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 5c 3 Legged Buffalo Key Error Nickel Lustrous Full Horn Three Leg Rarity!1937-d Three Legs Buffalo Nickel (authentic & Not A Bad Example) No Reserve1913 D Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Nice Fine Key Date Coin218 + Buffalo Nickel Lot Most Have Full Dates Allot Vf Xf Nice Mix A Few Liberty1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger ** Choice Au++ Key Date Variety! ** Free ShippinGold Cac Stickered 1936 Pcgs Ms65 Gem Buffalo Nickel In An OghGold Cac Stickered 1938 D Pcgs Ms65 Gem Buffalo Nickel In An Old Rattler1917-s Buffalo Nickel. Xf/au Read!1913 Ngc Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Ngc Ms 65 ** Gorgeous! ** Free Shipping!Scarce Denver Buffalo 1918/7 D W/horn1915 S Buffalo Nickel Nice Fine Key Date Coin1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Super Pq Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!Lot Of 40 Full Date Buffalo Nickels From Old Estate Roll1913 S Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Graded Au 551926-d Pcgs Ms62 Buffalo Nickel 1924-s Buffalo Nickel.................................no Reserve 1913-s *type 2* Buffalo Nickel // Key Date! // (b484)1918/1918 D Unknown Over-date Buffalo Nickel Error! Unique? See Photos!! Wow!!1913-d Type 2 Semi Key Date Buffalo Nickel.full Date, Partial Horn1930-s Buffalo Nickel, Lovely Toning! ** Free Shipping!1931-s Buffalo Nickel.................................no Reserve 1913 S Variety 2 Buffalo Nickel Rare Key Date U.s. Type Coin 5 Cent1937-s Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms66 Rainbow Album Toned~ Colorful Toning~gemBag Of 500 Buffalo Nickels 1913 - 1938 Full Dates1915 Buffalo Nickel, Fully Struck Superb Gem Bu Date, ** Free Shipping!1937 Pcgs Ms65 Cac Gem Buffalo Nickel In An Old Rattler1915-d Buffalo Nickel, Choice Au++/unc Key Date! ** Free Shipping!1925-s Buffalo Nickel (2 Feathers Fs-401) Vf 20 Pcgs. Fs-016.641Gold Cac Stickered 1937 D Pcgs Ms64 Toned Buffalo Nickel In An Old RattlerHobo Nickel, "4 Masted Schooner" 1916 D 24k Gold Inlay Buffalo Nickel By Hobo X1916 Pcgs Au58 Toned Colorful Buffalo Nickel 1938 5¢ D Over S Mintmark Anacs Fine+/vf Rare 1919 S San Francisco Indian Buffalo Nickel 5c Ccc Nr Auction!1913-d Type One Buffalo Nickel. Au/ms.1913 Type 2 Au, 1917 D Vf-f, 1918 D G-vg And 1931 S Fine Buffalo Nickel1924-s Buffalo Nickel. Full Date. 1934-d Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Solid Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1931-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms64 5c1914-d Buffalo Nickel Key Date, Full Date F++1928-d Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Solid Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1938-d Ngc Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 66 ** Free Shipping!1929 Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 621924-s Key Date Buffalo Nickel, Full Date, Fine+1937-d Ms-65 Ngc Gem Buffalo Nickel! Has All 4 Legs :) !! No Reserve!Full Roll Of Full Date Indian Head Buffalo Nickels (40 Coins Total) 9Key Date! 1913 S Type 2 Buffalo Nickel With A Full Horn - T21915-d Better Date Buffalo Nickel, Pcgs Ms63, Original David Kahn Rare Coins1913-s,type 2,buffalo/indian Head Nickel/5c Coin,rotation Error On Reverse, *vg*1931-s Buffalo Indian Head Nickel Five Cent Coin 5 Cents High Grade No Reserve1934-d Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Gem Bu++ Denver Issue, ** Free Shipping!1924-d Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu++ ** Broad Strike ** Original Mint Frost!1913-s Type1, U.s. Buffalo/indian Head Nickel Coin, 5c, Rare, See Pictures!1937-s Buffalo 5 Cents Ngc Ms651935 Buffalo Nickel, Very Nice!1913 Buffalo Nickel Slab1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 ** Beautifully Toned First Year Issue!1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 Pq Gem! ** Free Shipping!1926-s Buffalo Nickel.................................no Reserve 1917 D G-vg, 1918 D Vg, 1929 Xf And 1931 S Vg Buffalo Nickel1937-d 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel - Scarce - Key Coin 3 Legs Error