National Coin Week is a few months away; the celebration will
start April 21 and end on April 27. This year the National
Coin Week theme is the Buffalo nickel. For that reason, this week I
wanted to get a jump start on National Coin Week by writing about the Buffalo
nickel, which this year is celebrating its 100 year
anniversary. Even though the coin was only struck between 1913
and 1938, there is a great amount of history and interesting facts
surrounding this coin.
The Buffalo nickel was created during the renaissance of U.S.
coinage. During this time, all the U.S. coin designs were
replaced in part because of President
Theodore Roosevelt's wish to beautify U.S. coinage. James Earle Fraser, a former assistant to famed
sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was tasked with the
challenge to formulate a new design for the nickel that would
replace the Liberty Head, which was designed by Charles E. Barber. Fraser explained his
thought-process for the design of this coin when he
stated, "I felt I wanted to do something totally American - a coin
that could not be mistaken for any other country's coin. It
occurred to me that the buffalo, as part of the western background,
was 100 percent American, and that our North American Indian fit
into the picture perfectly."
(1913 Buffalo Nickel)
There has been controversy over the years as to who the Indian
head and buffalo were modeled after. Fraser has said the
Indian head was a composition featured after multiple Native
Americans. However, Chief John Big Tree, a Seneca, claimed the coin
was modeled after him.
The buffalo design is widely recognized as being the model of Black
Diamond (Black Diamond will be the topic of one of my
upcoming weekly blog). However, some have questioned the
buffalo design being modeled after Black Diamond because his horns
did not match that of the design on the coin. Some have stated it
could have instead been modeled after Bronx, a bison who was the
herd leader at the same Central Park Zoo that Black Diamond
In 1912, Fraser's design was approved, but it was met with
resistance by Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint Charles E. Barber and the Hobbs
Manufacturing Company, producer of vending machines. Despite
these objections, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh ordered
the coins to be struck and issued.
Immediately, it was recognized that the coins were susceptible
to wear, in particular within two areas. These two areas included
the date and exergue that displays the coins' worth (5
cents). Due to these problems, Charles E. Barber was
permitted to modify the design to reduce the wearing on the
exergue. This change in design provided two varieites in 1913,
known as Type I and Type II.
This was not the only change he made; he also smoothed out the
bison and Indian head, which took away from the artistic work
Fraser had originally designed. Despite the modifications made by
Barber, the coins were still prone to wear, which led to the coin
being replaced by the Jefferson nickel in 1938.
The Buffalo nickel has not been produced in 75 years, but it
remains a well-known coin in part due to Hobo nickel designs. Fraser's design was
also adapted for the 2001 commemorative silver dollar and in 2006
the Mint began striking American Buffalo gold bullion pieces using a
modified version of Fraser's Type I design.
(1916 Hobo Nickel "Classic Man in a Bowler
To get a closer look and to learn more about Buffalo and Hobo
nickels, visit the Money Museum located on 818 N. Cascade Ave. in
Colorado Springs, Colo.