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Buffalo Nickel Value and History

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 

Buffalo Nickel Mintages and Values

Date Mintage Good Very Fine Extremely Fine Uncirculated
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety I) 30,992,000 $12.00 $20.00 $25.00 $45.00
1913-D Buffalo Nickel (Variety I) 5,337,000 $15.00 $35.00 $40.00 $75.00
1913-S Buffalo Nickel (Variety I) 2,105,000 $45.00 $70.00 $85.00 $130.00
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety II) 29,857,186 $10.00 $20.00 $25.00 $40.00
1913-D Buffalo Nickel (Variety II) 4,156,000 $120.00 $200.00 $235.00 $300.00
1913-S Buffalo Nickel (Variety II) 1,209,000 $250.00 $275.00 $550.00 $900.00
1914 Buffalo Nickel 20,664,463 $20.00 $30.00 $35.00 $60.00
1914-D Buffalo Nickel 3,912,000 $90.00 $220.00 $325.00 $450.00
1914-S Buffalo Nickel 3,470,000 $26.00 $65.00 $90.00 $200.00
1915 Buffalo Nickel 20,986,220 $6.00 $15.00 $25.00 $60.00
1915-D Buffalo Nickel 7,569,000 $20.00 $70.00 $130.00 $270.00
1915-S Buffalo Nickel 1,505,000 $45.00 $200.00 $400.00 $650.00
1916 Buffalo Nickel 63,497,466 $6.00 $10.00 $15.00 $50.00
1916-D Buffalo Nickel 13,333,000 $16.00 $45.00 $90.00 $175.00
1916-S Buffalo Nickel 11,860,000 $10.00 $40.00 $90.00 $190.00
1917 Buffalo Nickel 51,424,019 $8.00 $12.00 $15.00 $60.00
1917-D Buffalo Nickel 9,910,000 $18.00 $85.00 $150.00 $375.00
1917-S Buffalo Nickel 4,193,000 $22.00 $115.00 $200.00 $650.00
1918 Buffalo Nickel 32,086,314 $6.00 $15.00 $35.00 $125.00
1918-D Buffalo Nickel 8,362,000 $22.00 $135.00 $225.00 $550.00
1918-S Buffalo Nickel 4,882,000 $14.00 $110.00 $200.00 $585.00
1919 Buffalo Nickel 60,868,000 $2.25 $8.00 $15.00 $55.00
1919-D Buffalo Nickel 8,006,000 $15.00 $135.00 $250.00 $700.00
1919-S Buffalo Nickel 7,521,000 $9.00 $125.00 $250.00 $675.00
1920 Buffalo Nickel 63,093,000 $1.50 $7.00 $15.00 $65.00
1920-D Buffalo Nickel 9,418,000 $8.00 $115.00 $175.00 $600.00
1920-S Buffalo Nickel 9,689,000 $4.50 $100.00 $200.00 $650.00
1921 Buffalo Nickel 10,663,000 $4.00 $24.00 $50.00 $150.00
1921-S Buffalo Nickel 1,557,000 $60.00 $375.00 $950.00 $1,750.00
1923 Buffalo Nickel 35,715,000 $2.00 $6.00 $15.00 $65.00
1923-S Buffalo Nickel 6,142,000 $8.00 $135.00 $250.00 $600.00
1924 Buffalo Nickel 21,620,000 $1.50 $10.00 $25.00 $75.00
1924-D Buffalo Nickel 5,258,000 $8.50 $85.00 $235.00 $450.00
1925 Buffalo Nickel 35,565,100 $3.00 $8.00 $15.00 $45.00
1925-D Buffalo Nickel 4,450,000 $10.00 $95.00 $165.00 $450.00
1925-S Buffalo Nickel 6,256,000 $5.00 $90.00 $180.00 $600.00
1926 Buffalo Nickel 44,693,000 $1.25 $5.00 $10.00 $35.00
1926-D Buffalo Nickel 5,638,000 $10.00 $110.00 $185.00 $350.00
1926-S Buffalo Nickel 970,000 $25.00 $275.00 $900.00 $4,500.00
1927 Buffalo Nickel 7,981,000 $1.25 $5.00 $15.00 $35.00
1927-D Buffalo Nickel 5,730,000 $2.50 $35.00 $80.00 $165.00
1927-S Buffalo Nickel 3,430,000 $1.50 $35.00 $95.00 $850.00
1928 Buffalo Nickel 23,411,000 $1.25 $5.00 $15.00 $35.00
1928-D Buffalo Nickel 6,436,000 $1.50 $15.00 $45.00 $60.00
1928-S Buffalo Nickel 6,936,000 $1.75 $11.00 $26.00 $260.00
1929 Buffalo Nickel 36,446,000 $1.25 $5.00 $15.00 $40.00
1929-D Buffalo Nickel 8,370,000 $1.25 $7.00 $32.00 $60.00
1929-S Buffalo Nickel 7,754,000 $1.25 $4.00 $12.00 $55.00
1930 Buffalo Nickel 22,849,000 $1.25 $4.00 $11.00 $35.00
1930-S Buffalo Nickel 5,435,000 $1.25 $4.00 $15.00 $65.00
1931-S Buffalo Nickel 1,200,000 $15.00 $25.00 $35.00 $65.00
1934 Buffalo Nickel 202,113,003 $1.25 $4.00 $10.00 $50.00
1934-D Buffalo Nickel 7,180,000 $1.50 $9.00 $20.00 $80.00
1935 Buffalo Nickel 58,264,000 $1.00 $2.00 $5.00 $22.00
1935-D Buffalo Nickel 12,092,000 $1.00 $6.00 $18.00 $75.00
1935-S Buffalo Nickel 10,300,000 $1.00 $2.50 $4.00 $55.00
1936 Buffalo Nickel 118,997,000 $1.00 $2.00 $3.00 $25.00
1936-D Buffalo Nickel 24,814,000 $1.00 $2.00 $4.00 $40.00
1936-S Buffalo Nickel 14,930,000 $1.00 $2.00 $4.00 $38.00
1937 Buffalo Nickel 79,480,000 $1.00 $2.00 $3.00 $25.00
1937-D Buffalo Nickel 17,826,000 $1.00 $3.00 $4.00 $35.00
1937-S Buffalo Nickel 5,635,000 $1.00 $3.00 $6.00 $32.00
1938-D Buffalo Nickel 7,020,000 $3.50 $4.75 $5.00 $22.00

*Source 2020 Red Book

 

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.