Following the successful passage of the Presidential $1 Coin Act in 2005, the U.S. Mint officially released the American Gold Buffalo bullion coin into circulation in 2006. Through nine consecutive release years, the American Gold Buffalo has maintained a position of prominence as an official gold bullion coin of the United States of America. This year, on the coin’s 10th anniversary, its emblematic legacy continues with the release of the 2016 American Gold Buffalo.
Made out of one troy ounce of 99.99% pure gold with no alloys, the American Gold Buffalo’s composition signifies a pivotal moment in the U.S. Mint’s history. It was the first time that the U.S. Mint, established under Congress’ Coinage Act of 1972, had ever struck a coin in 24-karat gold. The stringent purity standard and notable design of the American Gold Buffalo, as well as a legal tender face value of $50, contributes to the gold coin’s sustained popularity in the numismatic world. Backed by the U.S. Mint, the U.S. government guarantees the purity, weight, and content of the American Gold Buffalo bullion coin.
Although commonly called the American buffalo, the animal featured on the gold coin's reverse is actually a bison. The misnomer is deeply embedded within American history: In as early as 1625, English writers used the term “buffalo" to describe the bison they encountered in America because they were unfamiliar with the new species and it closely resembled the water buffalo, a bovine that is native to Africa and Asia. “Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam” is the first line in “Home on the Range,” a song with widely debated origins that has maintained centuries of memorability in America as an anthem of life in the west during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Currently, in modern America, the famed “buffalo” name is associated with multiple U.S. cities, school mascots, product brands, musical bands, and even a sauce-covered fried chicken wing. Scientifically speaking, it is the American bison, not the buffalo, inhabiting the plains of North America. Societally speaking, it is acceptable, often preferable, to use the buffalo name when referencing the historic American mammal.
The American Gold Buffalo’s obverse and reverse designs were originally featured on an American 5-cent coin, known as the “Buffalo Nickel.” Renowned sculptor James Earle Fraser, who trained under the skilled Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is the artist behind the artwork that appeared on the Buffalo Nickel from 1913 to 1938. The captivating figures represented life before westward expansion in the U.S., and their permanent reappearance in the design of the American Gold Buffalo preserves the memory of a long-ago period in American history.
The mighty bison pictured on the coin’s reverse was inspired by Black Diamond, an American bison who resided at a zoological park in New York. Fraser modeled his sculpted figure after this living bison, reportedly watching the animal for hours at a time in order to accurately capture its form. Fraser’s attention to detail and exquisite craftsmanship is evident by the pronounced features and distinct curvature in the left-facing full body profile of the American bison. The open space surrounding the bison figure is engraved with two American mottos: “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum.” “United States of America” proudly arches at the top of the reverse, and the specifications of the coin — “$50 1 Oz. .9999 Fine Gold” — are documented in the land underneath the bison’s hooves.
To accurately depict a Native American man in the right-facing portrait on the coin’s obverse, Fraser combined the features of three Native American tribe chiefs: Chief Iron Tail of the Lakota Sioux, Chief Two Moons of the Cheyenne, and Chief Big Tree of the Kiowa. “Liberty” is inscribed in the space across the top right of the coin, following the circular curvature of the coin’s edge. Fraser’s signature comes in the form of a small “F,” located directly underneath the year of mintage engraved on the man’s shoulder.