After the Liberty Head nickel was discontinued at the end of 1912, the Buffalo nickel (also known as the Indian Head) was released in February 1913. Designed by sculptor James Earl Fraser, it featured the head of a Native American chief with the word “Liberty” on the obverse and a buffalo (American bison) on the reverse.

The profile on the coin’s obverse is actually a composite of Cheyenne chief Two Moons, Kiowa leader John Big Tree, and Lakota chief Iron Tail, who rode against Custer during the general’s famous last stand. It was only the second time a coin would feature a Native American on either of its sides—the first depiction occurred in 1908 on gold Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles, which are also known as Indian Heads. The next coin to honor a Native American would not appear until 2000 with the Sacagawea dollar.

While the profile of the chief remained relatively consistent throughout the coin’s run until 1938, the coin’s reverse underwent numerous changes. For example, when the coin was first minted in 1913, the buffalo, whose likeness was based on a Central Park Zoo animal named Black Diamond, was depicted standing on a mound. It quickly became clear to mint officials, though, that the relief on this Raised Ground variety, as it is known, was too high, and that the words “FIVE CENTS” were destined to wear off quickly.

So, that same year, mint engraver Charles E. Barber took it upon himself to correct this oversight, placing the bison on a Straight Ground above a recess created for the name of the coin’s denomination. Much to the dismay of some contemporary coin experts, Barber also fussed with the animal’s hide and the chief’s face and feathers, removing details to give the images a more polished, if less realistic and gritty, appearance.

Another change to the buffalo occurred in 1937, when a production error at the Denver mint (a die was repaired incorrectly) caused a small-but-unknown number of nickels to be released into circulation with three-legged animals on their reverse. These 3-Legged coins, as they are called, are among the most collected by Buffalo nickel enthusiasts, though they are not as rare, or expensive, as coins from the same mint in the previous year, when the beasts on even fewer coins appear to have 3 1/2 legs.

Because of their size and thickness, Buffalo nickels were carved into Hobo Nickels, a form of American folk art in which artisans modified the pictures on the coins. For example, the Indian Chief’s head might be altered to depict a man wearing a hat, or the buffalo may be turned into a steam train. In most of these coins, a few remnants of the original coin are left intact—for example, the coin’s date and the word “LIBERTY” on the obverse.

In 1938, the U.S. Treasury launched a competition to replace the coin’s 19th-century imagery with icons of the 18th, namely, a portrait of Thomas Jefferson and his home at Monticello. Though they, too, have undergone numerous redesigns, Jefferson nickels remain in circulation to this day.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Original Hobo Nickel Society

The Original Hobo Nickel Society

Founded in 1992, The Original Hobo Nickel Society is mostly devoted to folk art derived from Indian Head or Buffalo… [read review or visit site]

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 Key Date ** Free Shipping!1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Highly Desired Choice Au Key Date Mint Error!1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Tough Choice Bu++ Better Date ** Free Shipping!1913-d Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Nice Gem Bu++ Better Date ** Free Shipping!1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel-you GradePcgs Ms64 Gold Cac Sticker 1938 D Buffalo Nickel Toned Old Rattler Slab 64031937-d 5c Buffalo Nickel 3 Legs Error Au+ Nearly Uncirculated W/ Full Horn Rare!1937 D 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Vf35 --- Key Date Very Scarce In All Grades 1937-d 3 Legs Buffalo Nickel 5c Ngc Vf251926-s Buffalo Nickel Nice Key Date -full Horn -old Cleaning But Superb Example1938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 - D Over D Restamped Mintmark1931-s 5c Ngc Ms65 - Buffalo Nickel - 1931 S Ms 65 - San Francisco Mint1934-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 65 ** Tough This Nice, Better Date, Great Strike!1938 D Buffalo Nickel 5c Ngc Ms 671938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 - D Over D Restamped Mintmark1929-s 5 Buffalo Nickel, Ngc Ms641937 D 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel1914 D 5c Pcgs Ms 64 Cac Buffalo Nickel, Scarce, Key Date, Near Gem Uncirculated1937 D Buffalo Nickel 3 Legs Xf Scarce Mint Error And Key Date 1921 Buffalo Nickel, Super Pq Superb Gem Bu++ Key Date, ** Tough This Nice!1926 Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 65 ** Gorgeous ** Free Shipping!1938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 - D Over D Restamped Mintmark1938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 - D Over D Restamped Mintmark1914 D Buffalo Nickel - Very High Grade1938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 - D Over D Restamped Mintmark1923 Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1936-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 66 ** Gorgeous, Tough This Nice, Free Shipping!1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Gem Bu++ Better Date ** Free Shipping!(one) Unsearched Buffalo Nickel Roll Double S-mint Ends440 (11 Rolls) 1920's- 1930's Buffalo Nickels - Mixed Dates - Mostly Full Dates 1914 Buffalo Nickel, Fully Struck Razor Sharp Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1938-d Buffalo Nickel - D/d Doubled Mint Mark - 5c - Pcgs Ms671918 Buffalo Nickel, Very Sharp Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date ** Free Shipping!1935-s Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu Tougher Date, Nice Rainbow Toning ** Free S/h1916 Buffalo Nickel Full Strike Split Tail * High Grade *Huge Lot Of *1,089* No Date/ Partial Date Buffalo Nickels No Reserve1936-d Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 66 ** Gorgeous Buff, Free Shipping!1925 Buffalo Nickel, Better Date ** Free Shipping!1918 D Buffalo Nickel1927-d Buffalo Nickel, Very Nice Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1936 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms-66 Cac 1923-s Buffalo Nickel, Choice Bu Better Date San Francisco Issue, Free Shipping!Buffalo Nickels - 564 Coin Lot - Found In Old Slot Machine W/ Original 1936 Bag.1927 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms63 Philadelphia Mint1934 Buffalo Nickel, Fully Struck Superb Gem Bu++ Beauty, ** Free Shipping!1916 Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1930-s Buffalo Nickel, Nice Better Date **free ShippingBuffalo Nickel Collection (50 Coins) 1913 - 1938-d In Whitman Album -id#k3361913-s Buffalo Nickel Type 2, Key Date San Francisco Issue, Details, Free S/h!1936-p Buffalo Nickel~ Shattered Dies " Mint Error Coin " Wow Just Awesome!!!1926 S Buffalo Nickel Ngc F12 Fine Semi Key Date No Reserve1914-s Buffalo Nickel Xf 40 Ngc. 1938-d Buffalo Nickel - Luminous Toning - Pcgs Ms 66+1936-d Buffalo Nickel, Gem Bu Blazer, Gorgeous!1938-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 66 Strong Luster1913-s Buffalo Nickel Type 2 - 5c - Pcgs Xf Details Environmental Damage1938 D Buffalo Nickel 40 Coin Roll Vf - Xf1938-d/s Buffalo Nickel, Full Strike, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++, Tough Date!One Unsearched - Buffalo Nickel Roll 40 Coins - 1913 1938 P D S (169)