Buffalo Nickel Overview
The Indian Head nickel, more commonly known as the Buffalo nickel, is a classic coin beloved by collectors of all types.
The design of a new nickel was commissioned in 1911 as part of an effort to make American coinage more beautiful, and it was James Earle Fraser’s design that was eventually chosen.
Because of scruples from coin-operated machine manufacturers, the design had to be altered several times, and it wasn’t until 1913 that the Buffalo nickel was first struck and replaced the previous Liberty Head nickel.
The obverse of Fraser’s design gives us the name “Indian Head nickel” with its stoic profile bust portrait of an American Indian. Along the upper right portion of the rim is the legend “LIBERTY,” and to the lower left is the year of mintage.
The reverse, which inspired the more popular moniker of “Buffalo nickel,” features the image of a large American bison. Along the top of the reverse face is the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and the motto “E PLURIBUS UNUM.” Under the bison’s feet is the denomination “FIVE CENTS.”
There are two types of Buffalo nickels. The first has the buffalo standing on a sloped ground. This was altered within the first year of production to the second type: the ground was changed to be more flat, and the denomination was placed into a recess to minimize wear that might enable coin fraud.
Wear was a huge issue with the Buffalo nickel in general. Although the design was initially very popular, it quickly wore down with circulation, often to the point of rendering the mintage dates and other details completely illegible.
Thus, in 1938, as soon as the Buffalo nickel’s twenty-five year minimum span for a non-congressional design change was finished, the coin was replaced by the Jefferson nickel.
For more information about collecting nickels, be sure to see our Ultimate Guide.
History of the 1913 Buffalo Nickel
1913 was a prolific starting year for the Buffalo nickel, with over 70 million nickels struck in total.
Yet after the two years of design issues and alterations that the Buffalo nickel had undergone prior to 1913, there were still changes to be made in the first year of mintage.
As mentioned in the previous section, the ground on the design was altered, and the denomination was placed into a recess, resulting in two different types of nickels.
At Philadelphia, 30,992,520 Type I nickels and 29,858,700 Type II nickels were struck; at Denver, 5,337,000 Type I and 4,156,000; and at San Francisco, 2,105,000 Type I and 1,209,000 Type II nickels.
As the Type II nickels were struck in lower numbers, they tend to be a bit more scarce, which is reflected by their value.
Compositionally, the 1913 Buffalo nickel is typical for the series, consisting of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The diameter 21.20 millimeters and mass of 5 grams are also typical for the series.
Valuing the 1913 Buffalo Nickel
The value of a 1913 Buffalo nickel is to a certain extent dependent on its variety. With two types, each being minted at three separate locations, there are six major varieties of the 1913 Buffalo nickel, all of which have separate value scales.
Type I issues minted at Philadelphia are worth $11 in Good-4, $14 in Very Good-8, and $16 in Fine-12. This is the average range to expect for a 1913 nickel. The value increases to $21 in Very Fine-20, $25 in Extremely Fine-40, and $35 in About Uncirculated-50.
Uncirculated (MS-60) examples are worth $46, and Uncirculated (MS-63) examples are worth $60. Proofs may bring up to $1,190.
Type II issues from Philadelphia are actually worth $2 or $3 less in grades below Brilliant Uncirculated. The value for Brilliant Uncirculated (MS-63) Philadelphia Type II coins is $83, and proofs are valued at $1,024.
Type I issues minted at Denver (signified by a “D” below the denomination on the reverse) have the following values: $15 in Good-4, $21 in Very Good-8, $25 in Fine-12, $34 in Very Fine-20, $43 in Extremely Fine-40, $60 in About Uncirculated-50, $75 in Uncirculated (MS-60), and $83 in Uncirculated (MS-63).
Type II Denver issues are worth quite a bit more: $122 for Good-4, $153 for Very Good-8, $179 for Fine-12, $205 for Very Fine-20, $238 for Extremely Fine-40, $265 for About Uncirculated-50, $309 for Uncirculated (MS-60), and $410 for Uncirculated (MS-63).
San Francisco issues (signified by an “S” mint mark) are the most valuable in both types. Type I San Francisco issues are as follows: $46 in Good-4, $50 in Very Good-8, $60 in Fine-12, $72 in Very Fine-20, $92 in Extremely Fine-40, $109 in About Uncirculated-50, $134 in Uncirculated (MS-60), and $184 in Uncirculated (MS-63).
Type II San Francisco coin values jump considerably higher: $346 in Good-4, $410 in Very Good-8, $458 in Fine-12, $504 in Very Fine-20, $594 in Extremely Fine-40, $765 in About Uncirculated-50, $928 in Uncirculated (MS-60), and $1,107 in Uncirculated (MS-63).