In 1911, Treasury Secretary
Franklin MacVeagh hired designer
James Earle Fraser to design the new nickel. The
Buffalo Nickel is also known as the Indian Head Nickel and Bison Nickel.
Fraser featured a profile of
a Native American on the obverse of the
coin. The profile design came from a composite portrait of
three Native Americans: Iron Tail, an Olga Sioux chief, Two
Moons, a Cheyenne chief, and Big Tree, a Kiowa
chief. On the reverse a buffalo was
portrayed. The bison was supposedly modeled after Black
Diamond from the New York Central Park Zoo.
Soon after the release of
the Buffalo Nickel in 1913, it became apparent that the reverse design was problematic. The 'FIVE
CENTS' inscription was on a raised mound at the bottom of the
reverse. It was one of the highest spots on the coin and wore
away very quickly. The design was modified by Charles Barber
during the first year of production. Barber removed the
raised mound and lowered the relief of the inscription.
Therefore, in 1913, there are two varieties of the Buffalo Nickel known
as: FIVE CENTS on Raised Ground and FIVE CENTS in Recess. A
design flaw that was overlooked was similar to the raised
FIVE CENTS inscription. The date on Buffalo Nickels is also
placed in relief which has exposed it to heavy wear. This
issue was never addressed by the US Mint, therefore, many Buffalo
Nickels have their date partially or completely worn due to
Another interesting variety
of the Buffalo Nickel was produced in
1937. The 1937-D "3-legged" Buffalo Nickel from the Denver
Mint is a very rare variety. In this variety the Buffalo's
right foreleg is missing in error. This was produced when the
leg was accidentally ground off in the process of removing undesirable
marks from the die.