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Buffalo Nickel Value Guide: 10 Key Factors to Consider

The Buffalo Nickel, revered for its unique design and historical significance, holds varying values influenced by several critical factors. Whether you’re a novice collector or a seasoned enthusiast, understanding these elements can help you assess the worth and rarity of Buffalo Nickels in your collection.

1. Date of Minting

The date of minting is fundamental in determining a Buffalo Nickel’s value. The earlier mintages, especially coins from the inaugural year of 1913, tend to hold higher value due to their historical significance and limited production numbers. For collectors, these early dates represent a snapshot of American coinage history during a transformative period.


2. Mint Mark

Buffalo Nickels were minted at various locations across the United States, each identified by a unique mint mark. These include Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (D), and San Francisco (S). The mint mark’s presence or absence can significantly affect a coin’s rarity and desirability among collectors. For instance, coins minted in Denver and San Francisco generally have lower mintages compared to those from Philadelphia, making them more sought after.

3. Condition (Grade)

The condition or grade of a Buffalo Nickel plays a pivotal role in determining its market value. Coins are graded on a scale ranging from Poor (P), indicating heavy wear and significant damage, to Mint State (MS), indicating a coin in pristine condition with no wear visible to the naked eye. Factors such as luster, sharpness of detail, and any signs of wear or damage impact a coin’s grade and subsequent value. Collectors often seek higher-grade examples for their collections, as these coins retain more of their original detail and appeal.

Buffalo Nickel

4. Rare Varieties and Errors

Certain varieties and minting errors within the Buffalo Nickel series are highly coveted among collectors. Examples include the 1913-S Type 2 variety, distinguished by subtle design differences, and the 1918/7-D overdate, where the last digit of the date was overstruck on an earlier die. Perhaps the most famous variety is the 1937-D “three-legged” buffalo, where a die polishing error left the buffalo appearing to have only three legs. These varieties and errors add intrigue and rarity to a collection, often commanding premium prices at auctions and among dealers.

5. Strike Quality

The quality of the strike—how well the design details were impressed onto the coin’s surface—significantly influences its appeal and value. Coins with strong strikes exhibit crisp details and well-defined features, enhancing their aesthetic appeal and collector demand. Weak strikes, on the other hand, may detract from a coin’s overall visual appeal and, consequently, its market value.


6. Historical Significance

Buffalo Nickels that bear significant historical context or represent pivotal moments in American coinage history often hold added value. Designed during a period of artistic and cultural revival in the early 20th century, the Buffalo Nickel symbolizes a departure from previous coin designs featuring allegorical figures like Lady Liberty. James Earle Fraser’s choice to depict a Native American chief and an American buffalo reflected a broader cultural shift towards celebrating America’s indigenous heritage and natural landscapes.

Buffalo Nickel

7. Popularity Among Collectors

The overall demand and popularity of Buffalo Nickels within the numismatic community can influence their market value. Coins with timeless appeal, such as those featuring iconic designs and scarce varieties, often attract collectors seeking to complete sets or acquire historically significant pieces. Rarity, combined with historical interest and aesthetic appeal, drives the value of these coins in the marketplace.


8. Metal Composition and Weight

Buffalo Nickels are composed of a durable copper-nickel alloy (75% copper, 25% nickel). While the intrinsic metal value of these coins is relatively modest, their numismatic worth—based on rarity, condition, and collector demand—far exceeds their face value. Understanding the composition of Buffalo Nickels helps collectors appreciate their durability and the challenges faced during their production.

9. Market Trends and Auction Records

Staying informed about current market trends and historical auction records is essential for evaluating Buffalo Nickel values. Prices may fluctuate based on economic conditions, collector trends, and the availability of specific coin varieties. Monitoring auction results and sales data provides valuable insights into the evolving value and demand for Buffalo Nickels in the numismatic marketplace.

Buffalo Nickel

10. Authentication and Certification

For valuable Buffalo Nickels, professional authentication and certification by reputable services such as PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) or NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation) are essential. Certified coins not only guarantee authenticity but also provide assurance of the coin’s condition and grade. This certification process enhances a coin’s marketability and value, making it a preferred choice for serious collectors and investors.

Conclusion: Appreciating the Legacy of the Buffalo Nickel

In conclusion, the Buffalo Nickel stands as a testament to America’s rich numismatic heritage, combining artistic innovation with cultural symbolism. From its introduction in 1913 to its eventual replacement in 1938, the coin has captured the imaginations of collectors worldwide. Its enduring appeal lies not only in its iconic design but also in the historical narratives and technical challenges faced during its production.


Collectors and enthusiasts alike continue to cherish Buffalo Nickels for their aesthetic beauty, historical significance, and rarity. Each coin tells a story of American history, from the frontier era symbolized by the buffalo to the cultural diversity represented by Native American imagery. Understanding the key factors influencing Buffalo Nickel values—such as date, mint mark, condition, and rarity—empowers collectors to make informed decisions and appreciate these coins within the broader context of American numismatics.

As you embark on your journey into Buffalo Nickel collecting, remember to research, evaluate, and appreciate the unique qualities of each coin. Whether you’re acquiring coins for their historical value, aesthetic appeal, or investment potential, the Buffalo Nickel remains a timeless icon in the world of numismatics.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is it called the Buffalo Nickel?

The term “Buffalo Nickel” refers to the coin’s reverse design featuring an American buffalo (bison), symbolizing the American West, and the coin’s nickel composition.


Who designed the Buffalo Nickel?

James Earle Fraser, an American sculptor and artist, designed the Buffalo Nickel. His work aimed to capture the essence of Native American culture and the American frontier.


When was the Buffalo Nickel minted?

The Buffalo Nickel was minted by the United States Mint from 1913 to 1938.


What are the most valuable Buffalo Nickel varieties?

Rare varieties include the 1913-S Type 2, the 1918/7-D overdate, and the 1937-D “three-legged” buffalo, among others, prized for their scarcity and historical interest.


How can I determine the condition of a Buffalo Nickel?

Use a grading scale from Poor (P) to Mint State (MS) to assess a coin’s condition based on wear, luster, and any signs of damage or wear.


What makes a Buffalo Nickel valuable?

Factors such as rarity, condition, historical significance, and collector demand all contribute to a Buffalo Nickel’s value in the marketplace.


Where can I buy Buffalo Nickels?

Buffalo Nickels are available through reputable coin dealers, online auction sites, coin shows, and numismatic conventions. Ensure authenticity and quality when purchasing.


Are all Buffalo Nickels made of the same metal?

Yes, Buffalo Nickels are composed of a copper-nickel alloy (75% copper, 25% nickel), distinguishing them from earlier nickel designs.


Why did the United States stop minting Buffalo Nickels?

The Buffalo Nickel was replaced by the Jefferson Nickel in 1938 to update the design and honor President Thomas Jefferson’s legacy.


How can I start collecting Buffalo Nickels?

Begin by researching different dates, mint marks, and varieties. Joining numismatic clubs or seeking advice from experienced collectors can help start and expand your collection.


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