1921-S Buffalo Nickel
The Indian Head or Buffalo Nickel was first minted in 1913, replacing the Liberty Nickel, or “V” Nickel, which was first minted in 1883. The Buffalo Nickel was designed by noted sculptor James Earle Fraser, who appreciated our Western heritage. Fraser sought to design a coin that was truly American and this nickel was his enduring tribute to the American West and to Native Americans.
Fraser modeled his obverse design as a composite of several Native American chiefs who sat for him. The buffalo on the reverse is the American bison Black Diamond, who was housed at the Bronx Zoo in New York.
In 1921, only 1.557 million nickels were struck at the San Francisco Mint. There were no Buffalo Nickels struck at any mint during 1922, as the supply far exceeded the demand. Demand came in late 1923 once all of the 1921-S Buffalo Nickels had been distributed.
The obverse master die for 1921 was sharpened by re-engraving the details by hand. This resulted in a much sharper version of the date and designer's initial (F). As there was no date on the reverse dies, they were used repeatedly until they finally fractured and became unusable. This resulted in coins with a very sharp obverse but a reverse that lacked detail.
This issue is scarce in all grades and Mint State pieces are genuinely rare. Gem coins are very rare and often may be weakly struck. The 1921-S Buffalo Nickel is a true condition rarity.