The Buffalo Nickel stands out as one of the most iconic American coin designs. Minted from 1913 to 1938, the design featured a Native American head on the obverse and an American bison on the reverse. In 2005, the U.S. Mint revived the vintage Buffalo Nickel design to celebrate its 100th anniversary. This makes the 2005-dated coins interesting modern issues of a historic design.
This in-depth guide will explore the extensive history of the Buffalo Nickel, provide minting specifics on the 2005 release, outline value ranges, and detail the major varieties – all to help collectors better understand the 2005 Buffalo Nickel issues.
Origins and History of the Buffalo Nickel Design
The Buffalo Nickel, also referred to as the Indian Head Nickel, replaced the Liberty Head Nickel when it was introduced in 1913. The Treasury Department had decided to refresh America’s coinage, leading to James Earle Fraser’s memorable Buffalo Nickel design.
Fraser’s obverse featured a left-facing portrait of a Native American in profile. This composite image aimed to represent indigenous peoples in general, not any one specific leader or individual. The reverse depicted a large American bison in motion, evoking the nation’s frontier spirit and wildlife. Together, these two classic images led to the coin’s popular “Buffalo Nickel” moniker.
Casting Liberty aside, the innovative Buffalo Nickel design broke from the European-style allegorical tradition. It brought attention to America’s Native American culture and history within the country’s coinage. This groundbreaking new design was embraced by the public and Treasury officials alike. The Buffalo Nickel would continue being minted every year from 1913 to 1938 before giving way to the Jefferson Nickel.
Overview of the Original Buffalo Nickel
- Designer: James Earle Fraser
- Years: 1913 – 1938
- Obverse: Left-facing Native American portrait
- Reverse: American bison depiction
- Composition: 75% copper, 25% nickel
- Weight/Size: 5 grams, 21.2 mm diameter
Today, the Buffalo Nickel stands as one of the most admired, collected, and iconic designs in American numismatic history. The coin represents the country’s pioneer spirit, wildlife, and Native American heritage.
2005 Reincarnation for 100th Anniversary
In 2005, the U.S. Mint decided to reintroduce the Buffalo Nickel design to celebrate its legacy and 100th anniversary. While honoring Fraser’s original artwork, these new coins featured the date 2005 along with some minor changes:
- The 2005 date appears lower on the obverse compared to the original 1913-1938 issue. This was done to accommodate modern minting equipment.
- The 2005 nickels have a new composition of 75% copper, 25% nickel. The original versions were minted with a 75% copper, 25% nickel composition until 1942.
- The 2005 coins display a matte proof-like finish, unlike the satin luster of earlier editions.
- Over 15 million of the commemorative 2005 Buffalo Nickels were struck across the Philadelphia & Denver Mints for circulation.
By reissuing this vintage design with the 2005 date, the U.S. Mint created an instant modern rarity. Collectors now had the opportunity to own a newly minted example of the historic Buffalo Nickel.
Rare 2005 Buffalo Nickel Coins Mint Errors and Scarce Varieties
During production of the 2005 nickels, several mint errors and rare buffalo nickel occurred that are now prized by numismatists:
No Spear Variety
One major variety features a missing spear on the Native American portrait, earning it the “No Spear” designation. Coins missing this central detail are more scarce, trading for $50+ in uncirculated condition compared to just a few dollars for normal examples.
2005-P and 2005-D from Mint Sets
Special uncirculated versions of the 2005-P and 2005-D nickels were included in annual Mint Sets sold by the U.S. Mint. These coins showcase sharper strikes and details than those released for circulation. Their lower availability commands a slight premium.
2005-S Proof Nickel
A limited mintage of 2005-S proof Buffalo Nickels were struck at the San Francisco facility exclusively for special proof sets. These mirror-like coins display crisper design elements than circulating coins.
While Philadelphia and Denver issues are plentiful, these scarce varieties and proofs give collectors the chance to chase rarities of this commemorative modern issue.
Value of 2005 Buffalo Nickel Coins Based on Condition
Here is an overview of the value of coins for the regular 2005 Buffalo Nickel (not the rarer varieties) based on the coin’s grade condition:
|G-4||Well-worn with faint features||$1 – $1.50|
|VG-8||Clearly outlined designs with wear||$1.25 – $2|
|F-12||Moderate wear but most details visible||$1.50 – $2.50|
|VF-20||Light wear, nearly complete features||$2 – $3|
Any coins bent, holed, or heavily corroded are worth only melt value (5 -10 cents).
|MS-60||Mint luster but some marks or spots||$5 – $8|
|MS-63||Few noticeable bag marks under light||$8 – $12|
|MS-65||Nearly pristine with just a couple small flaws||$12 – $18|
|MS-66||Virtually free of imperfections to the unaided eye||$20 – $30|
|MS-67||Perfection. No discernible flaws or distractions||$30 – $50+|
Proof coins trade around 10-20% higher than uncirculated values.
As with all coins, higher grades in any condition receive substantial premiums from collectors. But even lower graded Buffalo Nickels have intrinsic value for the historic design.
Major Factors Influencing Value of 2005 Buffalo Nickel Coins
When evaluating a 2005 Buffalo Nickel, here are the key factors to consider:
- Grade Condition – Circulated grades are worth base values while uncirculated/proof gradesfetch increasingly higher premiums.
- Rarity – The major varieties like “No Spear” and proofs have added numismatic value over common Philadelphia/Denver issues.
- Demand – Modern issues typically have lower demand than early 20th century coins. But classic designs still intrigue collectors.
- Eye Appeal – For proof and mint state examples, eye appeal through strike sharpness and quality surface preservation becomes crucial.
- Special Attributes – Color toning, unusual die breaks, striking errors, or other distinctions can further raise eye appeal and value.
While condition reigns supreme, understanding each coin’s individual characteristics is key to assessing true value.
Collecting Strategies for 2005 Buffalo Nickels
For many collectors, the 2005 Buffalo Nickel offers an affordable way to own this vintage design. Some strategies include:
- Complete 12-Coin Set – All Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco issues from circulation strikes to proofs.
- High Grade Type Set – Just one example each of P, D, and S but in the best grades possible.
- Registry Set Collector – Develop a highly ranked set that competes with others through grades and coin quality.
- Variety Specialist – Seek out the major mint errors and scarce varieties like “No Spear” coins.
No matter the approach, the 2005 Buffalo Nickel lets anyone enjoy this iconic American design.
How to Grade 2005 Buffalo Nickel Coins
The condition and grade of a coin greatly impacts its collector value. There are generally two main types of grades:
- Circulated Grades – For coins showing wear from being used in commerce. Ranges from Good to Extremely Fine.
- Uncirculated Grades – Given to coins with no wear, only showing bag marks or other surface marks from minting or handling. Ranges from Mint State (MS) 60 through MS-70.
Key factors considered when grading include sharpness of design details, luster, and the appearance of marks or abrasions.
Step by step to Grade Circulated 2005 Buffalo Nickels
Circulated Buffalo Nickels exhibit wear from being used in everyday transactions. Here are descriptions of the main circulated grades:
- Good (G-4) – Heavily worn with designs faded but fully outlined. Major details visible.
- Very Good (VG-8) – Well-worn with all lettering, words, and primary design elements visible.
- Fine (F-12) – Moderate wear on high points with most details clearly visible. Legends, letters, and major features sharp.
- Very Fine (VF-20) – Light even wear with nearly full details and most design elements bold.
- Extremely Fine (EF-40) – Minor wear only on the highest relief points. Most details very sharp.
Check the hair, cheek, robe, and bison details to judge how bold or faded they are. Compare your coin to images of graded examples to assign an accurate circulated grade.
How to Grade Uncirculated 2005 Buffalo Nickels
Mint state Buffalo Nickels do not show any wear, but may have bag marks or other imperfections from minting and handling:
- MS-60 – Few sizable marks but all details sharp and lustrous.
- MS-63 – Some light hairline scratches or small abrasions visible under light.
- MS-65 – Nearly pristine with just a couple minor bag marks. Full lustrous shine.
- MS-67 – Very few minuscule flaws visible under magnification. Essentially as struck.
- MS-68 – Virtually perfect with no marks or distractions.
- MS-70 – Flawless with no discernible marks even under 10x magnification.
Critical areas to examine are the cheek, neck, and bison’s shoulder which show marks most easily. Compare your coin carefully to images of certified Buffalo Nickels in the listed grades.
Tips for Grading Buffalo Nickels
- Use a magnifying glass to examine details and surface marks not visible to the naked eye.
- Compare your coin to images of Buffalo Nickels in various grade levels to identify the correct match.
- Consider having valuable key date coins professionally graded and certified to confirm your grade assessment.
- Focus on the most delicate design areas like the cheek and bison’s shoulder to determine how well preserved the coin’s details are.
- Distinguish between marks incurred after minting vs wear from circulation, which lower the grade.
Grading Buffalo Nickels takes practice. By carefully studying design details and surface quality on coins of known grade, collectors can learn to accurately determine the condition of their pieces.
In 2005, the U.S. Mint brought back James Earle Fraser’s classic Buffalo Nickel design to celebrate its 100th birthday. These new nickels featured the old artwork paired with the fresh date of 2005. For collectors, this modern re-issue of the famous Buffalo Nickel created an exciting new avenue of numismatic history to explore.
While most 2005 nickels in circulation are only worth face value, the scarce mint errors, proofs, and specially packaged specimens offer opportunities for discovery. This accessible yet history-rich coin makes a fun modern addition to any Buffalo Nickel collection or American coin type set.