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-legger Mint Error, Beautiful Choice Bu, Gorgeous Color!Lot Of 500+ Full Date Buffalo Nickels All Good And Better Natural Coins1937-d 3-legged Buffalo Nickel, Pcgs Certified Vf-35.1920 D Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Au 58 Very Difficult Date1921-s Buffalo Nickel Au Condition! Full Horn, Toning, Minor Lamination Flaw1937-d Buffalo Nickel (5 Cents) *3 Leg* Icg Ef40 1913 S Type 2 Buffalo Nickel. Au1917 D Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Au 58 Nice Toning.1936-d/s 5c Buffalo Nickel Ogh Pcgs Ms65 *old Green Rattler Holder*d/s Variety*1914-d Buffalo Nickel Key Date, Full Date 3/4 Horn F/vfComplete Buffalo Nickel Set (1913-1938) In A 'library Of Coins Album' 1919 S Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 62 Very Difficult Date To Find Bu1915 D Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Au 58 Nice Toning.1930 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Grade Ms 64Rare!! 1914-d 5c Buffalo Nickel Key Date!! No Reserve!! Nice Full Date!!1938-d/d Buffalo Nickel Gem Uncirculated Pci Photo-certified Coin Institute Slab1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 Solid Gem! ** Great Color! ** Free Shipping!Ω 1937-d Buffalo Nickel 3 Legs Pcgs Genuine, Cleaning - Au Details1918 P Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 621918-d Buffalo Nickel, Super Pq Superb Gem Bu Better Date Issue * Free Shipping!1915-s Buffalo Nickel Xf/au Nice Color1928 Ngc Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 65 ** Super Pq! ** Free Shipping!Hobo Nickel "sparrow Jack" Hand Engraved By Andrey Shamakin1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger Mint Error Variety, Highly Desired! ** Free S/h!1938 D Anacs Ms66 Gem Colorful Toned Buffalo Nickel1928-s Buffalo Nickel, Tougher Choice Au++/unc Slider! ** Free Shipping!1936-d 5c Buffalo Nickel ~ Pcgs Ms66 Cac ~ Super Pq+! Nice! Eye Appeal! Wow! 1938-d 5c Buffalo Nickel ~ Pcgs Ms66 Cac ~ Super Pq+! Nice! Eye Appeal! Wow!1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Very Nice Near Gem Bu++/gem Bu Better Date, ** Free S/h!1937-d 5c Buffalo Nickel ~ Pcgs Ms66 Cac ~ Super Pq+! Nice! Eye Appeal! Wow! 1938-d 5c Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms66 Gem Stack's W 57th Uncirculated Coin Sku62821913 Pcgs Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Pcgs Ms 65 ** Pq First Year Issue, ** Free S/h1920-d 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Vf 35 - No Reserve!1929 Buffalo Nickel, Lovely Rainbow Toning! ** Pq Choice Bu+++ ** Free Shipping!United States 1913 Type Ii Buffalo Nickel Coin As ShownHand Engraved Hobo Nickel "the Rum Runner " By Artist J.h.ranger1924 S Buffalo Nickel F-vf1924 Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Gem Bu Piece, ** Free Shipping!1936-s Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++, Outstanding Color, ** Free S/h!1920 Ngc Ms62 Cac Toned Buffalo Nickel 1938-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Grade Ms 641916 5c 'no F' Fs-401 (fs-016.3) Buffalo NickelBuffalo Nickel 1920 D Mint With Full Horn50 Ag/cull Buffalo Nickel Set From 1913-1938 In Whitman Album Id# U6011913 D Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Bu-1921-s 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs F 15 - No Reserve!1914-s 5c Ms 61 Anacs Certified Buffalo Nickel Mint Uncirculated Condition1930 Buffalo Nickel, Super Nice! ** Free Shipping!1913-d American Buffalo Nickel 5c First Year Type 1 No ReserveBuffalo Nickel Set 1913-1938 ~ 64/64 **complete Set40pc Roll Of Full Date Buffalo Nickels { P/d/s Mints 1913-? & 1913-? } #11916 5c Buffalo Indian Head Nickel Pcgs Ms6342 Ag/cull Buffalo Nickel Set From 1913-1938 Dansco Album Id# Q1241926-d 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Vf 30 - No Reserve!1913 S Buffalo Head Nickel Type 2 Vg 2521g50 Ag/cull Buffalo Nickel Set From 1913-1938 In Whitman Album Id# U793A Roll - Unsearched - Full Date Buffalo Nickels - 2.99 Ship1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 21937-d Buffalo Nickel, Solid Gem Bu+++ ** Free Shipping!Buffalo Nickels Lot Of 500 W/full Dates P,d Or S Mm Nr Free Shipping