Friday, April 6, 2012

Buffalo Nickels (1913 - 1938)

1935 Buffalo Nickel
The Buffalo Nickel is distinctive in its own way, considered by collectors a truly unique American work of art. The coin portrays the American Indian on the obverse and the Buffalo or Bison on the reverse. Its designer, James E. Fraser, accurately portrayed the male Native American on the obverse and an American buffalo on the reverse by using three different Indians and a real bison from New York Central Park Zoo as models. His initial “F” is placed beneath the date. The 1st Year of Issue featured two distinct varieties: the 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel had the bison on a mound, while the 1913 Type 2 Buffalo had a redesigned base with a thinner, straight line. Over 1.2 billion Buffalo nickels were minted from 1913 to 1938 at three mints: Philadelphia (no mintmark), San Francisco (S) and Denver (D). The mintmarks can be found on the reverse under the denomination. Matte Proof coins were made for collectors from 1913 to 1916. Proof Buffalo nickels began to be issued again in 1936. The 1937-D three-legged Buffalo nickel is another sought out 5 cent. The three-legged characteristic is the result of excessive regrinding of a die to remove clash marks.

Here's how the Buffalo Nickel came to existence. Early in 1911, aware of the law stipulating a coin design could be changed only as often as every 25 years, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh's son informed his father about the one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to release the new design on the five-cent piece. Thus, MacVeagh decided to take the occasion and produce something as magnificent as the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. For this, he hired James Earle Fraser, a former assistant to Saint-Gaudens and an exquisite artist to design the new nickel.

For the design, Fraser employed three chiefs as models for the obverse: Iron Tail, Two Moons and Chief John Big Tree. This way, he wanted to accurately portray the male Native American. To be consistent with the American theme, Fraser illustrated an American bison on the reverse, old Black Diamond, then living in a New York City zoo. He placed the buffalo on a mound to show its strength and majesty. Secretary MacVeagh loved Fraser’s design which was medal-like and beautiful, and he immediately approved the design for the five-cent coin. Therefore, by mid February 1913, despite strong opposition from the Hobbs Company of New York - a vending-machine firm - coinage began at the Philadelphia mint.

The Buffalo nickel underwent some changes along the years. First, Chief engraver Charles E. Barber removed the mound on the reverse, since the words "FIVE CENTS" at the base of the reverse wore down too quickly in circulation. Instead, he drew a line and put the denomination under it. Thus, in 1913, two distinct varieties were struck. The 1913 Type 1 Buffalo had the denomination on a raised mound on the reverse, while the 1913 Type 2 Buffalo had it set under a line. Since the public saved the very first coins released, it's harder to find the 1913-S Type 2 and it commands a higher premium. Secondly, Charles E. Barber made some changes on the obverse in 1916, lowering the relief of the Indian head and strengthening several details such as the nose and the lettering of LIBERTY.

Coin collecting started to be popular around 1940s and continued in 1950s, since most collectors could fill their coin boards by searching through pocket change or bank rolls. At that time, the most popular coins to collect were the Lincoln Cent, the Buffalo Nickel and the Mercury Dime. The later years saw a stagnation or even downfall in collecting Buffaloes, as the coins were less available and collectors had to buy individual coins from dealers or search through bags sold at a premium.

Besides the two popular varieties of 1913, collectors like the 1918/17 overdate from the Denver mint, matte proof and proof nickels, and the popular 1937-D three-legged Buffalo Nickel. During the 1920s and the World War I impact, the demand for all coins decreased. Thus, no Buffalo Nickel was made in 1922, 1932 and 1933. By end of 1937, it was decided that the 1938 Buffalo Nickel should be struck only at Denver. At least three reverse dies already with S mintmark were then overpunched with a "D."

The Executive Coin Company is one of the top coin dealers in United States who offers a variety of Buffalo Nickels in different grades: circulated, uncirculated, certified and graded by PCGS and NGC. Our selection includes the popular 1913-P and 1913-S Type 1 buffalo, 1913 Type 2 buffalo, key dates and scarce dates nickels like the 1915-D and the 1924-S, the sought out 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo, and others. All coins we offer are expertly photographed with great care and accuracy to help you make the best choice for your collection!