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5 cent Nickle
Indian Head "Buffalo" Nickel 1913 - 1938
While Theodore Roosevelt was no longer in office, his desire to have more classical
designs on our coins was very much alive.
The Coinage Act of 1890 permitted a change in coin design after 25 years. Not about to
pass up the opportunity Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeagh, MacVeagh, bypassing
the competent but mediocre Barber, and began the process for a new design. James Earle
Fraser, a former assistant to Saint-Gaudens and a prolific artist created a truly unique
design for the new coin. Unlike earlier "Indian" designs, Fraser’s design accurately
portrays a male Native American on the obverse, and an American Bison on the reverse.
Fraser’s design was beautiful, and for that reason was favored by Secretary MacVeagh.
However, its allure seemed to escape chief engraver Barber. The design remained unchanged
over Barber’s objections. On March 4, 1913, coins from the first bag to go into circulation
were presented to outgoing President Taft and 33 Indian chiefs at the groundbreaking
ceremonies for the National Memorial to the North American Indian at Fort Wadsworth, New York.
Type 1 Designer: James Earle Fraser
Type 2 Designer: James Earle Fraser, modified by Charles E. Barber
Diameter: 21.2 millimeters
Metal content: Copper: 75% Nickel: 25%
Weight: 5 grams
Mint Mark Location: Reverse below "FIVE CENTS"
Type 1, Date on Mound
1913 U.S. Five Cent Coin
Type 1 (1913 only on Raised Ground)
As early as April, rapid wear of the words FIVE CENTS became evident on the coins reverse.
The denomination FIVE CENTS was on a raised mound. Barber finally had his oppertunity to modify
Fraser’s design. These type 1 nickels were minted only during the first few months of 1913.
Type 2, Date In Exergue
U.S. Five Cent Coin
Type 2 "FIVE CENTS" In Recess
Barber cut away the mound, creating an exergue into which the FIVE CENTS was set. Even
though Barber had solved the reverse wear problem, he kept going. He smoothed out much
detail and granularity in both the Indian’s portrait and the bison’s hide. Because of
this, much of the artistic impact was lost. This resulted in the Type 2 Buffalo Nickel.
1918 over 1917 Buffalo Nickel Example
1937 D Three Legged Buffalo Example
In 1916, Barber made additional minor modifications. Some experts consider this a third subtype,
but most type collectors only recognize the Type 1 and 2 coins as true varieties.
What really seems strange is with all his modifications, Barber never worked on the problem of the date wearing down too rapidly.
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U.S. Buffalo Nickels