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Who Is On The Buffalo Nickel?

In this blog post, we will take a look at some of the history behind the inspiration for the Buffalo Nickel. Keep in mind that many of the portraits, paintings, photographs, and sculptures used when designing coins are not 100% what the coin looks like. So, take a few to explore this history behind the coins!

Buffalo Nickel CoinBuffalo Nickel Coins  |  Chief Iron Tail

The Buffalo Nickel began is tenure in the year 1913 and continued on through 1938. The Native American whose portrait is used on the coin is often said to be one of two men: Chief Iron Tail or Chief Two Moons. However, it is widely accepted that Chief Iron Tail was the main model, possibly for everything but the hair. Iron Tail became the Chief of the Oglala Lakota Tribe shortly before his rise to fame in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. To this day, Chief Iron Tail is somewhat of a celebrity tribal leader and one of the most photographed Native Americans of the day. The image above shows a great angle for which the coin was based off of. Iron Tail’s mother was once asked why she named him that. Her reply was that “when he was a young boy”, she “saw him chasing a heard of buffalos across the field, and all of the buffalos had their tails straight up in the air because they were afraid of the boy. Their tails looked like they had Iron Tails.” Even at a young age, Chief Iron Tail was already becoming a legend in his own time. And, it is only fitting that the reverse of the coin is the very animal that he chased. One unique thing of note to look for when collecting the buffalo nickel is to look for a coin that only has two features, as opposed to the regular three. This happened as a result of over polishing the die used to make the coin.

buffalo nickelBuffalo Nickel Coins  |  Black Diamond Bison

When it comes to the reverse of the Buffalo Nickel, there is no debate on which animal the coin was based off of, but there is debate when it comes to the name of the coin. A Bison from the Central Park Zoo named Black Diamond was used as the model for the nickel. However, the populations call this coin the Buffalo Nickel. I am just as guilty as the next guy, but by all means, this coin should be called the Bison Nickel. As the story goes, Black Diamond was a long time resident at the Central Park Zoo. When Fraser went to the park to draw the design for the coin, Black Diamond wouldn’t let him get a side view. Anytime Fraser would move to the Bison’s side, Black Diamond would turn to face him. After hours upon hours of standing, Fraser finally got the drawing he needed. In 1915, Black Diamond fell ill at the age of 22. The Zoo attempted to auction him off to spend the rest of his days in the open field. No bids were received and the Zoo sold him privately to a slaughterhouse. There was over 700 pounds of usable meat on Black Diamond’s body, and the slaughterhouse sold his meat at a price of $2 per pound. Black Diamond’s head was taken to a taxidermist and mounted. To this day, the Black Diamond head still makes appearances at coin shows across the country.

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