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    

1937-d 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel 5c - Pcgs Cac Xf40 Certified & Graded1913 S Type 2 Pcgs Au Buffalo Nickel1914-d Buffalo Nickel Free S/h!!!Pcgs Pr65 1914 Proof Buffalo Nickel Cac Old Green Holder Toned Ogh 5cComplete Buffalo Nickel Set (1913-1938) In A 'library Of Coins Album' 1928-d Buffalo Nickel Ms 64 Pcgs & Cac.1937-d Buffalo Nickle 3-legged Error CoinPcgs Pr66+ Plus 1936 Satin Proof Buffalo Nickel Cac 5c1937-d 5c 3 Legs Buffalo Nickel1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 ** Free Shipping!Key Date! 1913 S Type 2 Buffalo Nickel With A Full Horn! T21937-d Buffalo 5 Cents - 3 Legged - Extremely Fine Rare!1913 Ty 2 Bu, 1916 Bu Detail, 1930 Bu, 1935 Bu And 1935 D Au-bu Buffalo Nickel1937 Buffalo Nicklel 5c Pcgs Proof Pr67 Cac Sticker Rare1938-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 Cac Lightly Toned ~colorful Toning~ Gem Mint~ogh1916 To 1938 D Full Horn Buffalo Nickel Roll / 40 Coins1913 Buffalo 5 Cents Type-2 Icg Ms641913-d Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Uncirculated ~ Nicely Toned * Free Shipping *1918/7-d Buffalo 5 Cents Ngc Fine Details -bold Restored Over Date- Rare!!3,606 Buffalo Nickels1938-d Buffalo Nickel (ms 65) Pcgs/gold Cac Sticker!! Ogh!!1937 S Ngc Ms64 Colorful Buffalo Nickel 1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Very Good1913 S Type I Buffalo Nickel A Extremely Fine Coin1937-d 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel 5c - Pcgs Vf Details Certified Hobo Nickel "ace Of Spades Skelton" By A. Armstrong1919 P Buffalo Nickel Ngc Graded Ms63 Uncirculated Beautiful High Grade!Lot Of 400 Buffalo Nickels - $20 Face Value - 5 Cents Nickel Cent Coins1915 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms63 No Reserve Auction1914 S Buffalo Nickel Sharp Full Horn United States Coin No Reserve1916 D Xf Detail, 1917 Au, 1920 D Vg, 1921 Vf And 1930 Bu Buffalo Nickel1917 D Buffalo Nickel Better Date Better Grade! 14 Day Satisfaction Guarantee1936-d Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1914-1938 Buffalo Nickel Collection 41 Coins With Oberwise Cardboard Holder1916 D Buffalo Nickel A Very Fine Coin1918 Vf, 1920 Au, 1926 Au, 1927 S Vf And 1929 D Xf Buffalo Nickel1938-d 5c Buffalo Nickel Ms-64 A Nice Bright Pleasing Coin With Satiny Surfaces1914-s Buffalo Nickel (ms 64) Ngc/cac Very Scarce!!!Genuine Rare 1937d 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel Highergrade Gorgeous Estate FindAmerican Buffalo Bu Silver Dollar-first Day Of Issue Commemorative Coin Cover1913 Buffalo Nickel Type 1 Ms651926 Au, 1930 Au, 1930 S Xf, 1931 S Vf, 1934 Xf And 1934 D Xf Buffalo Nickel Hobo Nickel1937 Buffalo"exodus" Carved By Stephan Miles1926 S Buffalo Nickel A Fine Coin1926-s Buffalo Nickel, Fine, With A Clear 4 Digit DateLot Of 10 Buffalo Nickels! Key Date! 8 Bu! (2) 1913-s, (5) 1913, (2) 1914 & 19151913 D Type I Buffalo Nickel A Extremely Fine Coin1915 D Buffalo Nickel High Grade 0.99 Starting Bid And No Reserve!1913 Type 2 Buffalo Nickel ~ Additional Items Ship Free! #511938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms67+ Fs-503 Rpm-3 **finest Known Example** Pop 1/01913-d Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 64 Nice Graded Coin, Rare Piece, #4771913-s (type 2) Buffalo Nickel Vf 20 Pcgs.1915-p Buffalo Nickel 5c Coin Ngc Ms 63 Graded Choice Bu Hi Grade Early Date WowBuffalo Nickel Set 1913-1938, 40 Different. No Acid Dates! Starts At $9.99!1938-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms65 Lightl Toned ~colorful Toning~ Gem Mint~ Rattler1937 5c Buffalo Nickel. Ms-65-a Real Beauty.1935-s 5c Buffalo Nickel Better Date, Rainbow Toned Ngc Ms62 ~nr~1937 P Buffalo Nickel; Ngc Ms 66; Sparkling Superb Gem Bu72 Coin Lot Indian Head Buffalo Nickels With Dates1937-s 5c Buffalo Nickel, Peripheral Rainbow Toning Ngc Ms64 ~nr~