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 Buffalo Nickel 3 Legged, Rare Key Date ** Scarce 3 Legs Variety1937 D 3 Legged Legs Buffalo Nickel Ngc Graded Vf20 Very Rare Variety1917-s Buffalo Nickel, Tough Key Date ** Free Shipping!1931-s Buffalo Nickel ** Tough This Nice! ** Free Shipping!1913 Buffalo Nickel- Old Green Holder - Type 2 - Pcgs Certified - ** Ms 64 **Old Unsearched Lot Of 3,316 Us Buffalo & Jefferson Nickels Coins 1913 To 19731913-d Buffalo Nickel -type 2Complete Buffalo Nickel Set (1913-1938) In A 'library Of Coins Album' 1916-d Pcgs Au58 "better Date" Buffalo Nickel!!1915-d Buffalo Nickel, Better Date In Series ** Free Shipping!1937 Buffalo Nickel Monster Rainbow Toned Ngc Unc Details Ed~colorful Toning~ 1929-d Buffalo Nickel ** Better Date In Series! ** Free Shipping!1915-d Buffalo Nickel ** Very Nice! ** Free Shipping!1921-s Buffalo Nickel--good/very Good1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Beautiful Ef/xf Key Date Coin W/ Sharp Details1919 D Buffalo Nickel1914 S Buffalo Nickel1930-s Buffalo Nickel ** Key San Francisco Mint Issue! ** Free Shipping!1929 Buffalo Nickel- Old Green Holder - Pcgs Certified ** Ms 63 **1915s Buffalo Nickel 1915 S - Partial Horn - Natural - Tougher Date - Km21938 D/s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 651921 Au Bu Buffalo Nickel Full Reverse Details Okc1913-s Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Bu+Roll (40 Coins) Buffalo Nickels.. Au/betterWow Rare Date 1918/7 D Buffalo Nickel With HornWow Complete Set Buffalo Nickels 1913 -1938 D Plus 1909 Cent1937-d Xf Full Horn 3 Legged Usa Buffalo Nickel1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickels Vg 10/vf 25 Pcgs. Two Coins!!1913-d Type 2 Buffalo Nickel1921-s Buffalo Nickel - Anacs F 15 - Key Date1916 Buffalo Nickel - Pcgs Certified - ** Ms 64 **1931-s Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1913 Buffalo Head Nickel Uncirculated Pcgs Ms 64 + Type One Upgrade Plus Coin A11914-d Pcgs Vg08 "better Date" Buffalo Nickel!!1921-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs G061937 P Buffalo Nickel Ngc Graded Ms66 Gem Uncirculated Beautiful High Grade!1914-d Buffalo Nickel1937-s Ngc Ms65 Buffalo Nickel!!1913-s Ty 1 Au Buffalo Nickel Full Details Full Date Okc1914-d Vf 1917-d F Vf Buffalo Nickels Decent Details Darker Coins1934 Buffalo Nickel 5c - Pcgs Ms63 - Certified & Graded *no Reserve!1915-s Buffalo Nickel (f/vf) Read!!!!1917 D Buffalo Nickel1913 Pcgs Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Pcgs Ms 63 ** Free Shipping!1913 Type I Buffalo Nickel About UncirculatedSet Of Buffalo Nickels 1934 To 1938 (12 Coins).. Au/bu1938 D/s Buffalo Nickel! Uncirculated And Graded Ms 64 By Pcgs! Sharp!1918/7 D Buffalo Nickel Nr!1914-d Buffalo Nickel1923 Buffalo Nickel--very Nice Original Au+++/unc1936 Buffalo Nickel Uncirculated** 1937 Pcgs Ms65 Buffalo Nickel ** Gem Coin -- No Reserve -- !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1931 S Buffalo Nickel ~ Au Details ~ Original Untouched ~1** 1937 Pcgs Ms65 Buffalo Nickel ** Gem Coin -- No Reserve -- !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1917d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Vg08 3 1/2 Leg Fs-901 (fs-016.42)1927-d Buffalo Nickel1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Nice Coin No Reserve1917-d Pcgs Vf20 "better Date" Buffalo Nickel!!1935 Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 64 ** Free Shipping!1937 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms65 Very Nice Coin!!!