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The Buffalo Nickel, also known as the Indian Head Nickel, is a five-cent coin with a fascinating history. Designed by James Earle Fraser in 1912, this coin features a Native American on one side and a buffalo on the other. Minted from 1913 to 1938, the Buffalo Nickel holds significant historical and monetary value.

The Buffalo Nickel’s design was a departure from the traditional coinage of the time, which often featured more classical motifs. Its bold and artistic elements quickly made it a favorite among collectors and the general public. Despite its popularity, the coin faced several challenges during its production. The intricate design led to rapid wear on the dies used to strike the coins, necessitating frequent replacements and contributing to higher production costs. Additionally, the coin’s raised details made it prone to wear, often obscuring the date and other features, which adds to the complexity and excitement of collecting high-quality specimens today.


Over the years, the Buffalo Nickel has become a symbol of early 20th-century American artistry and heritage. Its enduring legacy is evident in its continued popularity among coin collectors and its influence on subsequent U.S. coin designs. The coin not only represents a significant era in U.S. minting history but also serves as a cultural artifact, reflecting the nation’s historical reverence for both its Native American heritage and the majestic wildlife of the American plains. Today, the Buffalo Nickel is celebrated not just for its numismatic value but also for its artistic and historical significance, making it a treasured piece of American history.

Early Beginnings and Design

The Buffalo Nickel was first distributed on February 22, 1913, at the National American Indian Memorial groundbreaking ceremony in New York. Sculptor James Earle Fraser’s design aimed to beautify American coinage. The coin was minted in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.


Production Challenges

From its inception, the Buffalo Nickel faced production issues. The coins were difficult to strike clearly, and the dates and “FIVE CENTS” marking wore off quickly. This led to the Treasury’s eagerness to replace the coin. In 1938, the Buffalo Nickel was replaced by the Jefferson Nickel after the required 25-year period.

Notable Issues

Chief Engraver Charles Barber expressed concerns about the dies’ rapid wear within a week of the coin’s circulation. Despite attempts to revise the design, the problems persisted. In 1937, a Denver Mint worker accidentally polished away one of the buffalo’s legs, creating the rare “three-legged nickel.”


Key Dates and Varieties

The Buffalo Nickel saw two varieties in 1913: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 had “FIVE CENTS” on a raised mound, which wore down quickly, leading to the creation of Type 2 with a recessed “FIVE CENTS” for better durability. Key dates for collectors include:

  • 1913 S Type 2
  • 1918/7 D
  • 1937 D Three-legged


The Buffalo Nickel’s rich history and design intricacies make it a valuable piece for collectors and historians. Despite production challenges, its unique design remains admired, and key dates continue to attract high value in the collectors’ market.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is a Buffalo Nickel?

A Buffalo Nickel, also known as the Indian Head Nickel, is a U.S. five-cent coin designed by James Earle Fraser, featuring a Native American on one side and a buffalo on the other.

2. Why are Buffalo Nickels valuable?

Buffalo Nickels are valuable due to their historical significance, unique design, and the rarity of certain key dates and varieties.


3. What are the key dates for Buffalo Nickels?

Key dates for Buffalo Nickels include 1913 S Type 2, 1918/7 D, and 1937 D Three-legged, among others.

4. How can I tell if I have a valuable Buffalo Nickel?

You can tell if you have a valuable Buffalo Nickel by checking the date, mint mark, and condition. Key dates and rare varieties, especially those in good condition, are highly valuable.


5. What is the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 Buffalo Nickels?

Type 1 Buffalo Nickels (1913) have “FIVE CENTS” on a raised mound, while Type 2 (1913-1938) have the denomination recessed below a straight line to reduce wear.



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