The numismatic database project is designed to provide all information any coin collector or numismatist would need regarding a coin, medal or note of interest.
Overview / History
The Buffalo Nickel (or Indian Head Nickel) was the design of the US 5 cent coin from 1913 to 1938, and while this coin was only minted for 25 years it is still possible to find them in circulation. These coins do not contain any silver or gold, and as a result feature relatively stable prices.
The design of the coin was created by sculptor James Earle Fraser, following the momentum of President Theodore Roosevelt's desire to beautify American Coinage.
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 front is actually a compilation of three prominent Native American Indian chiefs: Iron Tail, Two Moons, and John Big Tree. The buffalo portrayed on the reverse or back side of the coin is an American Bison. Many researchers believe the bison is a portrait of Black Diamond, a captive buffalo in the New York City Zoo, however numismatists have not been able to definitively confirm or deny this claim.
Mint marks for this coin are found on the reverse side just below the text FIVE CENTS. Three different mints produced this coin, Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (D) and San Francisco (S).
Two problems quickly arose after the buffalo nickel was originally minted, excessive wear on the text FIVE CENTS on the reverse side and excessive wear of the date on the obverse side. The first coins featured the buffalo standing on a mount of dirt with the words “Five Cents” raised higher than the rest of the nickel. This caused the denomination to quickly wear off. Halfway through 1913, the coin’s exterior rim was raised, the denomination text was lowered, and the mound for the buffalo was blended into the coin, all to address this problem. The date problem, which was also a raised portion of the nickel, was never addressed which is why circulated Buffalo Nickels often have a worn date. Buffalo Nickels dating 1913 with the S mint mark on the reverse are some of the rarest.
The buffalo nickel featured many minting errors over its span in circulation. Another often discussed error took place in the last year of production. 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. Unfortunately, it has become common for people to take 1937-D Buffalo Nickels that had 4 legs and they remove the front leg. This makes certifications and expert advice often necessary for purchasing 3 legged Buffalo Nickels.
Most buffalo nickels have been removed from circulation (by collectors, etc), and therefore it is very rare indeed to find a buffalo nickel 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.
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 alterations are often referred to as the hobo nickel. Many of these altered hobo nickels are also very collectible.
Key dates often featuring high coin values for the buffalo nickel are listed with descriptions of what makes these specific coins valuable below.
- 1913-S Type 2: This nickel features the S mark on the reverse or buffalo side of the coin, the buffalo standing on a mound of dirt, and raised “five cents” text
- 1916 Double Die Variety: Extremely scarce, this nickel features duplicate digits in the last three numbers of the date on the obverse or Indian side of the coin. The duplicate 916 are a little to the right and a little lower than the pronounced 1916 date.
- 1918-D (8 over 7): This nickel features an 8 covering a 7 on the obverse or indian side of the coin.
- 1921-S: In 1921 the US Mint only produced buffalo nickels in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Philadelphia produced the majority of coins at the time which San Francisco produced much less. The estimated ratio is 7:1 making the 1921 San Francisco minted coins much more valuable.
- 1924-S: Similar to the 1921-S, the US Mint produced more buffalo nickels out of Philadelphia and Denver than San Francisco, making about a 14:1 ratio. This has made the San Francisco minted coin very rare and very valuable.
- 1926-S: Again, Philadelphia and Denver vastly out produced the San Francisco mint, creating a high coin value for the low mintage numbered San Francisco buffalo nickels.
- 1935 Double Die Reverse: The reverse of this coin or buffalo side has a double die mistake, valuable versions have strong doubling of the text E PLURIBUS UNUM and FIVE CENTS as well as doubling of the bison’s horn, eye, and mane. Strongly doubled 1935 buffalo nickels are cataloged as FS-05-1935-801, and have more value per coin than the weaker doubled versions cataloged FS-05-1935-803.
- 1937-D: This buffalo nickel features a three legged buffalo on the reverse side. The Denver mint tried to repair a damaged die and in doing so overcorrected the issue and removed the buffalo’s front leg from the coin.
Numiis’ tools will serve as a much more exact guide to finding out what your buffalo nickel’s coin value. However below is a descriptive way to determine where you coin may sit on a grading scale.
- Good - Date and legends readable. Horn worn off of bison.
- Very Good - Half of the horn shows on the bison.
- Fine - Three-quarters of the horn shows. Obv. rim is intact.
- Very Fine - Full horn shows, Indian's cheekbone worn.
- Extra Fine - Full horn. Slight wear on Indian's hair ribbon.
- Uncirculated - No trace of wear, light blemishes