President Andrew Johnson approved the production of five-cent coins made of nickel and copper after the American Civil War in 1866. The US Mint produced lovely Buffalo nickels for only 25 years. However, they are still one of the most beloved American coins, thanks to symbolism connected with the nation’s roots.
Numerous collectors look for these coins with a Native American on one and a buffalo on the other side, particularly appreciating rare pieces and errors. Most specimens come in a price of $10 to $350, but the most valuable Buffalo nickels can be worth tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let’s take a look.
Most Valuable Buffalo Nickels
James Earle Fraser designed Indian Head nickel (Buffalo nickel) with a plain edge. This copper/nickel five-cent coin has 0.83504 inches (21.21 mm) in diameter, while its weight is 0.17637 ounces (5 g).
Pieces in the lowest grade typically cost 40 cents to $2, but some rare and well-preserved specimens can reach tens of thousands of dollars at auctions.
The most valuable Buffalo nickels by PCGS
|Lots found||Coin||Auction record|
|FIVE CENTS on raised ground, type 1|
|5191||1913 MS 68+||$79,312.50|
|FIVE CENTS in recess, type 2|
|1344||1918/7 D MS 65||$350,750|
|1953||1926 S MS 66||$322,000|
|270||1916 MS 64 DDO||$281,750|
|1845||1913 D MS 68||$143,750|
|835||1920 D MS 67||$138,000|
|996||1917 S MS 67||$138,000|
|841||1927 S MS 66||$125,350|
|842||1918 S MS 66||$125,350|
|1022||1919 S MS 66||$109,250|
|1157||1924 S MS 66+||$105,750|
|329||1935 DDR MS 65||$104,650|
|5402||1937 D MS 67 (three-legged)||$99,875|
|1013||1925 S MS 66||$87,400|
|1014||1926 D MS 67||$70,500|
|1342||1923 S MS 66||$67,563|
|300||1914/3 MS 65||$63,250|
|1853||1931 S MS 67||$63,250|
|1139||1929 MS 67||$63,250|
|1090||1915 S MS 67||$55,812.50|
|740||1918 MS 67+||$55,200|
|FIVE CENTS on raised ground, proof type 1|
|418||1913 PR 68||$96,937.50|
|FIVE CENTS in recess, proof type 2|
|477||1915 PR 69||$69,000|
|424||1913 PR 68||$66,700|
The Denver mint produced 8,362,000 Buffalo nickels in 1918, the last year of WWI. However, no one can confirm how many 1918/7 errors were struck. They were a result of sloppy workmanship when the new date was struck over an already existing one.
Therefore, you can see the number 8 struck over 7 in the minting year on the coin obverse. Interestingly, no one spotted this error until Paul M. Lange offered his nickel at an auction in 1930.
Nowadays, you can hardly see such a coin in the mint state, but even those in low grades are expensive. Most pieces’ price range is from $1,134 to $64,395, but the rare 1918/7 D MS 65 Buffalo nickel reached an auction record of $350,750 in 2006.
The Buffalo nickel mintage was 970,000 in 1926, making it the lowest in the series. As expected, most coins had little chance to stay in the mint state, but those who saved one are pretty happy now.
While pieces in good grade are worth only $24, you can get $10,502 for those in uncirculated condition. Moreover, the rare nickel in MS 66 range was paid $322,000 at an auction in 2008 and won an auction record still valid today.
The Doubled Die Obverse error resulted from improper coin die manufacturing, leading to doubling the last two date digits. It is unknown how many such coins exist since they circulated for years before one collector noticed this imperfection.
Even though most of these specimens are in circulated condition, their price range is from $2,489 to $159,442. The most expensive 1916 MS 64 DDO Buffalo nickel was sold in 2004 for $281,750, winning an auction record.
The Denver mint struck 4,156,000 Buffalo nickels Type 2 in 1913, on the eve of WWI. It was the first production year, and the US Mint struck two-coin types, with denominations placed on a line and mound surface.
The recessing corrected the problem of premature wear, leaving coins with the mound surface rare in the mint state nowadays. Circulated five cents in recess are typically worth $135 to $454. On the other hand, one highly graded specimen won the auction record and brought $143,750 to its owner in 2008.
Most Buffalo nickels of 9,418,000 minted in Denver in 1920 are worth $9.13 to $1,593, depending on condition. Nowadays, these typically well-struck pieces are rare in the mint state.
One of these ruddy coins reached a high value at Bowers & Merena auction. One collector paid $138,000 for the specimen in MS 67 grade, but it was less than a professional estimation for this coin of $155,000.
While WWI raged in Europe, the San Francisco mint produced poorly-struck Buffalo nickels. Therefore, finding a well-preserved piece with a highly-detailed strike is almost impossible, and you should set aside only $24 to $507 for one.
Rare coins in uncirculated condition are worth $1,318, but some cost $28,000 on the open market. The only species in MS 67 reached an astonishing price of $138,000 at Heritage Auctions in 2008.
Since the San Francisco mint produced 3,430,000 Buffalo nickels in 1927, they were not qualified as rare. Despite this, one collector paid $125,350 for one at Bowers & Merena auction in 2008 because of its high grade and the star designation.
It is a mystery why more well-preserved coins minted this year didn’t survive, and even the best pieces rarely cost more than $2,277. Those in good condition are cheap, and you can buy them for $1.71.
In 1918, WWI was coming to an end, and industrial production in the US focused on war goods. Despite a mintage of 4,882,000 in the San Francisco mint, a low number of these coins survived in the mint state.
Therefore, you can find pieces in good condition for only $16, while uncirculated ones are often worth $3,130. The most expensive specimen struck this war year was the 1918 S MS 66 Buffalo nickel, sold at an auction in 2008 for a fantastic $125,350.
Only one among 7,521,000 Buffalo nickels produced in 1919 was worth $109,250. One collector paid so much for a rarely well-struck coin in MS 66 grade at Heritage Auctions in 2006.
Most others are worth only $10 to $1,981, but this one of three existing at such a high rate captivated with its slightly pink and golden toning. Be prepared that coins produced in San Francisco that year are rare in Gem condition, making them the most valuable in the series.
Most of the 1,437,000 nickels struck in San Francisco in 1924 are worth $18 to $1,268 in circulated condition. Only rare pieces in the mint state typically reach $4,175 or even more on the open market.
The auction record won a specimen in MS 66+ grade when one collector paid $105,750 for it in 2016. It had hardly visible imperfections on the surfaces while details were sharp, meaning it came from a fresh die set.
The Philadelphia mint produced 58,264,000 Buffalo nickels in 1935, but some came with a Double Die error on the reverse. You can quickly notice the letters FIVE CENTS doubling.
Regular coins struck this year are worth $51 to $7,125, depending on condition. On the other hand, this particular piece was paid $104,650 at Bowers & Merena auction in 2007. It resulted from sloppy workmanship, but its uniqueness made it precious.
Three-legged Buffalo nickels are rare error coins produced in Denver. It is unclear how many of these pieces were produced among 17,826,000 standard coins, but their price was typically high.
Even those in the lowest grade cost $608, while pieces in the mint state are often worth about $5,850. The most expensive among those ultimate demand rarities is the one sold at Legend Rare Coin Auctions in 2021 for an astonishing $99,875.
The Philadelphia mint struck 1,520 Buffalo nickel proofs with the raised ground in 1913. Their regular price is $1,318 since survivors are not as plentiful as you expect.
Only four coins still exist in PR 68 grade, and one of them was sold at Legend Rare Coin Auctions in 2021 for a fantastic $96,938. They are the most quality pieces you can find worldwide.
Despite of decent mintage of 6,256,000 Buffalo nickels minted in San Francisco in 1925, they are rare in high grades. Most experts consider these coins the worst in the entire series because of the heavily worn dies used for their production.
While those in circulated conditions are worth $5.70 to $285, pieces in the mint state are expensive. You should set aside $533 to $2,058 for one. The priciest nickel struck this year is one of the rare from the MS 66 grade. One collector paid $87,400 for it at an auction in 2009.
The Philadelphia mint produced Buffalo nickels 1913 type 1 with the FIVE CENTS inscription on the raised ground only this year. It was replaced with a line type because the original design was worn too quickly.
Most of the 30,992,000 struck nickels are worth $13 to $67 on the current coin market, but some well-preserved pieces can reach even $27,500. The most quality one with this date was the one in MS 68+ grade sold for $79,312.50 at an auction in 2021.
The Denver mint produced 5,638,000 poorly struck nickels in 1926. Most are heavily worn out and worth $11 to $350, while you can buy those in the mint state for $400 to $530. The most valuable was the 1926 D MS 67 Buffalo nickel paid $70,500 at an auction in 2020.
The Philadelphia mint produced only 1,050 proof Buffalo nickels in 1915, and you can find most of the survived pieces for $1,134 on the current coin market. However, one collector paid $69,000 for the only specimen in PR 69 condition at Bowers & Merena auction in 2005.
The 6,142,000 coins minted in San Francisco in 1923 were poorly struck, but it is still possible to find a few exceptional pieces. Coins in low grades are worth $9.13 to $454, but you should pay $658 to $1,028 for those in the mint state.
However, collectors often pay up to $38,500 for pieces offered on the open market. The most expensive nickel minted this year was a premium Gem with silver-apricot patina sold for $67,563 at Heritage Auctions in 2013.
These relatively rare proof coins struck in the Philadelphia mint in 1913 are typically worth $1,318. Such a high price results from a low mintage of only 1,514 pieces.
One of only four specimens in PR 68 grade was paid an incredible $66,700 at an auction in 2005. One collector couldn’t resist its bright satin finish and golden highlights on the surfaces.
Only a few 4 over 3 Buffalo nickels appeared among 20,664,463 regular coins struck in the Philadelphia mint in the first war year.
While most were worth $255 to $7,130, depending on condition, the most expensive piece was paid $63,250 at Heritage Auctions in 2002. This Gem with golden-gray toning came without carbon flecks and abrasions.
The US Mint produced Buffalo nickels for 25 years, but their minting was followed by numerous problems. Most of these coins are excessively worn out nowadays because of the poorly solved design. Only several pieces of 1.2 billion produced are still in the mint state, making them valuable and collectible.