The United States Mint was founded in 1792 and has produced coins for our nation, as well as on behalf of other countries around the world, ever since.
When it first began, the U.S. Mint was a relatively primitive operation, relying on blanks from Great Britain. The mint grew slowly but now enjoys international renown for the quality of the many types of bullion prouducts it produces.
Now, contemporary collectors avidly seek many different U.S. Mint coins, and several American coins boast acclaim among the most popular coins in the world. However, few United States coins are more popular than the Buffalo Nickel. These beloved and uniquely American coins are very valuable in the eyes of collectors and are an integral part of any U.S. coin collection.
Buffalo Nickel History
During his tenure as President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt regularly and openly expressed his distaste for the artistic value of the coinage of the United States. A direct result of President Roosevelt’s dissatisfaction was the U.S. Mint’s hiring of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens with the goal of beautifying American coinage. Sadly, Saint-Gaudens died unexpectedly in 1907 before completing his overhaul of United States coin art. In 1911, Treasury Secretary Frank MacVeagh’s son pointed out in a letter to his father that the U.S. five-cent piece was one of the country’s most visible coins and deserving of a beautiful design. This letter instigated great discussion at the mint and new artwork for the U.S. nickel became a priority.
Sculptor James Earle Fraser, who had apprenticed with Saint-Gaudens, approached the U.S. Mint with design after design for the proposed nickel. At first, high-ranking mint employees were leaning toward a coin featuring President Lincoln on the obverse but a design with a Native American theme became the favorite after it was submitted for consideration. After deliberating over the designs, MacVeagh chose the now-iconic Indian Head artwork for the obverse and the American Bison, commonly called a buffalo, for the reverse. After a good deal of debate, the nickel finally launched March 4, 1913. The new nickels were immediately embraced by the American public, as the design was seen as uniquely and beautifully American. After all, this piece of coinage highlighted the historical roots of the United States. Buffalo Nickels were produced until 1938.
Learning the history of the Buffalo Nickel may have aroused your curiosity about the coin’s appearance. Its obverse bears the right-facing profile of an American Indian. The Native American is said to be a combination of several chiefs from different tribes. This allowed the coin to celebrate the wider culture of Native America as opposed to just one tribe. The Native American is shown in detail. Even the texture of his hair and accompanying feathers is depicted in great detail. Also on the obverse of the coin are inscriptions marking the year the coin was minted and an inscription of the word “Liberty.”
The reverse of the coin, of course, depicts the famous left-facing American bison, or buffalo, standing atop a natural landscape. Like the obverse’s Native American, the buffalo boasts stunning detail. Above the buffalo’s image, an inscription reads “United States of America.” When this coin was introduced, its design was revolutionary and did garner some criticism. However, the Nickel was minted for 25 years and is now an icon of American coinage.
Popularity Among Collectors
Today, the Buffalo Nickel is extremely popular among collectors. For some, the challenge of assembling a complete set of Nickels provides an unparalleled exhilaration. While putting together a complete set of Nickels is difficult, locating certain editions of the Nickel in well-preserved condition adds an extra barrier to completing a collection. For collectors, the condition of a given Buffalo is of paramount importance and it naturally follows that collectors are willing to pay high premiums for coins in exemplary condition. Unfortunately, because Nickels are all old and nearly all of them were in general circulation, they are often fairly worn. When it comes to assigning a value to any given Nickel, one must consider both age and condition. Of course, the older the Buffalo Nickel the better, but the age by itself does not determine value. If you are in possession of a Buffalo coin struck during the first few years of mintage, that has somehow been carefully preserved, you likely have a top-valued Buffalo Nickel. Buffalo Nickel value will change depending on condition and scarcity.
Buffalo Nickel Key Dates
Key dates include 1913-S Type 2, which features a distinct line under the artwork on the reverse, and 1915-S, minted in San Francisco. One of the most famous examples of rare Buffalo Nickels is the 1918/7-D, indicated by an “8 over 7” overdate that is clearly visible. Several other series minted at the San Francisco branch of the U.S. Mint that care considered key dates include 1921-S, 1924-S, and 1926-S. Finally, the highly prized 1937-D 3-Legged version of the Nickel is both rare and amusing, as the buffalo depicted on the reverse seems to have only three legs. Produced in Denver, Colorado, the 3-Leg Buffalo Nickel is a fun addition to any coin collection. Other key dates include: