The Buffalo nickel is one of the most iconic coins in American history. Issued from 1913-1938, the coin was designed by James Earle Fraser to be immediately identifiable as American in any part of the world. It was fitting, then, that the designs were chosen for the first ever .9999 fine one-ounce American gold coin. Debuting in 2006, the series has grown in popularity and has earned its place beside the American Gold Eagle and Canadian Gold Maple Leaf as one of the preeminent gold bullion coins in North America.
The American Gold Eagle made its debut in 1986. Backed for weight and purity by the United States, the coin proved a popular option among collectors. Although its beauty and trusted source made it a top choice among many collectors, some were bothered by its .9167 fineness and preferred foreign coins, such as the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf (.9999 fine) and the Chinese Gold Panda (.999 fine). In an effort to appeal to these collectors, the United States Mint introduced a new Gold Buffalo series in 2006.
The 2006 edition included both a bullion and a proof version. Both were only available in one-ounce weights. Two years later, the mint issued the only fractional coins in the series with tenth-ounce, quarter-ounce, and half-ounce versions. All Gold Buffaloes are struck at the West Point Mint, but only the proofs bear that mint’s “W” mint mark. The first run of the bullion coin saw 337,012 coins minted, while the 2017 mintage was the first ever under 100,000, at just 86,500 pieces.
Both designs for the Gold Buffalo come from James Earle Fraser’s Buffalo nickel. On the obverse is a right-side composite portrait of a Native American man. The aging figure bears a stern countenance and has distinct facial features. His long hair is tied down in such a manner that it falls in front of his shoulder. Feathers are tied up at the back of his head. The word “LIBERTY” is inscribed in the upper right, and the date, “2019,” joins a single “F,” the designer’s last initial, on the man’s shoulder in the lower left.
The reverse features an American bison, which Fraser rendered in left-side profile. Fraser captured the size of the massive creature by having it span the full diameter of the coin. Several inscriptions are included in the remaining space, including “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “E PLURIBUS UNUM” (From many, one) above it. The national motto, “IN GOD WE TRUST,” is included in the lower left, and the face value, “$50,” is provided in the middle just below it. A rim inscription at the bottom notes the weight and purity, reading, “1 OZ. .9999 FINE GOLD.”