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 Ngc Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Ngc Au 55 ** Highly Collectible Mint Error!1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Collector's Favorite Choice Unc Key Date Error!1937-d 3 Leg Buffalo Nickel Ngc Vf Details Three Legged 5c Coin Key Date 1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Nice Strike, Rare Gem Bu++ Key Date, ** Gorgeous!Full Set Of Buffalo Nickles 1913-1938 Vg/fine-au Nice Quality Set W 37-d 3 Leg 1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Ngc Au 58 * Key Date Mint Error, 60 Bid: $1850!1921-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ef-45 1926-d Buffalo Nickel, Outstanding Color, Very Rare Superb Gem Bu++ Key Date!1918/7-d 5c Buffalo Nickel, Ngc Vg8, Famous Error, Free Shipping1937-d 5c Buffalo Nickel 3 Legs Error Au+ Nearly Uncirculated W/ Full Horn Rare!1915 Buffalo Nickel, Razor Sharp Full Strike, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++, Pq Color1913-s Buffalo Nickel Type Ii Pcgs Genuine Cleaning - Au Details1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Great Look, Very Tough Gem Bu++ Key Date, ** Free S/h!1883 - 1912 Liberty Nickel And 1913 - 1938 Buffalo Nickel Collection / 73 Coins1937 D Pcgs Au58 3 Legs Buffalo Nickel Item#t60711927-d Ms64 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Certified - Super Nice !1915 Ms66 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs/cac Certified Superb GemBuffalo Nickels 1500 Full Date Pieces 1917-d Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Color, Attractive Solid Gem Bu++ Better Date!1919-s Buffalo Head Nickel Choice / Gem Bu++ Wow Key Date1926 Ms66 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Certified Superb GemBuffalo Nickel Indian / Liberty Head California Gold Collection1913-s Type 2, Pcgs Vf351937 D 3 Legs Buffalo Nickel1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Great Strike, Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1924-d Buffalo Nickel, Rare Key Date Denver Issue, Nice Choice Bu++ ** Free S/h!Buffalo Nickel Lot Of 1,000 Full Dates!! Free Shipping! 1920-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Xf-40 -1592261914-s Buffalo Nickel, Great Color & Strike, Sharp Superb Gem Bu++ Key Date!1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Tough Au Denver Issue, ** Free Shipping!1920-s Buffalo Nickel, Very Tough Choice Uncirculated++/bu Key Date, * Free S/h!1917-s Indian Head Buffalo Nickel Ngc Au 531934-d Buffalo Nickel, Great Color, Beautiful Supeerb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1923 Buffalo Nickel, Great Look, Solid Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1913-d Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Nice Color, Tough Choice Bu++ Better Date!1924 S Buffalo Nickel Ngc Vf25 San Francisco Mint 5 Cent Bison Coin Very Fine 25Extremely Rare: 1936-d 3 1/2 Legged Buffalo Nickel1926-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Certified Vf301925 Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 65 ** Great Look W/ Nice Color, Tough Coin!One Unsearched - Buffalo Nickel Roll 40 Coins - 1913 1938 P D S (76)1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Nice Gem Bu++ Tougher Date, ** Free Shipping!1928-s Buffalo Nickel **key Date. Solid Gem Bu++ Full HornHuge 560+ Unsearched Buffalo / Indian Head Nickel Lot Over 6 Lbs Buffalo1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Very Scarce This Sharp, Solid Gem Bu++ Key Date, Pq Coin!One Unsearched - Buffalo Nickel Roll 40 Coins - 1913 1938 P D S (77)1916-s Buffalo Nickel, Super Nice Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1, Great Strike, Superb Gem Bu++, Tough ** Free S/h!1914-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Xf45---pcgs Secure---very Nice--scarce In High Grades1916 Buffalo Nickel, Tough Gem Bu Beauty! ** Free Shipping!(57) Buffalo Nickel Collection 1913 To 1938 In Whitman Album - Id#mm2101915-d Buffalo Nickel, Great Color, Choice Au++ Tougher Date, ** Free Shipping!1923-s Buffalo Nickel. Full Horn. V.f. 1088061915 Buffalo Nickel, Razor Sharp Full Strike, Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1913-s Type 1 Buffalo Nickel- Ngc-audetails !! Obverse Planchet Flaw !! #sl9707Us Buffalo Nickels Lot, 322 Coins In Total Full Dates 4 DigitsUs Buffalo Nickels Lot, 280 Coins In Total Full Dates 4 Digits1931-s Buffalo Nickel, Nice Superb Gem Bu++ Tougher Date, ** Free Shipping!1913-d Type 1 Uncirculated Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms-63 -159222Us Buffalo Nickels Lot, 280 Coins In Total Full Dates 4 Digits1915-s Buffalo Nickel Great Deals From The Tecc Bargain Bin