The Indian Head nickel, commonly known as the old Buffalo Head nickel, was a five-cent piece minted in the early 20th century in the United States. It was designed by James Earle Fraser and retains a monetary worth far above its face value. Due to the metal value and the rarity of the coin in general, most collectors will purchase the Buffalo Head nickel for approximately seven times its value.
In the early 1900s, President Roosevelt introduced a campaign to change American coinage to add extra relief on the surface of each. Following the cancellation of the Liberty Head nickel, a Native American theme was chosen for the new nickel.
The front side of the Buffalo nickel features a Native American chief based on Iron Tail, Two Moons and John Big Tree. The reverse side shows and American Bison based on Black Diamond at the Central Park Zoo.
The old Buffalo Head nickel was minted from 1913 to 1938. It was replaced in 1939 by the Thomas Jefferson nickel. In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Treasury Department embarked on a mission to remove the coins from circulation.
The Buffalo Head nickel was still prominent in coinage through the 1980s. However, further actions from the Treasury Department have continued to destroy the availability of the coin to nearly nothing. Estimates from 2007 show that only one in 25,000 nickels feature the Indian Head.
Shortly before production ended on the old Buffalo Head nickel, a number of coins were produced with an error. The Denver mint produced an unknown amount of "Three-Legged" Indian Head coins, in which one of the buffalo's legs was missing. These are worth anywhere from $400 to $1000.
Jason Chavis has been a professional freelance writer since 1998. He is the author of four books, two movies and a play as well as numerous articles for "Scientific American," The History Channel, City Pages and "The Onion." In 1996, Chavis won the award for "best science fiction/fantasy" from the River Valley Writer’s Conference.