Buffalo Nickel Coins FAQs
The bison on the reverse of the Buffalo Nickel is not a specific individual bison, but it is widely believed to have been modeled after a bison named "Black Diamond" who lived at the Central Park Zoo in New York City during the early 20th century. The Buffalo Nickel, designed by sculptor James Earle Fraser, was introduced in 1913 and features a Native American on the obverse and the bison on the reverse.
James Earle Fraser used various models to create a composite image that represented the Native American and bison's general features rather than specific individuals. However, over the years, the story of Black Diamond being the inspiration for the bison on the coin has become a popular narrative in numismatic circles.
It's worth noting that while "Black Diamond" is the most commonly cited inspiration, there have been other claims about different bison being the model. Regardless of the specific model, Fraser's intent was to capture the essence and spirit of the American West with the Buffalo Nickel's design.
The Buffalo Nickel, introduced in 1913, underwent a design change in its inaugural year, leading to the distinction between Type 1 and Type 2 Buffalo Nickels. Here's the primary difference between the two:
Type 1 Buffalo Nickel (Early 1913):
Reverse Design: The bison is depicted standing on a raised mound or hillock, with the words "FIVE CENTS" prominently displayed on the mound beneath the bison. Issue: The design raised concerns because the denomination's placement on the raised mound made it susceptible to wear, leading to the "FIVE CENTS" becoming illegible over a short period of regular circulation.
Type 2 Buffalo Nickel (Later 1913 and subsequent years):
Reverse Design: To address the wear issue, the design was modified. The bison now stands on a flat ground or plain. The words "FIVE CENTS" were recessed below the line of the ground, making them less prone to wear.
Outcome: This revised design proved to be more durable, and it was used for the remainder of the Buffalo Nickel's production, which lasted until 1938. Both Type 1 and Type 2 Buffalo Nickels were minted in 1913, making that year unique in having two distinct reverse designs. Collectors often seek examples of both types from 1913 to complete their Buffalo Nickel collections.
In the context of U.S. coinage, the first coin to prominently feature an animal that wasn't an eagle was the "Flying Eagle" cent, which was minted from 1856 to 1858. While the name might suggest otherwise, the primary design on the obverse of this coin is not an eagle but a flying eagle in flight. The reverse of the coin features a wreath.
However, it's worth noting that the eagle, as a symbol of the United States, has been a prominent feature on many U.S. coins since the earliest days of the U.S. Mint. The Flying Eagle cent was significant because it introduced a different bird as the primary design element, paving the way for other non-eagle animal designs in future U.S. coinage, such as the aforementioned Buffalo Nickel.