James Earle Fraser, a famous sculptor noted for his American West imagery, wrote to the Mint in 1911 upon hearing a replacement was under consideration for the Liberty Nickel. He proposed the following in his September 19 letter:
The idea of the Indian and buffalo on the same coin is, without doubt, purely American and seems to be singularly appropriate to have on one of our national coins.
Fraser's lobbying paid off, as he was selected
as the designer of the new nickel. Fraser depicted a Native
American on the obverse, sitting three different Indian chiefs as
models to form a composite portrait.
In keeping with the western
theme, an American bison, more commonly called a buffalo, was selected
as the main reverse feature. The bison was modeled after a
resident of the New York Zoo named "Black Diamond".
After debuting in 1913, minting of the Buffalo
intermittently until 1938. None were made in 1922, 1932, and 1933. By
the end of 1937, plans were in full motion to replace the Buffalo
Nickel. The last of them were minted in 1938.
Clay Models Buffalo Nickels
These are clay models of the Buffalo Nickel sculpted by James
Earle Fraser. The model on the obverse was actually a composite
of three Indian chiefs named Iron Tail, Big Tree and Two Moons. The
bison model, named "Black Diamond", lived in the New York Bronx Zoo,
and steadfastly refused to cooperate with Fraser. The artist convinced
a zoo keeper to distract the massive animal in order to capture the
side profile he was after.
Buffalo Nickels are very popular with modern day
collectors. A number
well researched books are available to assist numismatists
in their quest for knowledge about this quintessential American coin.
As always, when you buy rare coins on eBay, make sure they've been certified as authentic by one of the four leading grading service companies: PCGS, NGC, ICG, or ANACS. This is especially true for the 1937 Three-legged Buffalo Nickel, as many fakes of the rarity exist. The left hand side of each "Sales Box" is value trend data over a very long period of time for a coin of that date in G-4 condition. The percent annual increase is computed for comparative purposes. The coin pictured for sale in the right hand side is not necessarily the same condition coin as that represented in the value trend analysis on left hand side.