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Are you interested in learning about Buffalo nickels? These coins are also known as the Bison nickel or the Indian Head nickel. If you have Buffalo nickels or you are curious about what coins to add to your collection, read on to find out more information about the appearance and the history of the famous nickel.

Appearance of Buffalo Nickels

Buffalo Nickels

A profile of a Native American looking towards the right is on the front of the coin. A buffalo looking to the left is featured on the back of the coin.

In addition to these customary designs, several special batches of coins from particular years have little imperfections and flaws that make them extremely rare and thus valuable. However, the patterning on the front and back of the coin is what make it easy to identify that a coin is indeed an “Indian Head” nickel.

History of the Coins

The Buffalo or Indian head nickel coins, designed by the sculptor James Earle Fraser, were minted between 1913 and 1938. The nickel that preceded the Buffalo Head was the Liberty Head nickel, and in the early 1900s, President Theodore Roosevelt began to replace the coin designs currently being minted because he preferred Classical Greek designs with high relief sculpting.

Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh hired James Earle Fraser in 1911 to finally redesign the new nickel. The coin was replaced when the Jefferson nickel was minted in 1938.

Fun Facts about Buffalo or Indian Head Nickels

Most people do not know that the Native American portrait on the front of the coin is actually a composite portrait of the features of three Native Americans: Big Tree, a chief of Kiowa, Two Moons, a Cheyenne chief, and Dewey Beard, a Miniconjou Sioux chief.

John Big Tree, a member of the Seneca Nation, actually claimed that this profile was used, yet the sculptor denied this claim.

On the other side of the coin, the image of the buffalo is an American Bison that lived in the Central Park Zoo.

Peculiarities about Some Buffalo Head Coins

Some famous design changes took place throughout the time that this nickel was being minted. For example, the original design of the coin featured “Five Cents” inscribed on the bottom of the coin in a raised font, but this wore away very quickly as the coins changed hands. As a result, the coin design was modified within the first year of production so it would not wear away so quickly. Unfortunately, the problem persisted and the date wore away very quickly on this new design for similar reasons.

Thus, extensive circulations of the coin made the dates on many coins disappear completely, making some coins very difficult to appraise. Another oddity is the coin minting of a Buffalo missing a leg. The three-legged buffalo on a batch of coins from 1937 was caused by an error on the die that had removed it, along with some of the undesirable marks on the dye.

The Hobo Nickel

Hobo nickels, a variation of the Buffalo coins, were created by artists who scraped at the front of the coin, changing the appearance of the Native American in order to create original works of art. Some designs simply changed the expression on his face, while others removed the headdress, added new features, or even completely erased the Native American and replaced it with an entirely new design.

Learn More about Your Collection

If you wish to find out more information about Buffalo nickels, or about the value of a coin that you have in your collection, seek the advice and help of a licensed coin appraiser. An appraiser will be able to give you an exact value of your coin(s) with regards to its age and condition. You can also find additional information about Buffalo nickels by contacting the United States Mint or visiting their website.