Buffalo Nickel

The Buffalo Nickel (or Indian Head Nickel) was the design of the US 5 cent coin from1913 to 1938.  Although this coin was only minted for 25 years it is still possible to find them in circulation (although its quite rare).  The design of the coin was created by sculptor James Earle Fraser, under the direction of President Theodore Roosevelt.

On the obverse of the coin it features the profile of an Indian; hence the nickname of the Indian head nickel.  The Indian featured on the back is actually a compilation of three prominent Native American Indian chiefs: Iron Tail, Two Moons, and John Big Tree.  The buffalo portrayed on the front side of the coin is an American Bison.

Two problems that arose after the buffalo nickel was originally minted was the excessive wear that took place on a couple of spots on the nickel.  Initially the words “Five Cents” were raised higher than the rest of the nickel and therefore, this was easily worn off.  The mold was changed after the first year to address this problem.  The second problem was the date, which was also a raised portion of the nickel.  Therefore, the date is very often worn off; as this problem was never fully addressed.

One of the interesting aspects about the buffalo nickel is that it was often used by amateur engravers and the images were altered; and these altercations are often referred to as the hobo nickel.  Many of these altered hobo nickels are very collectible.

In the last year of production, the die was changed slightly, and an error occurred.  In the 1937-D mint of the coin, the buffalo was only created with 3 legs.  So, this is often referred to as the 3 legged Buffalo Nickel.  Coins from this era are extremely collectible, and very rare.

Most buffalo nickels have since been removed from circulation (by collectors, etc), and therefore it is very rare indeed to find a buffalo nickle in circulation.  It is estimated that approximately 1 in 25,000 nickels in circulation may be a buffalo nickel; and most of these will likely have the date completely worn off.