn't take very long, but when you consider EVERYTHING that's involved from sourcing and acquiring that nickel right up to the point where it's in an envelope and being dropped into a mailbox en route to the eBay winning bidder, it works out to about one hour per coin.
In between sourcing and shipping (cradle to grave?) the following things have to happen:
- Sorting — removing culls and coins with no mint marks (only D & S mint coins are worth my trouble)
- Three separate cleaning processes — one with soap and two with chemicals — in and around the following 2 steps
- "Discovery" — The initial chemical treatment of the date and inspection of the rest of the coin to determine if it is worthy of FULL restoration
- Full immersion chemical bath — the moment of truth!
- Insertion into a 2 x 2 and determination of the grade. (Yes! I have a grading system for these restorations! Somebody had to do it!)
- Digitally photographing the coins — 2 shots of each side. A bare minimum of 68 photos each week. (Go ahead — ask me why it's 2 shots.)
- Cropping and cataloging the photos. By cataloging, I mean giving them file names and putting them where I can find them in my PC.
- Uploading the photos to Photo Bucket. This is a lot cheaper than using eBay's photo system.
- Uploading one photo from my PC and two from Photo Bucket to eBay — for EVERY coin I list.
- Making any changes necessary to my eBay ads. (This is pretty minor. My ads don't change much from week to week. Usually only the photos change)
- Sending invoices through eBay's system when my sales end, usually on Saturday night.
- Packaging the coins for shipment when payment is received. (This takes more time than you would think. Very few people pay for insurance so I do my best to make the envelopes as tamper-proof as possible. It takes time and it's NOT cheap.)
- Issuing feedback. I believe (and always have, even before eBay changed their feedback system) in issuing it right away, as soon as I ship.
- Dealing with the countless emails associated with all this. For each coin I sell there are usually 4 emails: The listing confirmation, the confirmation of the sale, the confirmation that an invoice was sent and the notification that payment was received. (Cyber-paperwork! — Ugh!)
It might surprise you to know that of all the D and S mint marked nickels I handle (and I handle close to 9000 per year), probably less than one in ten actually makes it onto eBay as an individually listed coin. Not very many have enough of the characteristics needed for me to even want to list them. In order for me to list a nickel, it has to satisfy at least 3 of the following 5 conditions, and it will usually satisfy at least 4 of them:
- Key date — you know what they are; 13-D & S T2, 14-D, 15-S, 21-S, 24-S, 26-S. (31-S not included — they almost never wore out!)
- Strong 4 digit date
- Visible horn
- Minor or no damage — some scratches allowed; nothing else!
- Good eye appeal — not too bright and not too dark
I would list a 1918/7-D overdate REGARDLESS of what it looked like, but if it's a common date, like a 1916-D, it better have a MINIMUM of a strong date, a visible horn and pretty decent eye appeal. If it doesn't, hopefully I weeded it out a lot earlier in the process! Believe me, I'm good at spotting winners or losers before I put too much effort into them.
The 90% or so of the nickels that do NOT get the full restoration process are usually also sold on eBay, but they're sold as bulk lots or in rolls. Most are decent coins, they just don't warrant full restoration.
Would you like to try it?
If you would REALLY like to know exactly what I do in this process and exactly what I use, chapter and verse, I'll make you a deal: I'll let you "buy me out" for one full year. For one full year I'll exit this business and let YOU come up to speed. I'll give you ALL my chemicals, ALL my nickels (guaranteed to be a minimum of at least 1000 untreated D & S mint pieces) and ALL my restoration know-how. I won't hold anything back. Additionally, I'll give you three months of unlimited consultation at no extra cost. I'll tutor you on photographing, listing and shipping techniques - anything and everything. In short, I'll turn you into ME for the ridiculously low sum of $25,000.00.
If you're lucky, the detective novel I plan to write during my 365 day hiatus from nickel restoration will be successful and I will not bother to come back and compete against you, and you can hold on to your status as the new, NUMBER 1 restorer and Buffalo Nickel Mogul in the land.
I'm actually very serious. Talk to me!