An American Symbol (Whatever became of the Buffalo used for the coin ?)

Permission to print this extract has been given from both the ANA and James Taylor, Executive Producer of "Money Talks" (A Publication of the ANA).

It isn't easy being an American symbol. Just look at what happened to "Black Diamond," the American bison or "buffalo" many people believe was the model for the Buffalo nickel.

Millions of buffalo once roamed America's western plains. But by the late 1800s they had been hunted and slaughtered to the brink of extinction. A new nickel helped raise awareness of the plight of the buffalo, even if that wasn't the intention of the coin's designer, James Fraser. For him, the buffalo symbolized the "winning of the West," and provided a "perfect unity of theme" with the Native American chief on the other side of the coin. Nostalgia may have been a factor, too-Fraser had seen many buffalo firsthand during his boyhood in South Dakota.

The model for the nickel wasn't a plains buffalo-Fraser said it was Black Diamond, the "contrariest" animal in a New York City zoo. His coat was unusually dark, and in his prime he weighed more than 1,500 pounds. But not everyone was impressed with his appearance. The director of the Bronx Zoo called the bison on the nickel "a sad failure," with its head drooped as if it had lost all hope in the world.

The first Buffalo nickels were struck in 1913, and pictured Black Diamond standing on a mound above the words "Five Cents." When Mint officials decided the inscription wouldn't hold up in circulation, the design was changed to show the buffalo standing on level ground.

Not that it mattered to Black Diamond. A couple of years after the nickel's debut, he was sold to a meat-packing company. Many people tried to buy him, to save him. But the company rejected all offers and soon began selling "Black Diamond" steaks.

The above article was written by Tom LaMarre and underwritten by Whitman Coin Products, a division of GoldenBooks, the right choice for coin collecting books and supplies. "MoneyTalks" is a copyrighted production of the American Numismatic Association, 818 N. Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs, CO 80903, 719/632-2646,,