James Barton Longacre, Designer of the Three Cent Nickel

James Barton Longacre, age 12 (self portrait)

James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint and the designer of many well-known U.S. coins (including the three-cent silver, the three-cent nickel, and the Indian cent), was born in Pennsylvania in 1794. His mother died when he was very young, and he did not get along well with his stepmother, so when he was twelve years old he ran away and traveled to Philadelphia to find work. He apprenticed himself at the bookstore of John E. Watson and was eventually accepted into Watson’s home as part of the family. Watson soon discovered that Longacre possessed a substantial artistic talent and realized that a bookstore was not the place to develop it, and he released Longacre from his apprenticeship so he could search out a different, more appropriate line of work.

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