[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, David W. Lange. This information was originally published in 2006 in The Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels.]
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The late coin dealer Abe Kosoff, one of the most prominent figures in the coin business during the 1940s-60s, once conducted a survey of his customers and discovered that the Buffalo Nickel series topped the list as most popular. Several decades later these coins remain a favorite set to collect. While other series may enjoy the spotlight to a greater degree and have become the focus of investors and speculators, the Buffalo Nickel draws its continued popularity primarily from collectors.
The boldness of James Earle Fraser’s designs and the uniquely American quality of the subjects portrayed have made it easily the most familiar obsolete United States coin to both numismatists and the general public. Although Buffalo Nickels have not been minted since 1938 they still play a role in American culture, being used in the fashioning of Native American and Western style jewelry.
Countless other Buffalo Nickels have been reborn in a quite different form of folk art — the so-called “hobo nickel.” Almost from its inception, the nameless Indian’s portrait has attracted would-be sculptors. Using the simplest of tools, these Michelangelo’s of the open road reshaped his profile into flappers and fools, soldiers and saints, bons vivants and bums. Among the latter were many self-portraits. When sold at a modest profit, these coins afforded the small necessities of a hobo’s life. In recent years master engraver Ron Landis of the Gallery Mint has produced perhaps the most beautiful hobo nickels to date. These examples of the carver’s art, both vintage and modern, are popularly collected by members of the Original Hobo Nickel Society. I am myself a member and, like all members, I’ve adopted a hobo name. Mine is “Frisco,” a tribute to the place of my birth.
In addition to such “mutilated” nickels, thousands of these coins survive today as dateless relics of a fondly remembered past. No longer having numismatic value, such worn pieces stimulate the imagination of the collector, who can only speculate as to the desirable dates and mintmarks they once bore. That they continue to possess value as objects of art is a tribute to the genius of James Earle Fraser and to our rich American heritage.
With the supply of attractive and identifiable pieces limited, the value of these coins to the collector can only increase with the passage of time. Numerous scarce date and mint combinations have commanded premiums for decades, and the growth in the collecting of errors and varieties has likewise drawn these coins to the forefront.
Rarity aside, even the most common date Buffalo Nickel is a joy to behold in pristine mint condition. Fortunately, there are a number of dates for which such examples may be acquired at a reasonable cost. Whatever the collector’s budget, he or she will find the collecting of this series an enriching experience. That this book may in some way contribute to such enjoyment is all that the author can ask.