Gold Buffalo Coins: A History
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The History of the Gold Buffalo Coin

Collecting Tips & Info

The Buffalo coin, also called the “Indian Head nickel,” was first introduced in 1913. The US government issued the coin to honor the natural beauty and ancient heritage of the American West’s Native American tribes. The coin’s legacy and popularity led the government to reintroduce the coin as a collector’s item.

Designed by James Earl Fraser, the buffalo nickel’s obverse is a portrait of a Native American chief. Fraser used a composite of three chiefs for the portrait. The first two are Chief Iron Tail of the Lakota Sioux and Chief Two Moons of the Cheyenne. The third chief remains unidentified. Although many chiefs have claimed to be the third subject, none produced sufficient proof or documentation.

On the buffalo coin’s reverse is a depiction of a buffalo, believed to be Black Diamond of the New York Zoological Gardens. During the first year of the coin’s issue, two different reverse designs are used. On the first, the buffalo is on a high mound, while the second design features a flatter, almost straight, ground line. The buffalo coin was issued from 1913 to 1938, and matte proof coins were issued 1913-1916. The coins’ historical interest has added to their desirability among collectors.

In 2001, the US government reissued the coin. A reissue was also authorized with the Presidential $1 Coin Act, on Dec 22, 2005. This Act also authorized the presidential, presidential spouse, and Native American coin series. When the gold buffalo coin was reissued in 2005, it was as a collector’s coin. Thus, it was minted from 24-karat gold. The $50 gold buffalo coin was the first to be minted from 99.99% pure gold at the US Mint. The reissue uses the original obverse design, and the second, modified reverse design.

A common misconception about the gold buffalo coin is that it is part of the Native American $1 coin series. However, this series did not begin mintage until 2009. The first Native American $1 coin features a Native American woman planting seeds in a field of squash, beans, and corn. The purpose of this series, like others included in the Presidential $1 Coin Act, is to increase beauty of American coinage and to improve the circulation of $1 gold coins.

Meanwhile, the new gold buffalo coins are intended primarily as commemorative coins, aimed primarily at collectors and precious metals investors. The reissue of the gold buffalo coin will undoubtedly revive and continue the fine tradition of the buffalo nickel that began almost a century ago.

This information is provided for general reference purposes and does not constitute professional advice. For detailed coin collecting or investing information, please consult with a professional expert.

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