The History of the Buffalo Nickel / Indian Head Nickel

1937 Buffalo / Indian Head Nickel

The Buffalo Nickel (sometimes called the Indian Head Nickel) is a U.S. five-cent coin that was designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser in 1912. It was part of the Mint’s campaign to beautify American coinage and featured a realistic portrait of a Native American on one side and an image of a buffalo on the other. It was produced at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints from 1913 to 1938.

Buffalo Nickel — Reverse Side

1937 Buffalo Nickel

  • The buffalo on the reverse side of the Buffalo Nickel is a male North American bison.
  • James Earle Fraser, the designer of the Buffalo Nickel, always said that the model for his buffalo was Black Diamond, a huge bison from the Bronx Zoo. However, this story is questionable because Black Diamond never lived at the Bronx Zoo (he was from the Central Park Zoo) and because the buffalo depicted on the coin does not look much like Black Diamond.

Buffalo Nickel — Obverse (Front) Side

1937 Buffalo Nickel

  • According to James Earle Fraser, the designer of the Buffalo Nickel, the profile that almost fills the obverse side was a composite intended to suggest a type, not a portrait of any one man.
  • The face of the Native American is intended to be realistic and was a departure from the stylized, very European-looking Native Americans of most past coins.

Quick Facts about the Buffalo Nickel

1937 Buffalo Nickel

  • Designed by James Earle Fraser, sculptor and former assistant to Augustus Saint Gaudens
  • Also often called the Indian Head Nickel
  • Minted from 1913 to 1938, with no nickels minted in 1921 because of the recession
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