Buffalo Nickels & Memories of Yesteryear

Packing for a flight to Philadelphia to visit family and celebrate my granddaughter’s birthday, I ran across a small bag of Buffalo/Indian head nickels in the dresser.  Buffalo Nickels have always had a special place in my heart.  They brings back fond memories of the 1950s.    I recall sorting through the coins collected with my brother when I had the privilege to join him on his paper route.

He “collected” for the week on Fridays when he delivered the newspaper.  Sometimes he was in a hurry and did not want a sniveling five-year old tagging along to slow him down.  I can hear Andy’s indignant voice:  “You haven’t helped me with deliveries all week, and now you want to tag along to get tips?!”

Memories of Newspaper Delivery & Collections

But, occasionally I was able to persuade him that he would get better tips if I was at the door standing beside him.  It was true!  Who could resist a little blue-eyed, dirty-faced girl in a dress staring up at them from their front door?  How could they say “I’ll pay you next week.  I don’t have any change.”

Well, there were people who said that anyway.   But hopefully he would collect enough to pay the newspaper bill.  Then my brother could come back to our little house on Franklin Street where he would sort through the week’s collection.   Andy would pocket the extra to save up for the coveted English bicycle he dreamed about riding.

Usually, he would give me a dime from his tips.  And wandering through the surrounding neighborhood with my big brother was quite a treat for me.  I think every girl deserves a big brother, don’t you?

And I could buy quite a bit with ten cents!  It would pay for my ticket at the Saturday movie matinée or I could devour ten cents worth of penny candy, or better yet, make it last all day with a Sugar Daddy or Turkish Taffy.

Buffalo Nickels or Indian Head Nickels

Buffalo nickels were no longer being minted but you could find them in general circulation in the 1950s.   So Andy saved the nickels he came across as they were becoming more scarce.

According to Wikipedia  “The Buffalo nickel or Indian Head nickel is a copper-nickel five-cent piece that was struck by the United States Mint from 1913 to 1938.”  Depicting a Native American and an American bison, I think it is a beautiful coin.

Buffalo Nickels today are worth at least a dollar each and if the year and/or mint mark is still readable, the price goes up from there.  So, it will make a nice little gift to add to the bag for my granddaughter.  Who know how much it will be worth when she grows up!

Buffalo Nickels – So What Would It Buy You?

So what could you buy? Quite a bit!  I remembering mailing first class letters at only three cents, but it did go up to four cents in 1958.  My mother said the price hike was tantamount to highway robbery.  Here’s a picture of a great three cent stamp that I saw advertised on eBay.

Women in our Armed Forces Stamp Vintage 1952 Unused USA 3 cent postage MNH

The most memorable item you could buy with nickels, of course, were the candy bars! Three Musketeers, Tootsie Roll, Snickers, Baby Ruth, and my favorites: Good n’ Plenty, and Clark Bar – all a nickel a piece.

There was also Woolworth’s 5 and 10 Cent Stores, complete with great soda fountains serving sundaes, shakes and malts.  In fact, Woolworth’s was a favorite after school hang out in the 1960s.

But, even in the 1950s, most items cost more than a nickel or a dime as the chain store dealt with inflation from when it had started in the late 1800’s.

One memory I would like to forget – Do you remember pay toilets?

I am so glad they are a thing of the past!  Philadelphia’s Sixty-ninth Street terminal had pay toilets for commuters coming off the train from Center City.  They could make a potty stop before transferring to buses or trolleys out to the suburbs.  The restrooms were filthy!  And I considered it  a double insult to pay for a toilet with a door.  Without a nickel left to my name, there was more than once that I crawled under the door in those smelly stalls!

But, it was quite likely that I had used my nickels already to buy a soda.

In fact, Coca-cola kept its price at a nickel from 1886 until 1959.  With Coke at only a nickel, none of the other cola companies could competitively charge more. (With all that soda, no wonder I had to use the toilet.)

But, adults had items they enjoyed for a nickel also, like coffee or a cigar.

Well, it just goes to show how your mind can wander on to memories of yesteryear from just finding Buffalo nickels!  Why, even the cost at the newsstand for The Philadelphia Bulletin or Inquirer newspaper was just a nickel.


What can you remember buying for a nickel?  Share with us your memories or comments below.

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