The History of the Buffalo Nickel
The Buffalo nickel, sometimes known as the Indian Head nickel, was the replacement for the 26-year-old Liberty Head nickel. It was first struck by the US Mint in 1913 as part of the United States’ Coinage Renaissance, the Mint’s campaign to make America’s coinage more beautiful. The nickel was officially introduced into circulation at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National American Indian Memorial in New York.
This iconic nickel was designed in 1912 by James E. Fraser, an American sculptor. Fraser used three Indian models and a bison from the Bronx Zoo to create his unique designs. The obverse features the right-facing profile of an American Indian and the reverse features the left-facing profile of an American bison on a raised mound. This made the buffalo the first animal other than the eagle to appear on a circulating American coin.
However, the relief of the mound caused that part of the nickel to quickly degrade. To address this problem, a new version was designed without this relief. The two coins are distinguished as Type I (with mound) and Type II (without mound).
The Buffalo nickel was produced until 1938. It was replaced by the Jefferson nickel, which remains in circulation to this day.
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What is so special about a Buffalo nickel?
Buffalo nickels, otherwise known as Indian Head nickels, are special for a few reasons. They are the first circulated coin to feature an animal other than a bald eagle. Due to the fast degradation of the mound beneath the buffalo, Type I variants in Great condition are very rare. They’re also the last nickel design made before the present-day Jefferson nickel.
What are the rarest Buffalo varieties?
One of the rarest Buffalo nickels for sale is the 1937-D Three Legged Buffalo nickel in uncirculated condition. Other rare and valuable varieties include the 1918 over 17 nickel, the 1916 Doubled Die Obverse nickel, the 1938 D/S nickel, and the 1914/1913 nickel.
How many three-legged Buffalo nickels are there?
While there are no officially known mintage figures for the 1937-D Three Legged Buffalo, experts believe that around 10,000 of these unique coins are in existence today, with around 15% of these existing in uncirculated, Mint State grades.