Buffalo Nickels

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Buffalo Nickel Value and History

Unique Buffalo nickels (also known as Indian Head nickels) were issued from 1913 to 1938 and became an instant hit with collectors – and they remain so to this day. The Buffalo nickel is the perfect coin to start anyone’s collection. It has such a meaningful, yet simple design that was and still is so loved. The design on the buffalo nickel obverse depicts a Native American Indian man who has features from multiple Native American tribes. The reverse features a buffalo. It was designed by James Earle Fraser. 

Buffalo Nickel Value

Buffalo Nickel values vary depending on the year, mint mark, scarcity, mintage, and condition. Some of the key date coins in the Buffalo Nickel series are 1913-S Type Two Buffalo Nickel, 1915-S Buffalo Nickel, and 1937-D 3 legged Buffalo Nickel just to name a few. The price of Buffalo Nickels can range from a couple dollars a coin upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.

The Buffalo Nickel Design

The Buffalo nickel design came about because President Theodore Roosevelt had the intent to rebirth U.S. coinage. President Roosevelt's goal was to implement more artistic values in our coins. Since the US 5 cent was a coin with such a prestigious status, it deserved a design worthy of its status. In turn, the Buffalo nickel was created.

The obverse of the Buffalo Nickel featured a side profile of a Native American Indian with such intense detailing you can make out the structure of this individual's face! It is said the Buffalo Nickel's obverse design was made using multiple Native American facial features from several different tribes. Due to the “heads” side of the Buffalo Nickel, it has been referred to by another name as well, the Indian Head Nickel. On the reverse of the coin lies a majestic American bison or buffalo, hence the name Buffalo Nickel. The designer of the Buffalo nickel was James Earle Fraser, an apprentice to Augustus Saint Guadens, designer of the famous and what is considered the most beautiful gold coin of all time, the $20 Saint Gaudens.

The Buffalo nickel was first released to the public on February 22,1913 and minted from 1913 to 1938. The Buffalo Nickel's elegant design lasted for 25 years until it was replaced by the Jefferson nickel. The Buffalo Nickel was minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. This coin is still popular to collectors today, with many collectors trying to claim the full set. 

Rare Buffalo Nickels Worth Money

Collectors often try to put together complete sets of the Buffalo Nickel or just buy them in rolls of 40 coins. These sets are often relatively inexpensive in circulated condition, however there are some key dates that are more expensive and harder to find. Some key date examples are the following:

-1913 S Type II Buffalo Nickel

-1915 S Buffalo Nickel

-1918/7 D Buffalo Nickel 

Minting and Composition

Minted primarily in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco, the Buffalo Nickel is composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel. Its production spanned over two decades, offering a wide range of dates and mint marks for collectors to pursue.

Preservation and Value

The value of a Buffalo Nickel greatly depends on its condition, rarity, and historical significance. Well-preserved examples, especially those with full dates and clear details, are highly prized. The coin's design, particularly the high relief of the date and the bison's mound, led to rapid wear in circulation, making high-grade specimens particularly valuable.

Buying Buffalo Nickels Online

For collectors looking to acquire Buffalo Nickels, the online marketplace offers a vast selection, from individual coins to complete sets. When purchasing online, consider the coin's grade, authenticity, and the reputation of the seller. Certified coins graded by reputable services can provide additional assurance of the coin's condition and authenticity.


Buffalo Nickel Coins FAQs

The bison on the reverse of the Buffalo Nickel is not a specific individual bison, but it is widely believed to have been modeled after a bison named "Black Diamond" who lived at the Central Park Zoo in New York City during the early 20th century. The Buffalo Nickel, designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser, was introduced in 1913 and features a Native American on the obverse and the bison on the reverse.

James Earle Fraser used various models to create a composite image that represented the Native American and bison's general features rather than specific individuals. However, over the years, the story of Black Diamond being the inspiration for the bison on the coin has become a popular narrative in numismatic circles.

It's worth noting that while "Black Diamond" is the most commonly cited inspiration, there have been other claims about different bison being the model. Regardless of the specific model, Fraser's intent was to capture the essence and spirit of the American West with the Buffalo Nickel's design.

The Buffalo Nickel, introduced in 1913, underwent a design change in its inaugural year, leading to the distinction between Type 1 and Type 2 Buffalo Nickels. Here's the primary difference between the two:

Type 1 Buffalo Nickel (Early 1913):

Reverse Design: The bison is depicted standing on a raised mound or hillock, with the words "FIVE CENTS" prominently displayed on the mound beneath the bison. Issue: The design raised concerns because the denomination's placement on the raised mound made it susceptible to wear, leading to the "FIVE CENTS" becoming illegible over a short period of regular circulation.

Type 2 Buffalo Nickel (Later 1913 and subsequent years):

Reverse Design: To address the wear issue, the design was modified. The bison now stands on a flat ground or plain. The words "FIVE CENTS" were recessed below the line of the ground, making them less prone to wear.

Outcome: This revised design proved to be more durable, and it was used for the remainder of the Buffalo Nickel's production, which lasted until 1938. Both Type 1 and Type 2 Buffalo Nickels were minted in 1913, making that year unique in having two distinct reverse designs. Collectors often seek examples of both types from 1913 to complete their Buffalo Nickel collections.

In the context of U.S. coinage, the first coin to prominently feature an animal that wasn't an eagle was the "Flying Eagle" cent, which was minted from 1856 to 1858. While the name might suggest otherwise, the primary design on the obverse of this coin is not an eagle but a flying eagle in flight. The reverse of the coin features a wreath.

However, it's worth noting that the eagle, as a symbol of the United States, has been a prominent feature on many U.S. coins since the earliest days of the U.S. Mint. The Flying Eagle cent was significant because it introduced a different bird as the primary design element, paving the way for other non-eagle animal designs in future U.S. coinage, such as the aforementioned Buffalo Nickel.

The Buffalo Nickel was designed by James Earle Fraser. He was a prominent American sculptor of the early 20th century. Fraser's design for the Buffalo Nickel features a Native American on the obverse and a bison (often referred to as a buffalo) on the reverse. The coin was introduced in 1913 and was minted until 1938. Fraser's design aimed to capture the essence and spirit of the American West.
Another name for the Buffalo Nickel is the "Indian Head Nickel." This name references the Native American portrait featured on the obverse of the coin.
The Buffalo Nickel, which was minted from 1913 to 1938, is composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel. So, for each Buffalo Nickel, 25% of its weight (or 1.25 grams, given that the coin weighs 5 grams) is nickel.

The Buffalo Nickel is a U.S. five-cent piece designed by James Earle Fraser, featuring the profile of a Native American on the obverse and an American bison (buffalo) on the reverse. It was minted from 1913 to 1938.

Its popularity stems from its distinctive American imagery, historical context, and the variety of rare dates and minting errors that appeal to collectors. The design is considered one of the most beautiful of any U.S. coin.

Key dates that are especially valuable include the 1913-S Type 2, 1916/16 doubled die obverse, 1918/7-D overdate, and the 1937-D 3-legged variety.

The 1918/7-D overdate and the 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo Nickels are among the most valuable, with high-grade examples fetching tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

The mint mark is located on the reverse of the coin, below the words "FIVE CENTS" at the bottom, except for the 1913 Type 1, where it's on the mound on which the buffalo stands. Coins minted in Philadelphia do not have a mint mark.

Yes, Buffalo Nickels are still legal tender and can be used for their face value of five cents. However, their collectible value is often much higher than their face value, especially for coins in better condition or with rare dates.