By Robert Taylor
One of our most sought after five cent coins just for its design and beauty, the Buffalo nickel (also called the Indian nickel by some), first came into production in 1913. It replaced the Liberty Nickel (1883-1912). The Liberty nickel lacked in overall appeal of design so the introduction of the Buffalo nickel was well received.
Let’s remember back in the period of 1913 to 1938, the nickel was still important for money transactions versus what we have today.
The coin itself was comprised of 75% copper and 25% nickel as the alloys. No silver bearing Buffalo nickels were ever produced. There was at that time prior to minting the Buffalo nickel, a strong desire to produce a design that would definitely indicate our early heritage. Thus, after many images were reviewed, the chosen Indian facial design was chosen for the obverse and a magnificent Buffalo design occupied the reverse of the coin.
The date was at the obverse bottom and any “D” or “S” mint marks (standing for Denver and San Francisco mints) were at the bottom of the reverse of the coin. The key Philadelphia mint produced the majority of the coins but there is no “P” on their coins.
One glaring fault with the Buffalo nickel is that the date was not recessed below the coin rim. Thus, the date was easily worn down during circulation. Once worn down, it became just a nickel eliminating any collector value but certain key dates and mint marks.
Today, any really prime uncirculated examples held out from general circulation, are highly sought after and certain high grades can be worth thousands of dollars.
Lastly, one odd attribute that can still be found today, is the “three legged Buffalo”. This is a 1937-D nickel (remember, “D” standing for the Denver Mint facility). The Denver mint produced 17,828,000 nickels. During the mint process, the two dies became clogged thus producing a Buffalo reverse image with just three legs rather than the standard four legs. Eventually the error was caught by the mint officials but the number of three-legged coins produced is unknown but is estimated to be in the 1,000’s. Today, legitimate three-legged nickels can have high value depending on the surviving wear condition of the coin. I have found a few in client collections but it is fairly rare. Because of its high value potential, fake three-legged nickels abound so be very careful if you are offered one.
As always, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.