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    

1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 Better Date Coin! ** Neat Obverse Strike-through1913-s Type 2 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Genuine Vf Details Five Cent Coin Sku 76861913 Type Ii 5¢ -strong Clashed Dies Pcgs Ms-65 1923-s Buffalo Nickel, Rare Choice Xf Key Date, ** Free Shipping!Lot Of 408 Full Date Buffalo Nickel Coins Unsearched1914-d 5c Buffalo Nickel1913-d Buffalo Nickel, Tougher Type 1 Denver Date! ** Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1913 To 1938 Sharp Buffalo Nickel Collection / 52 Coins1925-d Buffalo Nickel, Pcgs Graded Au-58, One Of Only 4,450,000 Minted!!1913 S Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Fine Detail1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918 And 1921 "p" Mint Buffalo Lot / 31 Coins1918/7-d Buffalo Nickel, Highly Regarded & Seldom Seen Vg+ Mint Error Key Date!1917 Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Fully Struck Superb Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!Lot Of 9 Vintage U.s. Buffalo Nickel Currency Coins 1914 D Buffalo Nickel 5 Cent U.s. Type Coin Rare Date1938 D Ngc Ms67 Cac Superb Gem Colorful Toned Buffalo Nickel In An Old Holder1913-1938 Complete Buffalo Nickel Set Aside From 3 Leg Look!31pc Roll Of Brilliant Uncirculated { 1937-s } Buffalo Nickels 1935 5¢ Doubled Die Rev. Pcgs Sharp!! Deep Struck Uncirculated 1913 V.1 Indian Head Buffalo 5c Nickel CoinRoll (40 Coins) Buffalo Nickels.. High Grades1915-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Vg10, No Reserve1927-s Buffalo NickelLot 100 Buffalo Indian Head Nickels Mixed Dates & Conditions | J I1920 Buff. 5¢ 20%+ Off-center- Anacs 1913-d Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 First Year Date! ** Free Shipping!1913 To 1926 "d" And "s" Mint Buffalo Lot / 31 Coins1913-p Type 1 Buffalo Nickel - Nice Higher Grade Coin - Sharp Horn, Split Tail1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Very Nice Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, 1914 F-vf, 1918 S Xf, 1920 D Vg, 1926 D Fine,1931 S Vg, 1935 D Vf Buffalo NickelCirculated 1916-d Denver Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger Variety, Avidly Pursued Choice Au Mint Error!1913 D 5c Buffalo Nickel Type 2 Pcgs Au501913 Buffalo Nickel Coin Pr 64 Pcgs1937-d Buffalo Nickel: 3 Legs:3 Legged Pcgs Vf35-fully Struck Smooth Surfaces1937-d 5c 3 Legs Buffalo Nickel1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Bu ~ Nice Luster! * Us CoinSharp!! Deeply Struck Uncirculated 1925 P Indian Head Buffalo 5c Nickel Coin5c 1913-s Ty2 Buffalo Nickel G-vg Details Key Date! * Avenuecoin1928 Buffalo Nickel1914-s Buffalo Nickel Vf/xf1925 S Buffalo Nickel, Sharp Middle To Higher Grade, Problem Free Scarce Date 5c1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Highly Desired Mint Error Key Date Variety!1920-s Buffalo Nickel, Choice Au Key Date! ** Free Shipping!Bag Of 468 Buffalo Nickels With Full Mixed Dates1913-s *type 2* Buffalo Nickel *free Shipping After First Item*1938 D/s United States Buffalo Nickel ( Ngc-64 )1913-d Type 2 Buffalo Nickel1913 D Buffalo Nickel Type 11917-s Buffalo NickelLot Of 22 U.s. Buffalo / Indian Head Nickel Coins In Whitman Folder (partial) 1938 D/s Buffalo Nickel "no Reserve Auction"1935 Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!Lot 100 Buffalo Indian Head Nickels Mixed Dates & Conditions | J ILot 100 Buffalo Indian Head Nickels Mixed Dates & Conditions | J I1913 Type One Buffalo Nickel. Bu/ms+.1913 Type 1 Mound Reverse Buffalo Nickel Coin1913-d Slider Uncirculated Type 1 Buffalo Nickel With Amazing Details!1917 D Key Date No Acid Buffalo Indian Head Five Cent Nickel Early Us Coin 5