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 Legs Legged * Pcgs Ms63+ * Plus * Cac * Indian Head Buffalo Nickel 5c1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Beautiful Bu++/choice Rare Key Date Mint Error!1937 "d" Ngc Vf20 3 Leg Buffalo Nickel (ic482)1913-s Type 2 * Pcgs Au55 * Cac * Indian Head Buffalo Nickel 5c * $765+++ Ch Au+1927-s Buffalo Nickel, Seldom Seen This Nice, Ultra Rare Gem Bu++ Key Date!1937-d 3 Legs Buffalo Nickel Error Choice Au+ Three Legged Full Horn Rare!1913 S Type 2 5c Pcgs Good 4 Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Date First Year Problem Free1918/7-d Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs G 04 ** Highly Desired Key Date Mint Error!Brilliant1936 Buffalo Nickle Pcgs Ms66 In Old Green Holder (ogh)1937 D Buffalo Three Leg Nickel Graded Xf 45 By Pcgs1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel *key Date*1915-s 5c Buffalo Nickel - Pcgs Ms62 - Pcgs#81386671 Key Date - Beautiful Coin1925 Pcgs Ms66+ Plus * Cac * Indian Head Buffalo Nickel 5c $1,450+ Only 1 Higher1938-d/s 5¢ ~ Old Holder Pcgs Ms-661913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 Near Gem Bu++/gem Bu ** Free Shipping!Lot Of (2) Scarce Date Buffalo Nickels 1914 D, 1913 D Type 2 5c Pcgs Vg 8, Nice1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 11913 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms67 Type 1*rainbow Toned*1931-s Buffalo Nickel, Gem Bu Better Date ** Free Shipping!1923 Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1934-d Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Solid Gem Bu++ Blazer, ** Free Shipping!1918-s Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Au 55 ** Super Scarce & Desired Key Date!1916-d Buffalo Nickel, Great Strike, Gorgeous Solid Gem Bu++ Better Date!1926-s Buffalo Nickel - Key Date Coin1930 5¢ - Double Die Obv Fs-1011913-s Buffalo Nickel, Great Strike, Lustrous Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date!1914 Buffalo Nickel Au1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Pursued Choice Au++/unc Key Date Mint Error!Lot Of (15) Higher Grade 1913 Type 2 Buffalo Nickels First Year Original Look 5c1917 Buffalo Nickel, Super Nice Solid Gem Bu++ Tougher Date, ** Free Shipping!1913-d Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Pq Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1924-s 5c Buffalo Nickel1938-d Pcgs Ms66+ Plus Graded 5c Buffalo Nickel High Grade With Low Population1915-s Buffalo Nickel - Vg ConditionHuge Lot Of 255 Dateless P, D, & S W/ 17 V.1 P D& S Indian Buffalo 5c Nickel Lot1913 D Type 2 5c Pcgs Vg 8 Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Date, First Year, Problem FreeLot Of (6) 1931 S Buffalo Nickels, Better Date, Middle Grade Group, Nice 5c1914 Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1929-s Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1935-s 5¢ -s/s Rpm Old Holder Ngc Ms-651913 Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Au+1918-d Buffalo Five Cents Almost Uncirculated+ Sharp Horn1918 D Buffalo Nickel With Vf+ Details1927-d Buffalo Nickel 5c, Brilliant Uncirculated BuLot Of (100) Higher Grade, Full Horn Buffalo Nickels, 1935 1936 1937 5c, Nice1926 S Buffalo Nickel Ngc Vf20 Bison Indian Head San Francisco 5c Very Fine 20Buffalo Nickel Collection - 1913 - 1938 - Many Better Dates!!1936-s Buffalo Nickel, Sharp Solid Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1937 Buffalo Nickel With Bu Details1913 Type 2 5c Buffalo Head Nickel Ngc Graded Ms 641917 Buffalo Nickel, Super Sharp Solid Gem Bu++ Tougher Date, ** Free Shipping!1928 Buffalo Nickel, Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!Full Roll Of Full Date Indian Head Buffalo Nickels (40 Coins Total) 21915-d Buffalo Nickel, Tougher Bu++/choice Bu Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1921-s Buffalo Nickel ~ Vg "cleaned"A Used Buffalo Nickel Album With 17 Different Buffalo Nickel's Most Are Xf & Au1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Au1938 D/s Ms66 Buffalo Nickel Ogh Pcgs1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms65 Nice Gem Bu~! Free Shipping!1913 D Buffalo Nickel (type 1) With Unc Details