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    

1917-d Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 65 ** Highly Coveted Key Date, Rare This Nice!1921 Buffalo Nickel, Fully Struck Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1913 S Type 1 Pcgs Genuine Toned Buffalo Nickel With A True View 1878-cc $1 Morgan Silver Dollar Unc Bu Dmpl *deep Mirror Prooflike!* 1923-s Buffalo Nickel, Highly Desired Tough Key Date, Choice Bu++ ** Free S/h!1915 S Buffalo Nickel Middle - Higher Grade Scarce Semi-key Date Problem Free 5c1913 S Buffalo Nickel Type 2 Fine Circ Scarce Date Coin No Reserve Bid Now! 1937d Three Legged Buffalo Nickel..pcgs Certified Xf-40...free Shipping1913-s Type 2 Holed Buffalo Nickel Us Coin - 99c No Reserve!1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Popular Key Date Mint Error, ** Free Shipping!1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Highly Desired Rare Key Date, ** Free Shipping!44 Coin Set, Lot, Collection Of Buffalo Nickels 1913 To 19381915 D Buffalo Nickel, Higher Grade, Scarce, Semi-key Date, Problem Free Nice 5c1915-s Buffalo Nickel (vg) - (rpm Fs ?) See Photo Nice!1916 Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Fully Struck Solid Gem Bu++ Beauty, ** Free S/h!Lot Of (2) Au - Uncirculated Buffalo Nickels, 1921 1916 High Grade Early Date 5c1924 D Buffalo Nickel Xf1913-d 5c Buffalo Nickel Type 2 (pcgs Au55)g19482Lot Of (100) Higher Grade, Full Horn Buffalo Nickels, 1935 1936 1937 5c, Nice1938-d Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 66 ** Free Shipping!1913 Buffalo Nickel, Sharp Gem Bu Type 1 ** Free Shipping!Buffalo Nickel Collection In Album1913 - S Buffalo Nickel Type 2 Slabbed By Pcgs As Genuine Xf Details-scratch1887 $1 Morgan Silver Dollar Anacs Ms62 Awesome Rainbow Toning! Gold Label1914-s Buffalo Nickel**lot Of 515** Full Date Buffalo Nickels 5c 144 Buffalo Nickels Last Lot Au-bu 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Indian Head Old Us Nickel Type Coin 5c T1 Raised Mound14 Us Copper And Nickel Type Coin Lot With 1876 1 Cent And 1913d T2 Buffulo 1938-d/d Rpm Error Variety Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms66 Superb Luster! * (30) Pc. Starter Set Of Buffalo Nickels - 1913 To 1938-d1916 Ngc Ms64 Buffalo Nickel 1929-d Buffalo Nickel, Nicely Toned Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1913-s Type 1 Buffalo Nickel, About Uncirculated!! A Well Struck Beauty!!1938-d Ngc Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 66 ** Free Shipping!1913 Type I Buffalo Nickel Gem Bu+!!! 1st Year Of Issue!!!1938-d Ngc Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 66 ** Brilliant Luster, Free Shipping!1925 Buffalo Nickel No ReserveVery Rare 1913s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel - Die Clash Error - Free Shipping - Rn9991920 Pcgs Ms63 Buffalo Nickel1915 Buffalo Nickel- Color !! Brilliant Uncirculated Ms++++!! #h19111931-s Buffalo Nickel, Outstanding Color, Fully Struck Superb Gem Bu++, Free S/h1913-d Type 2 Buffalo Nickel - Full Date, Clear Mint Mark, Very Scarce Issue!1934 Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms 63Lot Of 256 Buffalo Nickels With Date 1921-s Buffalo / Indian Head Nickel (160918-249)Roll Of Full Date Buffalo Nickels Lot Of 40 Average Circulated1915-s Buffalo Nickel In Fine Condition Better Date1915-s Buffalo / Indian Head Nickel (160918-210)1919 S Buffalo Nickel Vf-xf1926-s San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1929-s Buffalo Nickel, Near Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!Unsearched!! Buffalo Nickel Roll Capped With Liberty V On Both Ends - R7151916 - D Buffalo Nickel Slabbed By Pcgs As Genuine Au Details-cleaned1920 D, 1923 S, 1924 S, 1926 S And 1927 S Buffalo Nickel1935-d Pcgs Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 64 ** Gorgeous, Free Shipping!Roll 40-coins. Buffalo Nickels All Full Horn. Mixed Dates1930-s 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms641937-s Buffalo Nickel, Solid Gem BeautyLot Of 100 U.s. Buffalo Nickels