All About Buffalo Nickels

You’ve probably heard of – or have even seen – the buffalo nickel, a coin produced from 1913 to 1938. The coin features the profile of an American Indian on one side, and a buffalo on the other. It was designed by the popular sculptor James Earle Fraser.

This coin was an attempt to beautify coinage; at the time, more than one person thought current currency was not the prettiest. Also, a law said that the design of currency could not be changed for at least 25 years. But it was the nickel’s time to be redesigned, and many people in political office thought a redesign was sorely needed.

Fraser said this about the design:

“When I was asked to do a nickel, I felt I wanted to do something totally American – a coin that could not be mistaken for any other country’s coin. It occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of our western background, was 100% American, and that our North American Indian fitted into the picture perfectly.”

Unfortunately, the buffalo nickels wore down easily. The year on the coins rubbed off quickly and the coins did not stay in good grades even after a short period of use.

After 25 years, the buffalo nickel was replaced with the Jefferson nickel.

The Coin Immersed in Legend: The 1913 V Nickel

The 1913 V Nickel is one of the rarest coins in the world.

We’ve written about the top five most expensive coins in the world. But other coins that didn’t make the list deserve recognition too.

One such coin is the 1913 V Nickel, which some have referred to as the “Mona Lisa” of coins.

It’s a beautiful coin, to be sure. But what makes it so valuable is not just the fact that only five are known to exist. It also has a rich, mysterious history.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Liberty Head Nickel was minted from 1883 to 1913. The nickel had a large V on the back, leading to its nickname of the “V Nickel.”


Somehow, the Mint forgot to place the word “cents” on the nickel, and some took advantage of the misprint as well as the newness of the coin, using it as a $5 gold piece. The cleverest among them bought an item below five cents, paid with the gold-plated nickel, and waited to see whether they got change for 5 cents or 5 dollars. No one could convict the scammers because no one could say they claimed that the nickel was $5!

That whole debacle fueled the public’s interest in the coin, although the Mint added the word “cents” halfway through the coin’s run. Even from its beginning, this nickel had hype built in.1913-v-liberty-head-nickel

Only five of these (albeit the ones with “cents” on the obverse) have a 1913 strike. They were made before the production of the Indian Head design, and some suggest that a Philadelphia Mint employee made the 1913 coins right before the Indian Head coins began to be produced, even though the Liberty Heads were supposed to stop production in 1912.

One particular 1913 V Nickel surpasses all the others in legend. King Farouk of Egypt once owned this coin, along with his favored coin collection and other fine items.

Not quite a king, but the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, Dr. Jerry Buss, also owned the coin at one point.

The person most to blame for the fame of this nickel is B. Max Mehl, a Texas millionaire who created an advertising campaign during the Depression that offered a huge monetary prize for any of the V Nickels.


The coin’s obverse side.

This led to a frenzy of treasure hunters as well as the rise in popularity of the coin. While none of the coins reached Mehl, he did greatly increase sales of his coin-collecting book. What a marketing ploy.

One of the five Liberty Head nickels known to exist was thought to be lost in a 1962 car accident that killed a coin dealer. But years later, the American Numismatic Association offered a million-dollar reward for the fifth nickel. The family of the coin dealer killed in the accident brought a nickel that they had previously been told was fake: to their shock, six members of the American Numismatic Association confirmed that it was the genuine article.

The ANA was able to show all five of the 1913 Liberty Head coins at their Baltimore convention as a result.

One of the coins sold for $3.1 million in auction in 2013.

Owned by famous names, fought for by coin collectors, and sold for millions of dollars: the “Mona Lisa” of coins has really made an impact.


A good long history of the coin

More history