Gold Buffalo Coins
|Design||Eagle soaring above a nest|
|Face Value||50.00 USD|
|Mass||1.0909 troy oz (33.930 g)|
|Composition||91.67% Au 3% Ag 5.33% Cu|
|Minting Years||1986–present Bullion
The gold buffalo, also known as the American Buffalo, is a 24-karat bullion coin that was first offered for sale by the United States Mint on June 22, 2006. The coin design is similar to the design of the Indian Head nickel and has got its name from the American Bison on the reverse side of the coin. This gold buffalo was the first time that the United States Government minted pure (.9999) 24-karat gold coins for the public. The coin has a legal tender (face) value of $50 USD. Because of the coin’s popularity and the tremendous increase in the price of gold since its creation, the value of the gold buffalo has increased considerably in just a few years. The initial 2006 U.S. Mint price of the proof coin was $800. In 2007 the Mint proof coin was $899.95, $1,410.00 in 2009, and $2,010.00 in 2011.
The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 mandated the production of a one-ounce 24-karat gold bullion coin with a face value of $50 and a mintage limit of up to 300,000 coins.
Gold Buffalo Design
The design of the gold buffalo coin is a modified version of James Earle Fraser‘s design for the Indian Head nickel (Type 1) that was issued in early 1913. After the mound of dirt below the buffalo was reduced, the Type 2 variation continued to be minted for the rest of 1913 and every year until 1938 (excluding 1922, 1932, and 1933 when no nickels were minted). Fraser’s Indian Head nickel design is regarded as one of the best designs of any U.S. coins. The same design also was used on the 2001 Smithsonian commemorative coin.
The front (obverse) of the coin depicts a Native American, whom Fraser said he created as a mixture of the features of three chiefs from different American Indian tribes: Big Tree, Iron Tail, and Two Moons. The front of the gold coin also shows the motto “LIBERTY” on the top right, the year of mintage on the bottom left, and below that the letter F for Fraser.
An American Bison stands on a mound of dirt on the reverse (back) of the coin. The animal depicted on the reverse is believed by most to be the bison named Black Diamond, who lived in the New York City Central Park Zoo during the 1910s. It is rumored that Fraser had to have someone distract the buffalo while he sneaked to a position beside it to draw. Otherwise, the buffalo would turn to face him and Fraser couldn’t get the profile he needed.
Like the nickel, the American Buffalo gold bullion coin has the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM above the buffalo’s lower back and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA along the top. Differences between the nickel and the fifty dollar piece are: on the gold American Buffalo coin, the mound area of the reverse of the Indian Head nickel bearing the words, FIVE CENTS, has been changed to read $50 1 OZ. .9999 FINE GOLD. Like all US gold coins since 1908, the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST appears under the buffalo’s head.
The U.S. Mint has indicated an expansion of the program, to include buffalo gold coins in fractional sizes. The specially-packaged 8–8-08 Double Prosperity set contains a half-ounce gold buffalo coin.
|$5 (1/10 oz.)||16.5 mm (0.650 in.)||1.19 mm (0.047 in.)||0.10 Troy oz. (3.11 g, 0.109 oz.)|
|$10 (1/4 oz.)||22.0 mm (0.866 in.)||1.83 mm (0.072 in.)||0.25 Troy oz. (7.776 g, 0.274 oz.)|
|$25 (1/2 oz.)||27.0 mm (1.063 in.)||2.24 mm (0.088 in.)||0.503 Troy oz. (15.552 g, 0.5485 oz.)|
Gold Buffalo Distribution
Currently, all US bullion coins, including the gold buffalo, are minted at the West Point Mint in New York. Only the proof version of the gold buffalo coin bears the mint mark “W” on the obverse (front) of the coin. The bullion version does not have the “W” mint mark. The 2006 and 2007 coins only have been issued in a one-ounce versions, but in 2008, $5, $10, and $25 face value coins were minted with 1/10 oz, 1/4 oz, and 1/2 oz of gold respectively.
After a long wait by collectors and investors, the uncirculated version of the American Buffalo gold piece was made available to coin dealers on June 20, 2006. Collectors who wanted to purchase the proof version from the mint were given the opportunity to place their orders with the mint beginning on July 22. The 2006 proof quality coin has a strict mintage limit of 300,000, with an additional enforced limit of only ten (10) coins per household. The catalog number of the 2006 proof coin at the U.S. Mint is (BA6).
The coin was created in order to compete with foreign 24-karat gold bullion coins. Since investors sometimes prefer 99.99% pure gold over the 91.67% gold used in the American Gold Eagle, many were choosing non-U.S. coins, such as the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf, to meet their bullion needs. With the gold American Buffalo coin, the U.S. government hopes to increase the amount of US gold sales and cash in on the 24-karat sales, which makes up about 60% of the world gold market.
On July 22, the mint transferred two of the American Buffalo coins to the Smithsonian Institution’s coin collection because of their historic value.
On September 26, 2008 the U.S. Mint announced that temporarily, it would halt sales of the American Buffalo coins because it could not keep up with soaring demand as investors sought the safety of gold amid the subprime mortgage crisis of the late 2000s, which had also sent the price of gold to a record high.
Mintage for the bullion version of the American Buffalo is as follows (all 1 ounce coins):
Silver Buffalo Coins
There are many silver buffalo coins on the market, which have similar designs to the gold buffalo coin. Silver buffaloes are not made by the United States Mint, and they are not legal tender. Therefore, I’ve removed silver buffaloes from the silver coin price-comparison list. I don’t have anything against silver rounds, but since silver buffaloes are minted by more than one mint, it seems a little like comparing apples and oranges.
Beware of Imitations
There is a version of the Buffalo Gold Coin offered for sale on TV, minted by a company called the National Collector’s Mint. Such coins are advertised as “a recreated gold clad proof of the $50 Gold Buffalo coin” and are generally sold for $19.95. These coins are actually thinly gold plated. Cladding has historically been used to describe the bonding of different metals together, as is done with the US dime, quarter, and half dollar, which have a copper layer that is clad between two silver-colored layers of copper/nickel. The imitation buffaloes are not the same diameter as genuine US Mint coins.
They are not legal tender in the United States, as they are issued by a private company, not an official US Government mint. These recreations do not have any currency denomination on the reverse face, unlike the official version which has the words “$50” and “1 OZ. .9999 FINE GOLD” on the reverse face. On the obverse face there is the word “COPY” printed where the Indian head’s hair is braided. Another variation produced by American Coin Treasures for 2010 subtly alters the wording on the reverse face to “$50” and “10MILS .999 FINE GOLD” with “COPY” printed above.