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    

Circulated 3 Legs 1937-d Denver Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1915-d Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Gem Bu++ Better Date, Rich Toning! ** Free S/h!3 Key Dates { 1885 Liberty Nickel, 1886 Liberty Nickel & 1912-s Liberty Nickel }Impressive 1936 D/d Pcgs Ms64 Rpm Fs-502 Rainbow Toned Buffalo Nickel (fs-019.5)1934-d Buffalo Nickel, Fully Struck Superb Gem Bu++ Better Date! ** Free S/h!1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Nickel G 6 NgcNice Buffalo Nickel Collection; Missiing 1913s V2,1918d 8/7, 1937d 3 Legged1914-d Buffalo Nickel, Desired Choice Xf++/au Key Date! ** Free Shipping!1914-s Buffalo Nickel Au 58 Ngc & Cac1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Very Nice Near Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1916 D Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms 64 Glowing Mint Luster Full Strike1913-s 5c Buffalo Nickel Type 2 Rare - Gem Unc - Booming Luster, Full Strike1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Scarce Type 1 Key Date! ** First Year Minted! ** Free S/h31pc Roll Of ~ P/d/s Mints ~ Full Date Buffalo Nickels { 1913 To 1929 } 1913-s Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 First Year Struck! ** Free Shipping!1914-s Buffalo Nickel, Gorgeous Near Gem Bu++/gem Better Date! ** Free Shipping!34pc Roll Of Shield & Liberty Nickels { 1869 Shield Nickel Ddo & Liberty Nickel1914-s 5c Buffalo Nickel Extra Fine Circulated Five Cent Coin Sku 6879Roll (40 Coins) Buffalo Nickels.. High Grades1917-s Buffalo Nickel Vf 35 Ngc1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 First Year Mintage!1918-d Pcgs Ms63 Toned Semi Key Date Buffalo Nickel1913 S Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Item #t2091913-d Buffalo Nickel, First Year Minted! ** Gem Bu Type 1! ** Tough This Nice!Circulated 1915-d Denver Mint Buffalo Nickel Free Shipping1928-s Pcgs Ms63 Toned Semi Key Date Buffalo Nickel1920 Buffalo Nickel 5c - Pcgs Ms64 Certified & Graded 1913-s Type 2 Buffalo Key Date1916-d Buffalo Nickel, Better Date Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1916-s Buffalo Nickel Au 58 Ngc1916-d Buffalo Nickel, Very Pq Better Denver Date! ** Sharp Strike!Ω 1917-s Buffalo Nickel Au1921 Buffalo Nickel ** Free Shipping!1915 Buffalo Nickel, Superbly Struck Solid Gem Bu! ** Free Shipping!Very Shiny Nice 1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 All Letters Visible Type 2 Nickel46pc Roll Brilliant Uncirculated Jefferson Nickels { 1938 To 1945 } P/d/s Mints1937 - D Three Legged !!! Buffalo Nickel 1914-s 5c Buffalo Nickel - Gem Uncirculated - Great Original Luster, Bold Strike1913 D Type 1 Ngc Ms65 Gem Toned Buffalo Nickel Wow Complete Set Of Buffalo Nickels 1913 - 19381935 Doubled Die Reverse Buffalo Nickel 5c Pcgs Vf 201914-d 5c Buffalo Nickel *key Date** Very Rare In This Condition1915-s Buffalo Nickel F 15 Ngc1928-d Buffalo Nickel, Solid Gem Bu Scarcer Date! ** Free Shipping!1927 Buffalo Nickel, Attractive Near Gem Bu!1923 Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Genuine Cleaning - Unc Details * We Combine Shipping *1913-s Pcgs Buffalo Nickel, Type 2 Pcgs Vg 10 ** Tough Key Date First Year IssueBulk Lot Of 526 Circulated Buffalo Head Nickels, 5 Cent United States1913 5c Type 1 Ms 66 Ngc1928 Buffalo Nickel, Solid Gem Bu++ Scarcer Date! ** Sharp Strike Definition!1913-s Type 1 Buffalo NickelTwo Rolls (80) Full Date Buffalo Nickels; $4 Face Value, Mixed Dates And MintsLarge Lot Of 100 Buffalo And V-nickels With Date1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 First Year Issue!Lot Of 40 Full Date Buffalo Nickels From Old Estate Roll1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel Item #t2081913 Buffalo Nickel, Type 1 First Year Gem!1913 5c Buffalo Nickel Pcgs Ms65 Type 1 Mint State 651913-d Buffalo Nickel, Type 2, Better Date First Year Issue, ** Free Shipping!1913-d Buffalo Nickel Type 2 Pcgs Vg10