Where is the mint mark on a Buffalo nickel? As a coin collector, knowing the mint mark location on coins like the Buffalo nickel is important for identifying key details about your coins. If you have a Buffalo nickel and want to know where to find the mint mark, you’ve come to the right place.
The quick answer is – the mint mark on a Buffalo nickel is located on the reverse (tails) side below the words ‘Five Cents.’
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Buffalo nickel mint marks, including:
– The history of the Buffalo nickel and where it got its name
– Details on the Buffalo nickel design by James Earle Fraser
– The meaning behind different Buffalo nickel mint marks
– Clear instructions on how to locate the mint mark
– Tips on using the mint mark to date your Buffalo nickels
– How the mint mark affects Buffalo nickel value
History of the Buffalo Nickel
The famous Buffalo nickel was minted from 1913 to 1938, enduring over 20 years of production before being replaced by the Jefferson nickel in 1938. Its unique design featuring a Native American chief on one side and an American bison on the reverse made it an iconic coin and a break from previous nickel designs.
The idea for the Buffalo nickel came in 1911 when the US Mint was looking to replace the Liberty Head nickel that had been in production since 1883. Sculptor James Earle Fraser had an innovative design featuring a Native American chief on one side and an American bison on the other.
This design was meant to symbolize the country moving forward while still honoring its history and origins.
Fraser’s design was controversial at first, with objections over the depiction of a Native American on US coinage. However, President Theodore Roosevelt became an advocate for the design, and with his endorsement, the design moved forward for approval.
On May 4, 1911, Fraser’s design was officially approved to replace the Liberty Head nickel in 1913.
The very first Buffalo nickels were struck at the Philadelphia Mint on February 17, 1913, two months before Democrat Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as president. Over 30 million nickels were minted that first year.
When the coins were released to the public, demand was high due to the novelty and uniqueness of Fraser’s design.
Three mints produced Buffalo nickels over the two decades – Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (D mint mark), and San Francisco (S mint mark). However, they did not make Buffalo nickels every year of production at all three mints.
The rarest and most valuable versions for collectors today are the three-legged variety from 1937 and the 1938-D.
By the mid-1930s, the design detail of the Buffalo was starting to wear down from 20+ years of use. So in 1938, the US Mint decided to replace Fraser’s iconic design with the new Jefferson nickel design created by sculptor Felix Schlag.
Over 1.8 billion Buffalo nickels were minted during the series.
Although its tenure lasted just over 20 years, the Buffalo nickel remains one of the most well-known and admired coin designs in US mintage history. The Native American and buffalo design broke new ground and the coin ushered in changes leading to more innovative US coin designs in the future.
The Buffalo Nickel Design
The Buffalo nickel was issued by the United States Mint from 1913 to 1938. The coin features a stylized image of a Native American man on the obverse side and an American bison on the reverse side. This classic design is beloved by coin collectors and history enthusiasts alike.
The Obverse (Heads) Design
The obverse side of the Buffalo nickel depicts a Native American man wearing a traditional headdress. This composite image was created based on multiple Native American models and aimed to be a general representation rather than depict a specific person.
The designer, James Earle Fraser, intended it to honor the Native Americans generally rather than any specific tribe or chief. Underneath is the word “Liberty” and the date of minting.
The Reverse (Tails) Design
The reverse side features the image of a large American bison or buffalo. The species was once ubiquitous across the Great Plains, and Fraser intended the design to represent the country moving westward and the rugged nature of pioneer life.
Under the bison are the words “Five Cents” denoting the coin’s value and “United States of America.”
Controversies Over the Design
Despite the coin’s great popularity, the Buffalo nickel design sparked some controversies over the years. Some Native Americans protested the design of the Native man, arguing it was inaccurate and promoted stereotypes. Others, however, said they were proud of the strong, dignified image on the coin.
There were also disputes over the model for the coin, as various men claimed to have been the ones who posed for Fraser.
The American bison design also drew critiques from wildlife conservationists, who pointed out the creature was facing the wrong direction. Normally, a bison faces left to symbolize its westward migration. On the Buffalo nickel, it faces right.
Still, the classic design persists as one of America’s most beloved.
Mint Marks on Buffalo Nickels
As the main facility for producing coinage, the Philadelphia Mint did not place mint marks on coins. As a result, Buffalo nickels produced in Philadelphia during those years do not have a mint mark.
This created some confusion among modern collectors looking for rare dates and mint-marked examples.
The Philadelphia Mint struck the majority of Buffalo nickels from 1913-1938. In 1913 alone, the first year of issue, over 30 million coins came out of the Philadelphia facility. According to NGC, a total of over 1 billion Buffalo nickels were made at the Philadelphia Mint, making many of the dates relatively common.
The Denver Mint placed a prominent D mint mark on the reverse of Buffalo nickels it produced from 1913-1924 and again from 1934-1938. Key dates with the Denver mint mark include the 1937-D three-legged variety and 1918/7-D overdate.
Most display only slight remnants of the underlying 7-digit. High-grade, well-struck examples show much more distinct traces of the errant 7.
San Francisco Mint
The San Francisco Mint placed an S mint mark on Buffalo nickels from 1913 through 1924 and again from 1934-1938. It produced relatively small quantities of the coins, with some semi-key dates for collectors to locate.
Most survivors grade Good-4 through Extremely Fine, with uncirculated examples quite rare. The 1924-S is another better date with just 1,437,000 specimens struck.
How to Locate the Mint Mark on a Buffalo Nickel
Locating the mint mark on a Buffalo nickel is easy once you know where to look. First, let’s provide some background on the Buffalo nickel.
The Buffalo nickel was produced by the United States Mint from 1913 to 1938. The coin features an American bison (often called a buffalo) on one side and a Native American chieftain on the other side. This classic coin was designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser.
Check the Reverse (Heads) Side
When examining a Buffalo nickel for its mint mark, you’ll want to turn the coin over and look at the reverse (tail) side. That’s where you’ll find the buffalo design.
Below the depiction of the buffalo, between the words “FIVE CENTS,” you’ll notice a small letter. This letter indicates which U.S. Mint facility struck the coin.
Mint Marks and Locations
Here are the mint marks you may find on Buffalo nickels and where they were minted:
- No mint mark – Philadelphia Mint
- D – Denver Mint
- S – San Francisco Mint
You may need to use a magnifying glass to see the tiny mint mark letter. It will be tiny but legible under magnification.
A Small Target to Hit
Hitting that tiny mint mark when coining Buffalo nickels was no easy task. Accounts from the early 20th century suggest it was difficult for the mint to consistently strike the mark on this design. So don’t be surprised if some of your Buffalo nickels are missing their mint marks!
Finding properly struck mint marks can mean the difference between a common Buffalo nickel and a more valued, harder-to-find example. With some practice and patience, locating that tiny letter becomes quick and easy.
Using the Mint Mark to Date Buffalo Nickels
The mint mark on a Buffalo nickel indicates which United States mint produced the coin. This can help collectors and numismatists determine the age and added value of a Buffalo nickel.
Mint Marks and Mints
Three mints were producing Buffalo nickels in the early 20th century:
- Philadelphia (no mint mark)
- Denver (D mint mark)
- San Francisco (S mint mark)
The presence or absence of a mint mark, along with the specific letter, provides information about when and where a Buffalo nickel was struck.
Using Mint Marks to Date Coins
Since the three mints did not all begin producing Buffalo nickels at the same time, the mint marks give clues as to when a particular coin was manufactured.
|Years of Buffalo Nickel Production
For example, a Buffalo nickel with no mint mark must have been struck at Philadelphia between 1913 and 1938.
Rarity and Value Differences
The mint marks also indicate relative rarity, which impacts collector value. For instance, San Francisco Buffalo nickels are generally more rare and more expensive than their Philadelphia and Denver counterparts from the same years.
Mint Marks and Buffalo Nickel Value
The mint mark on a Buffalo nickel indicates which US mint facility the coin was produced at. This is an important factor in determining the coin’s value to collectors.
Rarity and Condition
With collectible coins, rarity, and condition are the main drivers of value. Here’s how Buffalo nickel mint marks affect these factors:
- The no-mint mark Philadelphia issues are the most common and least valuable.
- The Denver (D) mint coins are more scarce and worth more.
- San Francisco (S) Buffalo nickels had much lower mintages and are worth a premium in top grades.
Condition is paramount too. A highly graded Buffalo nickel can be valued upwards of $1,000 or more for rare dates and mint marks. Even well-circulated pieces have notable value.
Key Dates and Rarities
Beyond the mint mark differences, some rare dates and varieties of Buffalo nickels command huge premiums:
- The 1937-D 3-legged nickel – Only a few thousand were struck with a dramatic error, making it highly prized.
- The 1918/7-D overdate – A scarce and popular doubled-die variety.
- The 1926-S – The lowest mintage and most unobtainable date of the series, worth over $6,000 in fine condition.
Many other dates fall within a wide range of well over $100 up to $2,000 or more depending on their grade and scarcity.
|$10 – $100+
|$20 – $250
|$40 – $2,500+
For valuable and rare Buffalo nickels, having them professionally appraised and graded is a smart idea.
Selling and Resources
There are many avenues for selling Buffalo nickels, from dealers to auction houses to direct sales on eBay. Getting multiple quotes is wise to ensure a fair price.
Where Is The Mint Mark On A Buffalo Nickel – Conclusion
As you can see, while the Buffalo nickel mint mark has a small presence on the coin’s design, it has a big impact on telling the history and value of your coin. So the next time you examine your Buffalo nickel collection, be sure to check that small detail below the words ‘Five Cents’ on the reverse.
We hope this guide gave you a clear understanding of Buffalo nickel mint marks, where they’re located, and how to use them. With the background provided here, you can confidently examine your coins and add new Buffalo nickels to your collection.