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Coins Of The USA, Buffalo Nickel: 5 Cents (United States of America, 1936)-Article

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

This Great Depression era coin is a late mint Buffalo Nickel. This version of the Five-Cent coin circulated from 1913-1938. represents the 2nd denomination coin of the US Dollar. It was preceded by the Liberty Head Nickel (1883–1913) and replaced by the current Jefferson Nickel (1938-20xx).

The coin is a smooth-edged design made of Nickel-Copper Alloy (75% Cu/25% Ni) and weighs 5 g. Its dimensions are 21.2 mm (0.834 in) wide and 1.95 mm (0.077) in thick. It shares the weight and composition to the 1st portrait Jefferson Nickel (1946-2003).


Observe designed by James Earle Fraser (1876-1953)..
Observe by James Earle Fraser (1876-1953).

The observe depicts an American Indian Chief in profile. This famous image is a composite of 3 great chiefs. They are Iron Tail of the Oglala Lakota, Big Tree of the Kiowa, and Two Moons of the Cheyenne. Infamously this lead to their respective tribes disputing, over the who's chief was depicted on the observe.

Notably in addition portrait, the observe text is boldly engraved. This helped the coins to better resist wear from hard circulation. Although despite this, some well-worn examples may be "dateless". Due to mint date becoming over-worn from constant rubbing and striking.

If one looks closely toward the lower left "1936" mint date. This flaw becomes more apparent, as the mint date's high-profile makes it susceptible to wear. Similarly the text "Liberty" at the upper-right, displays a similar flaw. Due to its placement and the coin design lacking a raised outer rim.


Reverse designed by James Earle Fraser (1876-1953).
Reverse by James Earle Fraser (1876-1953).

The reverse features an American Buffalo, said to be the famous Black Diamond. Who was an attraction at the Central Park Zoo, from 1893-1915. Black Diamond was born from a Buffalo bull and calf donated by the Barnum and Bailey circus. He lived to age 22, Black Diamond head was preserved by New York taxidermist Fred Santer.

Toward the upper right of the buffalo's back is the Latin motto "E pluribus unum". This phrase is often translated as "Out of many, one". A metaphor for the federal system of the US government. Which at the time include 48 states, as opposed to the current 50. Each state functions as a sub-government, enacting/enforcing laws which supplement the central government.

Along the coin's upper and lower rim is the text "United States of America" and "Five Cents". The lower text is of particular interest, as it plays a key role in 2 features. The first being it acts a guide for the ground above it. This coin known as a Type II or "flat ground" variant. The original Type I ("raised ground") lacked this feature and was only produced in 1913.

The second feature is the coin's mint mark or lack of. Some coins feature a mint mark below the words "Five Cents". When absent (such as this coin) it can be easily identified, as being produced by the US Mint (Philadelphia).

Size Comparison

A Buffalo Nickel with a modern Jefferson Nickel for scale.
A Buffalo Nickel with a modern Jefferson Nickel for scale.

Additional Notes

  • Statues and reliefs designed by James Earle Fraser, can be seen throughout Washington DC.

  • James Fraser most famous sculptures include the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.

  • The Buffalo Nickel was produced by US Mint Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco.

  • Buffalo Nickel produced by the Denver and San Francisco mint are marked "D" and "S",

  • Adoption of the Buffalo Nickel was approved in 1912, although was delayed several months.

  • The Hobbs Manufacturing Company demanded the US Mint make changes, to reassure its nickel machines would not be fooled by slugs.

  • Early vending machine operated by simply judging a coin's size and weight, making them easily fooled by fake coins (slugs).

  • Despite dissatisfaction from Hobbs Manufacturing, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh (1837-1934) overruled extending the delay.

  • Black Dimond appears on observe of the US 10 Dollar note (1901), designed by paloartist Charles R. Knight (1874-1953).

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