Buffalo Nickels, 1913-1938

Buffalo Nickels, 1913-1938

The Buffalo Nickel was designed by James Earl Fraser and was the first U.S. five-cent piece to be designed by an engraver outside the Mint’s engraving department. He always had a special interest in Indian affairs, having been raised in South Dakota and certainly utilized his talent for this coin. Frasers dignified obverse design, dominated by the now-familiar Indian head, was actually a composite portrait of three different models: Ivan Tail, a Sioux; Two Moons, a Cheyenne; and Big Tree, an Iroquois. The reverse is probably Black Diamond, a bull bison, residing in the Central Park Zoo at the time of the design change.

  • 1913 Buffalo (or Indian), Type I
  • 1913-1938 Buffalo, Type II

The Buffalo Nickel was minted between the years of 1913 and 1938 and issued in two types. The first type minted on February 21, 1913, commonly called Type 1, depicts the bison on raised ground. The words Five Cents were on this raised ground but as a result they wore off very quickly in circulation. A thin line replaced the raised ground and the denomination was placed between this line and the rim of the coin. The Mint produced both matte and brilliant proof Buffalo Nickels. In fact, some of the Buffalo Nickel varieties that were coined are better known and much scarcer than their regular issue counterparts. These include the 1916 with a Doubled Die obverse, the wartime overdate 1918/7-S, and the extremely popular 1937-D, 3-Legged Buffalo. This variety was a result of over-polishing of the dies after they had clashed together. Several of the San Francisco mint emissions are very rare in Choice or better condition.

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