A Coin Collectors Guide To The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel

A Coin Collectors Guide To The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel

In coin collecting, each piece carries a rich tapestry of history intricately tied to its era. Their designs, minting variations, and context can take us back in time, allowing us to relive the periods they represent. Certain coins have become legendary in the world of numismatics due to their distinctive characteristics, and the Indian Head Buffalo Nickel stands as one such iconic emblem. This guide will immerse you in the captivating world of the Indian Head Buffalo Nickel, a cherished treasure among collectors.

Every coin tells a story, and the Indian Head Buffalo Nickel has quite a tale. From the intricate design elements to the coin’s historical significance, it holds a special place in the heart of collectors. Here’s your comprehensive guide to understanding and appreciating the Indian Head Buffalo Nickel.

Understanding the Indian Head Buffalo Nickel

The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel, often referred to as the Buffalo Nickel, was introduced to the American public in 1913. This five-cent piece, struck by the United States Mint, is renowned for its design representing Native American culture and the Western frontier.

The Design

James Earle Fraser, a renowned American sculptor, is the creative mind behind the Indian Head Buffalo Nickel’s design. The obverse side of the coin features a striking image of a Native American, believed to be based on three different chiefs from differing American Indian tribes. Fraser’s work strived for authenticity in honoring Native American culture, resulting in a composite image imbued with dignity and strength.

The reverse side of the coin features the image of an American bison, popularly known as a buffalo. The bison modeled for this design was reportedly Black Diamond, a New York’s Central Park Zoo resident in the early 20th century. This image is a nod to the nation’s Western heritage and has been associated with American resilience and endurance.

The Historical Significance

The Buffalo Nickel is more than a beautiful piece of currency; it’s a snapshot of a transformative era in American history. Introduced during the progressive era, it was part of a movement to beautify American coinage. The coin symbolized the nation’s desire to remember and honor its history and cultural roots.

Collector’s Considerations

There are several factors to consider when adding an Indian Head Buffalo Nickel to your collection.

Mintage and Rarity

Mintage numbers and rarity are two factors that significantly influence the Buffalo Nickel’s value. Certain years and mint marks (indicating where the coin was produced) are more scarce than others, contributing to higher values. For example, the 1913-S Type II Buffalo Nickel is a coveted piece due to its limited mintage and is considered a key date in the series.

Condition and Preservation

The condition of a coin, referred to as its grade, is crucial in determining its value. The finer the condition, the more desirable it becomes to collectors. Factors such as wear, damage, and color changes are taken into account when grading a coin. It’s also worth noting that the Buffalo Nickel’s high-relief design, while artistically pleasing, makes it prone to wear, particularly on the date and denomination. Consequently, well-preserved examples are especially valuable.

Errors and Varieties

As with any coin, errors and varieties can add to its appeal and value. For instance, the famous 1937-D “three-legged” Buffalo Nickel, where one of the buffalo’s legs is missing due to a minting error, is highly sought after. In addition, overdate errors, where a date was struck over a previously stamped date, are also popular with collectors. The 1918/7-D overdate nickel is a particularly famous example.


Another important consideration is the coin’s provenance. Provenance refers to the coin’s history of ownership. Sometimes, coins from notable collections or with interesting histories can command a premium over similar coins without such provenance. It’s always exciting to own a coin that was once part of a famous collection.

Set Goals

As a collector, having a clear goal for your collection can also make your collecting journey more fulfilling. Are you interested in assembling a complete Buffalo Nickels date and mint mark set? Or are you more drawn to key dates and varieties? Setting a goal will provide direction for your collection and make the hunt for new coins more exciting.


Authenticity is paramount when collecting coins. Unfortunately, counterfeit coins exist in the market, and identifying them can be especially tricky if you’re new to the hobby. When purchasing an Indian Head Buffalo Nickel, ensure that you’re dealing with reputable sellers or that a recognized coin grading service has authenticated the coin.

Personal Appeal

While rarity, condition, and historical significance are important, never underestimate the power of personal appeal. Coin collecting is as much an emotional journey as it is an intellectual pursuit. If a particular Indian Head Buffalo Nickel calls out to you due to its design, its story, or even just a gut feeling, don’t dismiss it. Part of the joy of collecting comes from owning pieces that you genuinely love and connect with.

Remember, part of the thrill of coin collecting comes from the chase. Hunting for just the right piece to complete your collection, learning about its history, and finally acquiring it is an experience like no other. The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel, with its rich history and beautiful design, is sure to provide a rewarding journey for any collector.


The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel is a fascinating piece of American history. The coin provides insight into the nation’s cultural heritage, a reflection of its historical journey, and a testament to the nation’s aspirations. Collecting these coins is an investment and a fulfilling endeavor combining history, art, and learning.

The numismatics world is unique, a blend of history, economics, and artistry. As a collector, the joy lies in acquiring pieces and the journey of discovery. The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel opens the door to the past, a peek into the culture and history that have shaped the nation. By adding this coin to your collection, you’re not just gaining a piece of metal but a timeless legacy, a piece of Americana that continues to captivate, educate, and inspire.

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