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, Ultra Rare This Pq, Tough Solid Gem Bu++ Key Date!1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Key Date, Pcgs Ms64 Cac1937-d * 3 Legs Legged * Pcgs Xf40 * Cac * Indian Head Buffalo Nickel 5c $1,200+Magnificent 1926 S Ngc Vf20 Indian Head Nickel Au26941923-s Buffalo Nickel, Beautifully Toned Uncirculated++/bu Key Date, * Free S/h!1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Hard To Find This Nice, Gem Bu Rare Key Date!40 Buffalo Nickels1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Highly Demanded Au++ Key Date Mint Error!1937-d 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel, Popular Variety, Vg, No Reserve! (inv#137)1920 Pcgs Ms65 Gem Uncirculated Buffalo Nickel 1913-s San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1914-d Denver Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1916 Ngc Ms-63 Buffalo Nickel1937 Buffalo Nickel 5c Proof Pf 64 Ngc1938-d/s Buffalo Nickel, Brightly Lustrous Solid Gem Bu++, ** Free Shipping!1926-d Buffalo Nickel, Very Tough Choice Au++/unc Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1913-1938 Buffalo Nickel Set In Album W/ 51 Coins From Estate Starts @1.99c(54 Coins) Buffalo Nickel Collection 1913-1938-d In Whitman Album - Id#h251* 1913 S T2 Type 2 * 5c Buffalo Nickel * #1 Major Key Date! * ^horn Detail! *1920 Buffalo Nickel, Sharp Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1937 Proof 5c Buffalo Nickel Ngc Pf651913 Type 1 Pcgs Ms65 Gem Uncirculated Buffalo Nickel 1915 Philadelphia Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1928 Pcgs Ms65 Gem Uncirculated Buffalo Nickel 1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Xf+ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1920-d Buffalo Nickel, Neat Obverse Die Breaks, Bu++ Better Date, ** Free S/h!1918 Buffalo Nickel, Nicely Toned Gem Bu Tougher Date, ** Free Shipping!1913 “s” Type 2 Pcgs F12 Buffalo Nickel (h317),Lot Of 71 Us Buffalo Nickels 5c 5 Cents 1923-1937 With Full Dates - No Reserve!1916-s Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Solid Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1913 Type 2 Buffalo Nickel - Pcgs Au 58 - High Quality Scans #0621112 Circulated Buffalo Nickels With Dates Mixed Dates Free Shipping1935-d Buffalo Nickel, Very Pq Superb Gem Bu++, Tougher This Nice, ** Free S/h!1916-d Buffalo Nickel 5c Pcgs Ms 65 Toned Us Coin " Rare Beauty "1915-d Buffalo Nickel, Tougher Choice Bu+ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1914-d Denver Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1914 D Buffalo Nickel!! Key Date No Reserve1931-s Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Solid Gem Bu++, Sharp, ** Free Shipping!1929 Ngc Ms-63 Buffalo NickelUncirculated 1931-s San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1937-d Indian Head Buffalo Nickel 3 Legs Pcgs Vf 30 Cac1917 Buffalo Nickel, Sharply Struck ** Free Shipping!Pcgs 1937-d Ms-65 Gem Buffalo Nickel! Old Green Holder! **no Reserve** Lqqk!!1919-d Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Choice Xf++/au Key Date, ** Free Shipping!1914 Buffalo Nickel1913 Type I Philadelphia Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel - Nice Restored Date Coin 1924 Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1913 Type 2 Buffalo Nickel 5c Ngc Pf 66 Us Coin "very Rare Beauty" !!!!!1913-d Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms65 **********for Auction**********1913-d Type 2 Buffalo Nickel, Very Good, A Scarce Date!!1921-s Buffalo Nickel, A Pleasing Good Grade1921-s Buffalo Nickel, Good, With A Nice Readable 4 Digit Date. Lot Of (65) Buffalo Nickels 5c Coins **no Reserve**1919 Buffalo 5 Cents Choice Unc1938-d Ngc Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 66 ** Free Shipping!1923-s Buffalo Nickel1931-s San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1920 Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1924-s San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping