Buffalo Nickel (1913-1938)

Image Courtesy of David Lawrence Rare Coins

The US Mint was founded in the late 1700s and has ever since been producing the coinage of the United States, as well as the coinage of many other countries from around the world. When it first got its start, the US Mint was a primitive beast that mostly relied on coin blanks produced by Great Britain. Over time, however, the Mint slowly but surely made a name for itself as its output grew alongside the young United States.

Though nowadays, collectors clamor over many different US Mint coins, few are more popular than the Buffalo Nickel, which was first produced in the early 1900s. These coins are viewed as being incredibly valuable in the eyes of collectors, and is an integral part of any US coin collection. The following few sections will serve the purpose of introducing the Buffalo Nickel in-depth as to give you a better understanding of how this particular coin type came to be so heavily sought after.

Buffalo Nickel History

In the first few years of the 20th century, president of the time Theodore Roosevelt regularly expressed his distaste for the artistic designs of US coinage. As a result, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was hired by the US Mint with the end-goal of revitalizing the design of US coins.

Unfortunately, Saint-Gaudens died unexpectedly in 1907, before many of his designs were ever put onto coins. A few years later, in 1911, the son of then Treasury Secretary Frank MacVeagh pointed out, via a letter to his father, that the US 5-cent piece was one of the country’s most iconic coins and one that was deserving of a beautiful design. Shortly after this letter became known, new designs for the Nickel were taken into consideration.

Another sculptor named James Fraser, who apprenticed alongside Saint-Gaudens, approached the US Mint with design after design for the Nickel. At first, high-ranking US Mint employees were leaning towards a Nickel with President Lincoln on the obverse, but shortly thereafter the preferred design became one with a Native American theme. After mulling over different designs, MacVeagh wrote in a letter and said, “Tell him that of the three sketches which he submitted we would like to use the sketch of the head of the Indian and the sketch of the buffalo.”

Because a new Nickel was soon thereafter made public, owners of companies that produced coin-operated machinery became nervous that the new Nickels would not work in their machines. After a few changes to the coin’s design, however, these fears were put to the side.

After much continued debate, the Buffalo Nickel was finally introduced into circulation on March 4th, 1913. Quickly, these coins became the talk of the United States as the design of the Nickel was held in high regard by most every American. After all, this was one of the first times US coinage depicted scenes that truly represented the historical roots of the United States. Though the Buffalo Nickel faced a few more problems with its production, the coins continued in circulation for some time to come.

Buffalo Nickel Design

Now that you know more about how the Buffalo Nickel came to be, you may be curious as to what the design of the coin actually looks like. The coin’s obverse is dominated by the right-facing profile image of a Native American Indian. The person that is actually depicted is rumored to have the features of Native Americans from a few different tribes; a way of celebrating the wider culture of Native America as opposed to just one sect. The Native American is depicted in stunning detail, so much so that even the definition of his cheekbones are able to be made out quite easily on well-preserved pieces. Even the texture of his hair and accompanying feathers is depicted in great detail. Also on the obverse side of the coin are inscriptions marking the year in which the coin was minted and an inscription of the word “Liberty.”

The reverse side of the coin, as you might expect, depicts a left-facing buffalo standing atop a natural landscape. Like the obverse’s Native American, the detail boasted by the buffalo on the reverse is unparalleled. Above the buffalo’s image is an inscriptions which reads “United States of America.” At the time this coin was minted, its design was truly revolutionary, though not without its criticisms. Despite a good bit of public backlash, the Buffalo Nickel was minted for 25 years through the early parts of the 20th century.

Popularity Amongst Collectors

Nowadays, the Buffalo Nickel is extremely popular as a collector’s item. For some collectors, the challenge of putting together a complete set of Buffalo Nickels is something that causes them to go to great lengths to get these coins. While putting together a complete set of Buffalo Nickels is difficult, an equally difficult task is finding some editions of the Buffalo Nickel in well-preserved condition.

For collectors, the condition of Buffalo Nickels is everything, and it only follows that collectors are willing to pay top-dollar for coins in the best possible condition. Unfortunately, because many Buffalo Nickels are extremely old, they are often fairly worn.

When it comes to giving a Buffalo Nickel a value, there are two things you must take into consideration—age and condition. Naturally, the older the Buffalo Nickel the better, but the age alone is meaningless. If you have yourself a Buffalo Nickel produced during the first few years that is somehow in great condition, you have a top-valued Buffalo Nickel. With that said, however, even those Buffalo Nickels that are in poor condition often go for a fairly large price for a collector.

Buffalo Nickels

DATE GOOD FINE EXTREMELY FINE UNCIRCULATED
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety I) $12 $16 $25 $35
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety I) (D) $15 $24 $42 $60
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety I) (S) $45 $60 $90 $110
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety II) $10 $14 $22 $30
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety II) (D) $120 $175 $235 $260
1913 Buffalo Nickel (Variety II) (S) $340 $450 $600 $750
1914 Buffalo Nickel $20 $25 $35 $45
1914 Buffalo Nickel (D) $90 $160 $325 $400
1914 Buffalo Nickel (S) $26 $45 $90 $160
1915 Buffalo Nickel $6 $9 $25 $45
1915 Buffalo Nickel (D) $20 $40 $130 $160
1915 Buffalo Nickel (S) $50 $115 $400 $500
1916 Buffalo Nickel $6 $8 $15 $25
1916 Buffalo Nickel (D) $16 $30 $90 $120
1916 Buffalo Nickel (S) $10 $20 $90 $125
1917 Buffalo Nickel $8 $10 $16 $35
1917 Buffalo Nickel (D) $18 $50 $150 $275
1917 Buffalo Nickel (S) $22 $75 $200 $375
1918 Buffalo Nickel $6 $8 $32 $50
1918 Buffalo Nickel (D) $22 $65 $225 $350
1918 Buffalo Nickel (S) $14 $55 $200 $325
1919 Buffalo Nickel $2.25 $3.50 $15 $32
1919 Buffalo Nickel (D) $15 $75 $260 $350
1919 Buffalo Nickel (S) $9 $50 $260 $375
1920 Buffalo Nickel $1.50 $3 $14 $30
1920 Buffalo Nickel (D) $8 $32 $275 $325
1920 Buffalo Nickel (S) $4.50 $28 $200 $300
1921 Buffalo Nickel $4 $8 $50 $75
1921 Buffalo Nickel (S) $75 $200 $950 $1,200
1923 Buffalo Nickel $2 $4 $13 $35
1923 Buffalo Nickel (S) $8 $30 $300 $400
1924 Buffalo Nickel $1.50 $5 $24 $42
1924 Buffalo Nickel (D) $8.50 $30 $235 $325
1925 Buffalo Nickel $3 $4 $15 $32
1925 Buffalo Nickel (D) $10 $40 $185 $265
1925 Buffalo Nickel (S) $5 $18 $180 $250
1926 Buffalo Nickel $1.25 $2.50 $10 $20
1926 Buffalo Nickel (D) $10 $28 $185 $300
1926 Buffalo Nickel (S) $25 $100 $900 $2,650
1927 Buffalo Nickel $1.25 $2.50 $12 $21
1927 Buffalo Nickel (D) $2.50 $7 $80 $135
1927 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1.50 $5 $95 $185
1928 Buffalo Nickel $1.25 $2.50 $13 $23
1928 Buffalo Nickel (D) $1.50 $5 $45 $50
1928 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1.75 $2.50 $26 $110
1929 Buffalo Nickel $1.25 $2.50 $12 $20
1929 Buffalo Nickel (D) $1.50 $2.50 $13 $23
1929 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1.50 $2 $12 $25
1930 Buffalo Nickel $1.25 $2.50 $11 $20
1930 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1.25 $2.50 $14 $35
1931 Buffalo Nickel (S) $15 $20 $35 $55
1934 Buffalo Nickel $1.25 $2.50 $10 $18
1934 Buffalo Nickel (D) $1.50 $4 $20 $45
1935 Buffalo Nickel $1 $1.75 $3 $10
1935 Buffalo Nickel (D) $1 $2.50 $18 $42
1935 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1 $2 $4 $18
1936 Buffalo Nickel $1 $1.75 $3 $9
1936 Buffalo Nickel (D) $1 $1.75 $4 $12
1936 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1 $1.75 $4 $12
1937 Buffalo Nickel $1 $1.75 $3 $9
1937 Buffalo Nickel (D) $1 $1.75 $4 $10
1937 Buffalo Nickel (S) $1 $1.75 $5 $9
1938 Buffalo Nickel (D) $3.50 $4.50 $5 $8
Source: Red Book