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 Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Collectors Favorite Mint Error, * Free Shipping1913 S Type 2 Buffalo Nickel Extra Fine! No Reserve Auction!1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Indian Head Nickel Pcgs F15 (vl1260) 1913 S Type 1 Ngc Ms62 Cac Rainbow Toned Buffalo Nickel 1913-s Buffalo Nickel Type 2 1913-s Variety 2 Buffalo Nickel { Key-date }1918 Buffalo Nickel, Beautiful Full Strike! * Scarce This Nice! * Free Shipping!1937-d 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel.1913-s 5c Buffalo Indian Head Nickel Pcgs Au55 **type 2 - Key Date**1926 S Buffalo Nickel Very Fine! No Reserve Auction!1935 Ngc Xf45 Buffalo 5c - Doubled Die Reverse Fs-801 Ddr Rare In Xf+ Grades5c 1913-d Type 2 Buffalo Nickel, Pcgs Au55 * Semi-key * AvenuecoinCirculated 1913-s Type Ii San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1913-s 5c Type 2 Buffalo Nickel1937 D 3 Legged Buffalo NickelComplete Buffalo Nickel Set (1913-1938) In A 'library Of Coins Album' 1938-d Buffalo Nickel Ms65 Ms 65 Pcgs Certified # 24330221 From Original Bu Roll1918-s Buffalo Nickel ~ Full Horn * Free Shipping *1913 D 5c Type 2 Buffalo Nickel40pc Roll Of Brilliant Uncirculated 1938 Jefferson Nickels { 1st Yr Of Issue }1921-s Buffalo Nickel, Tough Key Date In Series, ** Free Shipping!1938 D Buffalo Nickel Certified Ms 66 By Pcgs! Old Green Label!4 Buffalo Nickels1918 Buffalo Nickel - Better Early Date - Full Horn - Choice Au1937 5c Proof Indian Head Buffalo Nickel Ngc Pf661918/7-d Overdate * Pcgs G04 * Buffalo Indian Head Nickel 5c Rare $1,250++ Error1937-d Buffalo Nickel, 3-legger, Highly Desired Mint Error, ** Free Shipping!1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Gorgeous, ** Free Shipping!1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Denver Issue, ** Free Shipping!1919- S -- Mercury Dime - High Grade - Very Nice1913 Buffalo Nickel...type Reserve!1937 D 3 Legged Xf Details Buffalo Nickel Ngc Certified1913 Pcgs Ms65 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel!! Fabulous!!1913-s Type 2 Mound Reverse Buffalo Nickel Coin1915 D Buffalo Nickel Extra Fine! No Reserve Auction!Five Hundred (500) Buffalo Nickels.. High Grades1937 D 3 Legged Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Genuine1913 Pcgs Ms63 Fs-1801 Doubled Die Reverse Buffalo Nickel1924-d Buffalo Nickel1913-s Buffalo Nickel Variety 2 Key Date!1935 Buffalo Nickel Vf20 Pcgs Ddr Fs-801 Double Die Reverse Cherrypicker Variety1926-s Ngc Buffalo Nickel Ngc Vf 25 ** Scarce Date In Series! ** Free Shipping!1929 S Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms64 Reverse Strike Thru Mint Error!Circulated 1916-s San Francisco Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1918 S Buffalo Nickel Xf Key Date Coin1935-s Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms64Bulk Lot Of 500 Circulated Buffalo Head Nickels, 5 Cent United States1914 D Buffalo Nickel, Higher Grade Details, Sharp Full Horn, Scarce Key Date 5c1921-s Buffalo Nickel. Full Date.1914-d Buffalo Nickel Coin1913 - 1938 Buffalo Nickel Collection Set - Missing Five - 65 Original Us Coins1919-d Buffalo Reserve!48 Ag/cull Buffalo Nickels Set From 1913-1938 In H.e. Harris Album Id# U4941913 Type 1 5¢ Buffalo Nickel Ngc Ms65 (4 Photos)1924 S Buffalo Nickel Coin Xf Key Date1921-s Buffalo Nickel, Desired San Francisco Issue, ** Free Shipping!1927-s Indian Head Buffalo Nickel Ngc Xf 40Full Roll Of Full Date Indian Head Buffalo Nickels (40 Coins Total) 61918- D-- Mercury Dime - High Grade - Very Nice1918 S Buffalo Nickel Extra Fine! No Reserve Auction!