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One of America’s greatest classic coin designs is the buffalo nickel – and it’s widely regarded as the greatest coin design of all time. Sometimes called the Indian Head Nickel, this iconic design from James Earle Fraser appeared on U.S. nickels from 1913 to 1938.
The buffalo nickel’s release came not long after the end of the Wild West era. Manifest Destiny achieved, restless Americans could no longer simply push west until they found themselves in a wilderness. The nation saw a revival of nostalgia for its historic frontier era. The buffalo nickel was just one more symbol of the good old days, along with Davie Crockett-style coonskin caps and a plethora of gunslinger-themed radio and TV shows.
Mason Mint’s 1 oz silver buffalo round replicates Fraser’s buffalo nickel design, this time on a more generous canvas made of 0.999 pure silver. Silver buffalo rounds are minted by dozens of refiners and mints nationwide, and Mason Mint makes some of the finest quality. If you’ve ever daydreamed about being a cowboy or a train robber, well, you know you want a pocketful of real silver (what they used to call “cold, hard cash” – back when real money was both cold and hard!)
Silver buffalo rounds are extremely difficult to keep in stock – no matter how many we get, y’all just keep buying ‘em by the bushel. So grab your basket and fill it up while our supply lasts…
The buffalo nickel debuted from the United States Mint in 1913. It was designed by celebrated artist James Earle Fraser during the Taft presidency (who’s usually remembered as our fattest President). Fraser brought his life’s experience growing up on the plains of Minnesota and the Dakotas to bear in the design. A native of Winona, Minnesota, Fraser traveled extensively throughout the West during the long sunset of the frontier days along with his father. The pair encountered sparse bands of American bison and met with a number of Native American tribes.
On the obverse of the 1 oz buffalo silver round is the right-profile portrait of a Native American. In the upper-right portion of the design field’s edge is an engraving of “Liberty.” Fraser’s portrait combined features of three different Native Americans he met and sketched, specifically Iron Tail, Big Tree and Two Moons. Once the coin began to circulate, many others claimed to’ve been the true subject of Fraser’s portrait. Fraser himself swore he couldn’t remember with certainty all the subjects he’d drawn, so the real answer is lost to the mists of time.
The reverse of all Buffalo Silver Rounds include the left-profile of an American bison standing on an outcrop patch of dirt. His original bison design was based upon Black Diamond, a resident of New York City’s Central Park Zoo in the early 20th century. Engravings on this side also remain similar to the buffalo nickel, with “United States of America” and “E Pluribus Unum” above the bison. Instead of a face value below, you’ll see only the weight, purity, and metal content of the round.
Fraser’s masterpiece was released in 1913. Despite its masterful design, the buffalo nickel was so poorly received by numismatists that the U.S. Mint pulled the plug on it after 25 years, the minimum circulating timeframe for any coin. The original nickels suffered from a mistake of measurements. They were what we’d today call “high-relief” coins, meaning that elements of their designs rose above the protective rim of the coin. This led to rapid wear of two key elements: the date on the obverse, and the coin’s face value on the reverse.
Even though the buffalo nickel is celebrated and commemorated today, during its original mintage, it was considered a failure. That’s a real shame, and we’re thrilled that Fraser’s epic work is commemorated in so many different forms today!
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