American Gold Buffalo Coins
Origin of the American Gold Buffalo Coin
From 1837 until 1986, the United States Mint struck gold coins with a metal content less than .900 pure. The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 authorized the production and release of The American Gold Buffalo Coin, an official gold bullion coin of the United States that is .9999 pure (24 karat). It was the first 24-karat gold coin struck by the U.S. Mint and had a mintage limit of 300,000 proof-quality coins. First released by the United States Mint in 2006, the American Gold Buffalo Coin is now in its 14th year of mintage. Since the Bullion and Collectible Coin Production Efficiency and Cost Saving Act became law on December 4, 2015, it is now the permanent .9999 fine gold bullion coin of the United States, meaning its annual production is all-but guaranteed.
American Gold Buffalo Coin’s Nostalgic Design
The artwork on the obverse and reverse of the coin are revised from the original 1913 Indian Head Nickel, an American 5-cent coin designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser that circulated from 1913 to 1938 and is considered by many to be among the best of any U.S. coin designs. Fraser studied under sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was well known for designing the American Gold Eagle coin.
Fraser was familiar with life on the American Plains, for he had been born and raised in Winona, Minnesota, in the American Midwest. He used images from his youth as inspiration for the coin design that would eventually grace the Buffalo Nickel. His artwork inspires nostalgia and preserves the history of life in the U.S. before westward expansion.
The Gold Buffalo obverse presents the right-facing portrait of a Native American, whose features were compiled from Fraser’s sketches of three different American Indian tribe chiefs. Their identities were shrouded in mystery for years, but in 1938 Fraser stated that the figures who inspired him were Chief Iron Tail of the Lakota Sioux, Chief Two Moons of the Cheyenne, and Chief Big Tree of the Kiowa. The word “Liberty” is printed toward the top right of the coin and the year of mintage rests at the bottom left, on the chief’s shoulder.
A full body left profile of the mighty American Bison standing on a small mound of dirt is the centerpiece of the American Gold Buffalo’s reverse design. (It is actually a bison, not a buffalo.) It is reported that Fraser’s inspiration for the mighty bison came from an American Bison named Black Diamond who resided at New York’s Central Park Zoo. He spent hours in the early 1900s observing the 1,550 pound animal in order to capture its form with accuracy, and his attention to precision and exquisite craftsmanship is evident by the pronounced features and distinct curvature seen in the illustration.
The words, “United States of America,” arch across the top of the coin while its specifications are documented on the mound below the bison’s hooves: “$50 1 Oz. .9999 Fine Gold.” The phrase, “E Pluribus Unum,” is located above the bison’s back on the right side of the coin and the motto, “In God We Trust,” can be seen below the bison’s head on the left.
American Gold Buffalo Coin Mintage Figures
Since its 2006 introduction, demand for American Gold Buffalo coins has remained relatively stable. The debut of an American bullion coin with .9999 pure gold led to much excitement, so 337,012 coins were sold its inaugural year. The average sales have since hovered around 200,000 yearly, with 2012 recording the low sales figure of just 100,000 coins.
Unique Strikings of the American Gold Buffalo
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fraser’s original Buffalo Nickel design, the Mint released special American Gold Buffalo Proof coins in 2013 which featured reverse-proof striking. A reverse proof coin has the same features as a typical proof, except the application of those standard proof features is reversed. The design then bears a deeply-mirrored, clear finish and the background field exhibits a strong, frosted matte appearance.
There was another unique striking of the American Gold Buffalo coins in 2008. The American Gold Buffalo Coin is typically struck each year in both bullion and proof, but there was a one-time mintage of fractional-weight coins in this collection. In addition to the 2008-W 1/4-oz Burnished American Gold Buffalo coin, the US Mint also prepared 1/10-oz and 1/2-oz coins for collectors.