ANAStaff's Blog

10 Jan 2013

A totally American coin: the Buffalo Nickel

ANA - Money Museum | ANAStaff

Written by: Brandon Ortega

National Coin Week is a few months away; the celebration will start April 21 and end on April 27. This year the National Coin Week theme is the Buffalo nickel. For that reason, this week I wanted to get a jump start on National Coin Week by writing about the Buffalo nickel, which this year is celebrating its 100 year anniversary. Even though the coin was only struck between 1913 and 1938, there is a great amount of history and interesting facts surrounding this coin. 


The Buffalo nickel was created during the renaissance of U.S. coinage. During this time, all the U.S. coin designs were replaced in part because of President Theodore Roosevelt's wish to beautify U.S. coinage. James Earle Fraser, a former assistant to famed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was tasked with the challenge to formulate a new design for the nickel that would replace the Liberty Head, which was designed by Charles E. Barber. Fraser explained his thought-process for the design of this coin when he stated, "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 the western background, was 100 percent American, and that our North American Indian fit into the picture perfectly."


Nickel _buffalo _1913

(1913 Buffalo Nickel)

There has been controversy over the years as to who the Indian head and buffalo were modeled after.  Fraser has said the Indian head was a composition featured after multiple Native Americans. However, Chief John Big Tree, a Seneca, claimed the coin was modeled after him.


The buffalo design is widely recognized as being the model of Black Diamond (Black Diamond will be the topic of one of my upcoming weekly blog). However, some have questioned the buffalo design being modeled after Black Diamond because his horns did not match that of the design on the coin. Some have stated it could have instead been modeled after Bronx, a bison who was the herd leader at the same Central Park Zoo that Black Diamond resided. 


In 1912, Fraser's design was approved, but it was met with resistance by Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint Charles E. Barber and the Hobbs Manufacturing Company, producer of vending machines. Despite these objections, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh ordered the coins to be struck and issued. 


Immediately, it was recognized that the coins were susceptible to wear, in particular within two areas. These two areas included the date and exergue that displays the coins' worth (5 cents).  Due to these problems, Charles E. Barber was permitted to modify the design to reduce the wearing on the exergue. This change in design provided two varieites in 1913, known as Type I and Type II. 


This was not the only change he made; he also smoothed out the bison and Indian head, which took away from the artistic work Fraser had originally designed. Despite the modifications made by Barber, the coins were still prone to wear, which led to the coin being replaced by the Jefferson nickel in 1938.


The Buffalo nickel has not been produced in 75 years, but it remains a well-known coin in part due to Hobo nickel designs.  Fraser's design was also adapted for the 2001 commemorative silver dollar and in 2006 the Mint began striking American Buffalo gold bullion pieces using a modified version of Fraser's Type I design. 


 1916-hobo -nickel

(1916 Hobo Nickel "Classic Man in  a Bowler Hat")


To get a closer look and to learn more about Buffalo and Hobo nickels, visit the Money Museum located on 818 N. Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs, Colo.



Level 5

A true icon in coins. I hate to think about them being used for hobo coins, but wow they do some beautiful work those old nickels!!!


Level 7

Yes it is a totally American coin. Now with chemicals which I disagree with on any coin there bringing back the date and running them. The label says altered date I won't collect them.

We use cookies to provide users the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your cookie settings, we'll assume that you agree to receive all cookies on money.org. You may disable cookies at any time using your internet browser configuration. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use. To learn more about how we use cookies and to review our privacy policy, click here.