In the first few years of the 20th century, president of the time Theodore Roosevelt regularly expressed his distaste for the artistic designs of US coinage. As a result, sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was hired by the US Mint with the end-goal of revitalizing the design of US coins.
A sculptor named James Fraser, who apprenticed alongside Saint-Gaudens, approached the US Mint with design after design for the Nickel. At first, high-ranking US Mint employees were leaning towards a Nickel with President Lincoln on the obverse, but shortly thereafter the preferred design became one with a Native American theme. After mulling over different designs, MacVeagh wrote in a letter and said, “Tell him that of the three sketches which he submitted we would like to use the sketch of the head of the Indian and the sketch of the buffalo.”
After much continued debate, the Buffalo Nickel was finally introduced into circulation on March 4th, 1913. Quickly, these coins became the talk of the United States as the design of the Nickel was held in high regard by most every American. After all, this was one of the first times US coinage depicted scenes that truly represented the historical roots of the United States.
Buffalo Nickel Design
The coin’s obverse is dominated by the right-facing profile image of a Native American Indian. The Native American is depicted in stunning detail, so much so that even the definition of his cheekbones are able to be made out quite easily on well-preserved pieces. Even the texture of his hair and accompanying feathers is depicted in great detail. Also on the obverse side of the coin are inscriptions marking the year in which the coin was minted and an inscription of the word “Liberty.”
The reverse side of the coin, as you might expect, depicts a left-facing buffalo standing atop a natural landscape. Like the obverse’s Native American, the detail boasted by the buffalo on the reverse is unparalleled. Above the buffalo’s image is an inscriptions which reads “United States of America.”
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