The Exchange : Buffalo Nickels

Buffalo Nickels

Nickel _Buffalo _1913_obvNickel _buffalo _1913_rev

In 1913 the buffalo nickel (Indian head nickel), designed by James Earle Fraser (student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens), was put into circulation. The design for the coin had an Indian's bust on the obverse, or heads side. It is believed to have been a portrait of three different Native Americans put together into one portrait. On the reverse, or tails side, there is a portrait of a buffalo, who is supposedly Black Diamond from the Central Park Zoo.                                                                       

So in 1913, the first year of issue, there were two distinct varieties: buffalo on a raised mound and buffalo on flat ground. When the coin first came out it was on the raised ground. But over time the denomination, "Five Cents," quickly wore away. So later in the year, the U.S Mint changed the design so the "Five Cents" denomination was in a recessed area under the flat ground. The buffalo nickels were produced at three mints: Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco.                            

Also from 1913 to 1916 the mint made matte proofs for collectors and from 1936 and 1937 mirror proofs were made also for collectors. The series continued without change for the rest of production and ended in 1938 when the new Jefferson nickel design came out.

Rare Dates and Errors       

During production there were many errors. Some of them were the 1914, 4 over 3; the 1916 doubled-die obverse; the 1918 "D," 8 over 7; the 1935 doubled-die reverse;  the 1936 "D," 3 ½ legged buffalo; the 1937 "D," three-legged buffalo; and the 1938"D," D over S.  Of course, these errors are rare, but some of the lower mintage coins are the 1913 "D," variety one; the 1913 "S," variety one; the 1913 "D," variety two; the 1913 "S," variety two; the 1914 "D," variety one; the 1915 "S;" the 1921 "S," the 1926 "S," and the 1931 "S."

The Legacy Lives On   

Buffalo Nickle _current

Photo courtesy of

With the buffalo nickel's all-American, beloved design the U.S. Mint came out with a commemorative silver dollar coin in 2001.  It showed the original design of the coin with the buffalo on a raised mound. The coin had some design changes to it. One of the changes was that the "In God We Trust" motto was added to it and the motto, "E Pluribus Unim," was moved to a different part of the coin. It was struck in the Philadelphia Mint as a proof which is a specially prepared coin made for collectors. It was also struck in the Denver Mint as an uncirculated coin. In total only about 500,000 were struck compared to the billions of pennies struck each year.       

Also later in 2006, the West Point Mint started to strike 24k gold one ounce coins. Then, later in 2008, the mint also started to also strike fractional gold coins. The denominations were a $25 half-ounce gold coin, a $10 quarter-ounce gold coin and a $5 tenth-ounce gold coin. The coins have been continued since then. This year, 2013, marks the 100th anniversary of the buffalo nickel. 

Written by Eric Niedzielski at 00:00



Only registered users can post comments. Please log in here.


All Categories