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 5¢ Pcgs Au 58 Cac 3 Leg Three Legs Buffalo Nickel Cac And Pcgs Au58! Cac 1928-s Buffalo Nickel, Tough Gem Bu Better Date San Francisco Issue ** Free S/h!1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel. Full Horn! Vf+.1918-d Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu++/gem Better Date! ** Neat Obverse Die Break!1916-d Buffalo Nickel Au 58 Pcgs & Cac1924 Buffalo Nickel, Stunning Superb Gem Bu++, Super Sharp Strike, Tough This Pq1915-s Buffalo Nickel, Better Date San Francisco Issue, ** Free Shipping!Lot Of Us Professional Coin Grading Serviced Quarters & Westward Nickel Series 1924 Buffalo Nickel, Very Nice Gem Bu Better Date, ** Free Shipping!40pc Roll Of Full Date Buffalo Nickels #1 { 1913-? & 1920-? } *new Batch*1931-s Buffalo Nickel, Super Pq Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!2014 W Reverse Proof Kennedy Er 50th Anniversary High Relief Ngc Pf69 "ask Not"1913-s Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms64 Pq+ Color & Superb Strike For The Date 1938-d/d Buffalo Nickel1913-s Buffalo Nickel Type 2 - Hole 1919-s Buffalo Nickel Au 58 Ngc & Cac1915 D Buffalo Nickel 5c Ngc Ms 621913-1937 Complete Buffalo Nickel Set In Dansco Album With All Key Dates 64 Coin40pc Roll Of Full Date Buffalo Nickels #2 { 1913-? & 1934-? } *new Batch*1938-d/d 5c Buffalo Nickel Gem Old Green Pci Holder Gorgeous Nice Color1915-s Buffalo Nickel 5c - Pcgs Xf 40 Certified & Graded *no Reserve!1936 S Pcgs Ms66 Cac Gem Buffalo Nickel In An Ogh1913 Buffalo Nickel, Beautifully Toned Type 1 Gem! ** Free Shipping!1918d Buffalo Nickel Circulated Ungraded1914 S Buffalo Nickel Xf-auBuffalo Nickles Mixed Lot Of 150coins From 1923 To19381913-d Type 2 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms63 Ogh Undergraded!Nice Buffalo Nickel Collection; Missiing 1913s V2,1918d 8/7, 1937d 3 Legged1914 S Buffalo Nickel Xf1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Original Hobo Nickel, Hand Carved, Highly Desired!1916 D Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 64 Glowing Mint Luster Full StrikeUnited States 1914 Type Ii Buffalo Nickel American Coin CurrencyPartial Set 34 Buffalo Indian Head Nickels Whitman Folder Collection, Key Dates1915-s Buffalo Nickel. Full Horn! Vf+.United States Rare 1913 D Type I Buffalo Nickel American Coin CurrencyLot Of Usa Buffalo Nickels Set In Bracelet Shiny!!! Nice 1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 , All Letters Visible Type 2 Nickel1926-s 5c Buffalo Nickel - High Grade About Uncirculated ? - Strong Strike!1937d 3 Leg Buffalo Nickel Anacs Fine Details1920 Buffalo Nickel 5c - Pcgs Ms64 Certified & Graded 1914-d Indian Head Buffalo Nickel Denver Mint 1914 Ngc Sample Slab 1928 Buffalo Nickel Young Collector's Edition Clear Date Lot Of Usa Liberty Head Five Cents Coins & Buffalo Nickels Partial Set 31 Buffalo Indian Head Nickels Dansco Folder Estate Collection1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 ** Sought After First Year Issue!1928 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 65+ Cac - No Reserve!1936 Pcgs Ms65 Cac Gem Buffalo Nickel In An Old Rattler1913 Type 2 Buffalo Nickel ~ Ngc Ms641913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 ** Very Nice First Year Date! ** Free Shipping!1926-s Buffalo Nickel, Better Date! ** Free Shipping!1931-s Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1927 Ms63 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Certified - 1st Generation Holder - Very Nice !Obw Roll Buffalo & "v" Nickels Unopened Possible Gems Or Key Dates 1915 S Buffalo Nickel 5 Cent U.s. Type Coin Better DateLot Of (3) Better Date Higher Grade Buffalo Nickels 1913 Type 1 1914 S 1917 D 5c34pc Roll Of Shield & Liberty Nickels { 1869 Shield Nickel Ddo & Liberty NickelBuffalo Nickel Collection 1913-1938 (51 Of 64 Coins) Ngc Sample Slab 1936 Buffalo Nickel Young Collector's Edition Clear Date 1924-s Buffalo Indian Head Nickel Nice Very Fine (vl1272) Free Shipping!48 Ag/cull Buffalo Nickel Set In 1913-1938 Whitman Tri-fold Album Id# H240