What Makes a Buffalo Nickel Valuable?

Buffalo nickels. Pile of vintage American coins

Buffalo nickels are one of the most well-known types of rare coins. At Phil's Coins, that also means that they're one of our most asked-about offerings. One of the most common questions about Buffalo nickels is why they are so valuable.

To answer this question, it is necessary to understand several factors that determine the value of these coins.

What is a Buffalo Nickel?

Buffalo nickels, also known as Indian head nickels or five-cent pieces, were originally minted between 1913 and 1938. These nickels were designed in the early 1900s in response to the president's mandate that the coinage becomes more beautiful and represents American history and symbolism.

It took several years for the designs to be struck into coins, but the nickels proved popular. The Buffalo Nickel is made of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The front of the coin features an Indian head or bust (hence the name), and the reverse side features an American buffalo, more accurately called a bison. The designs were produced for 25 years, at which time the law expired, and the coins were replaced with the Jefferson nickel that most people are familiar with today.

Because they were only produced for a limited time but were readily available for years after being struck, they were often the first coins people added to coin collections. For several decades after production stopped, it was common to find Buffalo nickels in handfuls of spare change, and many people would put them aside.

As decades passed, however, the number of these nickels slowly dwindled. Today, they are hardly ever found in regular circulation, although they are still a part of many coin collections. In many cases, they are still the first "rare" coins that many people collect.

What Mints Make a Buffalo Nickel More Valuable?

Because the Buffalo nickels were struck over a period of 25 years, there were several different versions of the coin that were made. The most common version of the coin has no mint mark (that is, a small letter on the reverse of the coin indicates which mint the coin was produced at). These coins were produced at the Philadelphia Mint, while in addition, Buffalo nickels are marked with a "D" or "S." These are less common, but there are still several thousand of each of these types of coins in circulation.

However, mistakes or errors that occurred during the striking process make a Buffalo nickel valuable. While there are several different types of errors, some of the most commonly seen are misprints in which one side of the coin is printed upside down or backward. There are also a number of Buffalo nickels in circulation that were double-struck; that is, the coin was hit by the striking plate twice, producing two overlapping images on the same side of the coin.

Some extremely rare Buffalo nickels will have two or more misprints. There are fewer than a dozen of these types of coins, and they tend to have the highest value of all of these nickels.

It is important to note that there are two types of nickels: circulated and uncirculated. Circulated coins are those nickels that stores, banks, or other businesses actually use. They can come in various conditions, and it is not uncommon for them to be scratched, dented, or chipped. Circulated nickels are the most common but also the least valuable.

What Is a Buffalo Nickel Worth?

Determining the exact value of any coin can take time and effort. Several factors often go into determining how much a coin is worth, including the condition of the coin, relative rarity, and the demand or interest in the coin. Because of this, it is hard to determine how much a Buffalo nickel is worth.

It is possible, however, to give a range for Buffalo nickels. The most common ones, those without a mint mark, will tend to sell for between $1.13 and $3.30. Uncirculated or mint condition coins typically sell between $31 and $51. 

Misprinted or struck Buffalo nickels are rare enough that they must typically be independently evaluated to determine their value. Each of these coins is unique, and evaluating them has to be done in person. While dealers can give an estimate based on pictures or a description, it is usually necessary for the coin to be evaluated in person. These coins have been known to sell for over $25,000 for particularly rare nickels in excellent condition.

If you want to buy or sell buffalo nickels, visit us at Phil's Coins. We have a wide selection of Buffalo nickels for sale and are always interested in adding more to our collection. Of course, we're always happy to look at any other coins you may be interested in selling.


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