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    

Impressive 1936 D/d Pcgs Ms64 Rpm Fs-502 Rainbow Toned Buffalo Nickel (fs-019.5)1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Type 1 Issue! ** Free Shipping!1926-s 5c Buffalo Nickel Ms65 Pcgs1913 S Buffalo Nickel - Type 1 - Very FineRare 1914/3 Variety Overdate Buffalo 5c Nickel Old Us Coin Ms Unc Bu1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 Key Date, Choice Bu++/near Gem Bu, Rare This Nice!1913 D Buffalo Nickel - Type 2 - Very Fine1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Highly Sought After Mint Error, Choice Au++/unc1929 Ms-64 Pcgs Ogh Rainbow Toned Buffalo 5c Nickel Old Us Coin From Collection1921-s Buffalo Nickel, Tough Date! ** Free Shipping!1936-d 3-1/2 Legs Buffalo Nickel Vf 25 Pcgs & Cac. Better Date Coin!!1923-s Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Near Gem Bu++ Key Date, ** Outstanding Color!1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel, About Good. Scarce Key Date1937-d 3 Leg Buffalo Five Cents 5c Anacs Vf 20 Details Cleaned #45858811926-s Buffalo Nickel, Ultra Rare Choice Xf++/au Key Date, Nice Full Horn!1913 Buffalo Nickle 5c Type 1 Pcgs Proof Pr67 Beautiful Toning Rare!!Partial Set 52 Buffalo Indian Head Nickels Whitman Folder Collection, Key Dates1915 S Buffalo Nickel - Very Good1913 D Buffalo Nickel - Type 1 - Au+1937-d Three Legs Buffalo 5c Nickel, Ngc Au 58 -- 3 Leg Variety 1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger Mint Error Variety, Key Date, ** Free Shipping!1931 S Buffalo 5c Nickel Pcgs Ms65 Green Holder No Reserve Auction! Must See!1913-s 5c Type 2 Buffalo Nickel1916 Buffalo Nickel1914 S Buffalo Nickel - Very Fine1927 D Buffalo Nickel - Extra FineFive Hundred (500) Buffalo Nickels.. High Grades1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Tough Bu++ Better Date Denver Issue, ** Free Shipping!1921-s Buffalo Nickel Xf/au1917 Buffalo Nickel Hobo Nickel Neat Wwi Doughboy! Wow! #s1913 S Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Au-bu1924 S Buffalo Nickel - Very FineRoll (40 Coins) Buffalo Nickels.. High Grades1915 D Buffalo Nickel - Very Fine1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 Gem! ** Free Shipping!1914 S Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Au 581930-s Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1920 Buff. 5¢ 30% Off-center- Anacs Net Au 1930 P U.s. Buffalo Nickel Ngc Graded Ms65! High Grade Gem Luster Coin!1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel1926-s 5c Buffalo Nickel About Uncirculated W/ Full Horn Low Mintage Key Rare!1924-s Higher Grade Buffalo Nickel! Key Date 3/4ths Horn! No Reserve Auction!1930-s Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1913-s Type 1 Mound Reverse Buffalo Nickel Coin1921-s Buffalo Nickel *free Shipping* *hucky* Roll (40 Coins) Buffalo/indian Head Nickels - Full Dates - No Reserve1913 P Buffalo Nickel - Type 2 - Ch Au1915-d Buffalo Nickel, Nice Choice Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!Complete Buffalo Nickel Set (1913-1938) In A 'library Of Coins Album' 1918 D Buffalo Nickel! Full Horn! No Reserve Auction!1917-d Ngc Vf-30 Better Date Buffalo Nickel1930 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms64 Uncirculated Five Cent Coin Sku 75471934 Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1938-d Indian Head Buffalo 5 Cents Nickel Ngc Ms 661920 Buffalo Nickel, Nice Gem Bu ** Superb Strike! ** Free Shipping!1913-d Buffalo Nickel! 3/4 Horn! Type 2 No Reserve Auction!1913-d Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Scarce Xf++ Key Date, ** Free Shipping!1926-s Higher Grade Buffalo Nickel! Key Date 3/4ths Horn! No Reserve Auction!1916,17-pds Buffalo Nickels Various Conditions (lot Of 6)-no Reserve-!! Game On!! 1938 D/s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 64 #6252