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The Buffalo Nickel


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In the early 1900s, United States President Theodore Roosevelt wanted change the designs of U.S. coins, which most of the circulating United States coinage that he wanted to change had been designed by Barber. Theodore Roosevelt thought of Barber's designs, on the United States coinage ugly and he preferred ancient Greek designs, which had something that he wanted on his coins, high relief.

During his Roosevelt’s administration, he had the old double eagle ($20 gold coin) replaced with a new design, considered possibly the single most beautiful design on a United States coin ever, which was designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Although the double eagle was changed, the majority of the minor circulating coinage was not altered.


In 1911, The United States Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh, who had agreed with President Roosevelt on the designs of U.S. coinage, hired James Earle Fraser to design a new circulating nickel, for the United States, to replace that of the Liberty “V” Nickel.


James Earle Fraser designed, a beautiful coin, which had a Native American on the obverse of the coin.

The Native American, which was a combination portrait of three Native American chiefs, Iron Tail, Two Moons and John Big Tree. Chief Big Tree claimed his profile was used to create the portion of the portrait on the nickel’s obverse from the top of the forehead down to the upper lip.

The buffalo that is on the reverse is an American Bison, and could have possibly been Black Diamond, from the Central Park Zoo.


A short time after the Buffalo nickel went into circulation, there became a problem, where the nickel had its denomination. It had FIVE CENTS written out, on a raised mound, on which the bison was standing atop of. This became a problem, because this was a high point on the coin, and the lettering wore away very quickly.

Quickly after this issue had been brought forth, the design was modified by Charles Barber during 1913, its first year of production. Barber removed the raised mound from the coin and lowered the relief of the denomination of FIVE CENTS, so that it would not wear away as quickly.

However, there was one problem, the placement of the date! The date got worn out, just as quickly as the FIVE CENTS in the original raised mound design. (This was a similar problem that would later be seen on the Standing Liberty Quarter, 1916-1930.)



This “date” issue was never addressed by the United States Mint, and for that reason, most buffalo or Indian head nickels today, have a completely obliterated date.

A radical action was taken from enterprising artists; they would scrape away the original obverse, of the profile of the Native American, and modify him, either his headdress or the background, to create a work of art! These efforts were taken to somewhat, save the date of the buffalo nickel. These nickels are called hobo nickels, and for obvious reasons. These hobo nickels can fetch quite a bit of money in the marketplace today.

There was an interesting design variety of the buffalo nickel in 1937.

The 1937 Denver Minted 3 Legged buffalo nickel. On this coin, the buffalo’s right foreleg is gone. This error coin was produced when the leg of the buffalo, was accidentally taken off the die.

These nickels were minted from 1913-1938, and had a D for Denver, S for San Francisco, or no mintmark, which symbolized Philadelphia.

The majority of buffalo nickels were completely removed from circulation in the years from 1950-1960, although it was not uncommon to see a buffalo nickel in the 70’s or 80’s

Getting a buffalo nickel, in a roll today is not likely, but it is not un-heard of, but the majority of the ones found will be in a more worn condition, with no date

The buffalo nickel has been somewhat of a template for coins, minted by the US Mint today, as in 2001 they struck 500,000 pieces of a silver $1 buffalo, 227,131 at the Denver Mint, in Uncirculated Condition, and 272,869 at the Philadelphia Mint, in a Proof Coin.

In 2006 minting of the Gold Buffalo began. This was a $50 gold piece, and continued until 2007. In 2008, they began minting of the Buffalo Fractionals, along with $50 gold piece. The fractionals consisted of a $5 Piece, which was a tenth ounce of a gold, a $10 piece, which was a quarter ounce of gold, a $25 piece, which was a half ounce of gold, and the $50, which was one full ounce of gold.

The mintages of these pieces were somewhat high in the first two years, and in the last year of issue, in 2008 they were extremely low, and are value on these pieces have skyrocketed over the past few months.

I greatly admire this coin, and it is another one of my favorite coins of all time...The buffalo nickel

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Well I guess not a whole lot of people have time to read all this! LOL

Some 50 views, and 2 replies.. lol

Good article! :ninja:


One small suggestion: about the 3-legged buffalo, instead of "accidentally removed", it was actually excessive die polishing which eradicated all but the hoof on the buffalo's leg.


Here's a nice little illustration to go with your article (not 3-legged, but just about as nice as they come) -- bought this a couple of months ago from someone who is a regular on the RCC newsgroup:


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BobH has agreed to let us use his beautiful Buffalo Nickel image in the Virtual Museum. Stop by and browse around there's lots of good info there.

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