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American Buffalo Gold Coins Released

May 14, 2018 0 Comments

Few coin images are as iconic as the American Buffalo and the Indian Head. When they both appear on a gold coin, this is sure to spark serious interest from collectors. The US Mint has done just that, with the release on May 10, 2018, of the 2018-W $50 Proof American Buffalo Gold Coin.

First those images, which really come to life when struck onto 1 ounce of 24-karat, 99.99% pure gold. They were created in the early 20th century by James Earle Fraser. This talented artist was a sculptor whose epic works can be seen all over Washington D.C. from the Supreme Court building to the US Treasury and the National Archives. He is also remembered for his statues of Native Americans, most especially a famous piece called End of the Trail.  It shows a weary warrior carrying a lance, riding an exhausted horse.

When the Treasury Secretary in 1911, Franklin MacVeagh, decided that a nickel would be a suitable memorial of his period in office, Fraser created the design. Its features are reproduced in the American Buffalo Gold Coin, and they appeared first on a nickel that circulated from 1913 to 1938,

The Native American Indian Head was the obverse of Fraser’s nickel. The face looks right, with feathers falling from the back of the head. The word LIBERTY shows on the right side, with 2018 in the lower left. Below the date is the letter ‘F’, in tribute to Fraser, and above it the letter ‘W’, which is the mint-mark, showing this coin was minted at the West Point facility.

The reverse is Fraser’s image of the American Buffalo. Its great bulk and humped back fill the coin, and above it the inscriptions read UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and E PLURIBUS UNUM.  Below the buffalo’s head is IN GOD WE TRUST, and $50, 1 OZ. and .9999 FINE GOLD are inscribed at the bottom. The coin weights 31.103 grams, and it has a diameter of 1.287 inches. It has a classic reeded edge. The coin is proof finish, and so a collector’s coin rather than bullion, and there is a bullion equivalent released each year too.

The images may be iconic, but the coin did not turn out to be a good memorial to MacVeagh. The design was too subject to wear, and the Mint could hardly keep up with the need for new working dies to replace the worn coins. The date and value were especially vulnerable, and despite several modifications the coins continued to wear out quickly. As a consequence, originals in good condition are rare and relatively valuable, despite the millions that were minted.

The American Buffalo Gold Coin Program began in 2006, and although sales from that first year have never been even remotely matched since, this perversely means that later coins have greater collector value than the first year’s.  With the fluctuations in the gold market, it is never clear what the future holds, but this classic coin is an essential part of any American collection.

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