HomeUS Coins1938-D Buffalo Nickel : A Collector's Guide

1938-D Buffalo Nickel : A Collector’s Guide

1938-D Buffalo Nickel. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1938-D Buffalo Nickel. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

The 1938-D Buffalo nickel was the last issue in the Buffalo nickel series that had started in 1913. Production began in January and ended at the end of April. During this period, the United States Mint was engaged in a design competition to place Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson on the nickel and discontinue the Indian Head design. After the public became aware that a new nickel design was to be released, many began to hoard this issue.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

BU roll (40 coins) from the Larry H. Miller Collection sold by Stack’s Bowers, 12/20, Lot 1531, $1,140. (NGC MS68, pop 17, 8/2012-11/2013- 9 with *).

Top Population: PCGS MS68+ (6, 3/2024), NGC MS68+ (7, 3/2024), and CAC MS68 (14:0 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

  • PCGS MS68+ #47257856: Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4061 – View. Crescent toning at the top (obverse) and bottom of the rim (reverse).
  • PCGS MS68 #47382970: Stack’s Bowers, March 27, 2024, Lot 5208 – View. Gold, green, and lilac target toning on both sides.
  • PCGS MS68 CAC #43482426: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, July 27, 2023, Lot 30 – $5,522.50. Attractively toned.
  • NGC MS68*: “The George Gardner,” Stack’s Bowers, November 6, 2013, Lot 318 – $7.755.
  • NGC MS68*: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11278 – $15,500 Reserve Not Met. Nicely toned.

1938-D/D Buffalo Nickel, RPM-2

BU roll (40 coins) from the Larry H. Miller Collection sold by Stack’s Bowers on 12/20, Lot 1532, $1,800 (NGC MS68, pop ?, 11/2013).

  • NGC MS68 #6332562-005: Stack’s Bowers, March 27, 2024, Lot 5209 – View.
  • NGC MS68: “The George Gardner,” Stack’s Bowers, November 6, 2013, Lot 319 – $7,050.
  • PCGS MS67+ #47956271: Heritage Auctions, July 20, 2023, Lot 3450 – $1,980.

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1938-D/S Buffalo Nickel

Coin World magazine first reported the 1938-D/S overpunched mint mark on March 16, 1962. The variety was discovered by C.G. Langworthy and Robert Kerr in 1961 and subsequently verified by Q. David Bowers. Three reverse dies were prepared with the S mint mark but were overpunched with D mint mark as no S-mint nickels were to be struck in 1938. The 1938-D/S Buffalo nickel, while famous, is not particularly rare.



The obverse of the 1938-D Buffalo or Indian Head nickel features an oversized bust of a Native American warrior. For this effigy, sculptor James Earle Fraser made a composite image of three well-known men: Chief Iron Tail of the SiouxBig Tree of the Kiowa, and Two Moons of the Cheyenne. The composite indian wears two feathers in his hair and a braid running down the side of his head. The date (1938) is superimposed over the truncation of the bust, and the legend LIBERTY is off to the side at 2 o’clock on the rim.


The central motif on the reverse was supposedly based on the buffalo named Black Diamond that lived at the New York Central Park Zoological Garden. Standard types display all of the animal’s four legs. The buffalo is standing on a small strip of land, below which is the denomination FIVE CENTS. Arcing above the animal’s back around the rim is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is squeezed between “AMERICA” and the animal’s back. As this type was struck at the Denver Mint, the “D” mint mark is found at the bottom of the design under the denomination.

Intriguingly, this design does not include the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST. This was due to Mint Director George Roberts informing Fraser that “the motto, ‘In God We Trust’, is not required upon this coin” (Burdette).


The edge of the 1938-D Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel is plain or smooth.


An American sculptor, James Earle Fraser, was active during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Minnesota, Fraser attended the Art Institute of Chicago and displayed some of his earliest artwork at the 1893 World’s Columbian and 1915 Panama Pacific Expositions, including his piece entitled End of the Trail. A large portion of his work centered around Native American themes and is embodied in his 1913 Indian Head nickel design.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1938
Denomination: Five Cents (USD)
Mint Mark: D (Denver)
Mintage: 7,020,000
Alloy: 75% Copper, 25% Nickel
Weight: 5.00 g
Diameter: 21.10 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: James Earle Fraser
REV Designer: James Earle Fraser
Quality: Business Strike


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Burdette, Roger W. Renaissance of American Coinage: 1909–1915. (2007)

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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  1. I have a lot of mint condition old coins,from nickels,to dimes,to pennies
    Silver pennies, gold dimes, a bunch of native head nickels aswell

  2. MEGUSTARYA comentarle sobre unas monedas KETENGO decolexsion como el pleno más buscado del ano 1982 delde 1969s 1970s hybaryos más


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