Buffalo Nickel/ Indian Head Nickel
Designer: James Earl Fraser; Composition: .750 copper, .250 nickel; Weight: 5 grams; Edge: plain; Diameter: 21.2 mm; Mints: Denver, Philadelphia and San Francisco
Indian Head Nickels, better known as “Buffalo” nickels were first minted in 1913 with production continuing through 1938. The designer James Earl Fraser’s initial “F” can be found below the date on the obverse of the coin. The obverse of the coin depicts a Native American the likeness of which was composed from three different subjects. The reverse of the Buffalo Nickel shows a buffalo standing on a mound. This likeness is thought to have been modeled after a buffalo named Black Diamond that resided in the Central Park Zoo.
Soon after circulation began it was thought that the inscription “5 CENTS” on the reverse of the coin would wear to quickly. This led to a design change and created two different varieties of 1913 nickels. Type 1 or “raised ground” pieces feature the “5 CENTS” on the reverse of the coin below the buffalo setting high on the mound portion of the design. This portion of the mound is lowered in the type 2 design allowing the “5 CENTS” inscription to be inset. Type 2 nickels are also known as “flat ground” design.
Poor or soft striking is a common issue with buffalo nickels. Coins minted in Denver and San Francisco during the 1920’s were very poorly struck. Sharply struck examples can be found in the common dates of the 1930’s. Striking sharpness is very important with buffalo nickels and should be considered when examining or purchasing a piece.