Buffalo Nickels


Buffalo Nickels

Buffalo or “Indian Head” nickels are one of the most collected series of United States coinage. They are a true favorite among U.S. coin collectors. 

Buffalo Nickels were struck at the U.S. Mint from 1913 to 1938. The design was created by sculptor James Earle Fraser. The obverse (front) of the coin is a portrait of a Native American Man facing right. There is some controversy even to this day as to who the man was that Fraser modeled the design after. Many individuals laid claim to being the model, but none were able to provide proof.

The reverse depicts an American Buffalo or bison, facing left. Fraser was clear that he wanted the coin to look fundamentally American. In a 1947 interview he was quoted as saying: “Well, when I was asked to do a nickel, I felt I wanted to do something totally American—a coin that could not be mistaken for any other country’s coin. It occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of our western background, was 100% American, and that our North American Indian fitted into the picture perfectly.” The Buffalo was supposedly modeled after a Bison named “Black Diamond” in the New York City Central Park Zoo.

The first year of issue, 1913, featured two reverse styles. The Type I design shows the Buffalo standing on a raised mound. They switched to the Type II design midway through production. The Type II depicts the Buffalo standing on a thinner base straight line.

The “Key” (rarest) dates in the Buffalo Nickel series are 1913-D Ty II, 1913-S Ty II, 1914-D, 1915-s, & 1924-S (among others). The most valuable of the Buffalo Nickels is the fabled “3 Legged Buffalo” minted in 1937 at the Denver Mint (D).  The front leg of the Buffalo is missing on this coin. Excessive die polishing is believed as the reason too much metal was removed causing the buffalo’s leg to vanish. Before the mint realized the error a few thousand had been released into circulation. This coin can range in value from hundreds to many thousands of dollars!!

La Jolla Coin Shop & San Diego Coin both buy and sell all types of Buffalo Nickels. The vast majority that we see are very common and low value. But we do inventory a wide range of dates, conditions and prices. Collecting Buffalo Nickels is a fun and fairly affordable series of U.S.Coins to collect!! Contact us if you would like information about Buffalo Nickels!!


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