The Indian Head nickel is a rare and beautiful coin. While most nickels are copper and measure 21mm in diameter, the Indian Head nickel is made of nickel silver alloy and measures 22mm in diameter.
Indian head nickels were first struck in 1913 by the New York Mint. They feature a profile of an American Indian woman on one side and the image of a Native American man on the other.
Because they are unique, some key elements make them stand out from other nickels.
Let’s take a closer look at those elements and see why collectors love this niche coin.
This Coin was First Issued in 1913 and Produced Until 1938
The Indian Head Buffalo Nickel was first issued in 1913 and produced until 1938. It was then produced from 1939 to 1945 and from 2006 to 2008.
The Obverse Features an Image of a Native American
The obverse of the coin features an illustration of a Native American. The design is based on the profile of a Native American named Two Moons, with his hair worn long in traditional style and feathers adorning his headdress.
The word “LIBERTY” is inscribed along the top rim. At the same time, “1913” is written across the bottom rim to represent the year these coins were first minted by The United States Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Reverse Features an Image of an American Bison
The reverse side depicts an American Bison standing on its hind legs as it faces forward with its head turned slightly to one side (known as “canting”). Inscriptions include: “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” along with “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” which means “Out Of Many One,” referring back to our nation’s origin being 13 British colonies coming together under one banner.”
The coins were released into circulation starting in 1913 and continued until 1938, when they were taken out due to metal shortages caused by World War II.
The Coin Made a Transition From Relief to Incuse Design
The Indian Head Buffalo nickel is one of the few coins that has transitioned from relief to incuse design. This was done to save money on production costs. The reason for this change was that it allowed the mints to use less metal in each coin and still achieve the same effect as before.
Designer James E. Fraser Had to Make Several Changes
As you may know, the buffalo nickel was designed by James E. Fraser. Fraser was an American sculptor who also designed several monuments.
Fraser had to change the coin’s design to satisfy a company that made anti-slug devices. Even after making several changes upon the request of the company, the was no agreement between the two parties, leading to a prolonged delay in the production of the coin.
There are many things to love about the Indian head buffalo nickel, but perhaps the most special thing about them is that they are one of a kind.
While a few variants and proofs of this coin exist, there is nothing quite like the Indian Head nickel. These beautifully crafted coins’ obverse and reverse designs have baffled collectors for decades.