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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

2005 American Bison Nickel

Here I am with the first of the two new nickel designs for 2005.  This nickel features the American bison, commonly called a "buffalo."  Say, wait a minute...that's what I am!

That's right, a buffalo.  I hate to toot my own horn—either of them—but I sure am proud of this nickel.  And of my ancestors, who inspired it.  Let me tell you a little about them.

Back in Lewis and Clark's day about two hundred years ago, millions of bison roamed the prairies.  Probably no other large mammal in the history of the world has ever reached such large numbers as the bison.  Although bison live in other parts of the world, the American bison is an American original.

Like the other nickels in the Westward Journey Nickel Series, this nickel honors the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The design reminds us that the explorers not only described the buffalo in their journals but used the animal for food and clothing.  The design also reminds us how important and even sacred this animal was to the American Indians of the prairies.

Plains Indians used all parts of the bison for the things they needed.  For example, they used meat and some organs for food; hide for teepee covers, blankets, shields, clothes, and more; horns for spoons; hair for rope; dung for fuel; and tendons for thread.  Talk about one-stop shopping!

But the European settlers in the 1800s wanted to sell the animals' hides and to turn the prairies into farms, so all but about a thousand of the bison were killed, bringing them close to extinction!  Thanks to programs to protect the animals that were left, several hundred thousand bison now live on reserves, on farms, or in the wild.  Some herds live in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.


Obverse: Image of a new image of President Thomas Jefferson
Obverse:  The new likeness of Thomas Jefferson is based on a 1789 marble bust by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The word "Liberty" is based on Jefferson's own handwriting.

Reverse: Image of a side-view of an American bison, grazing
Reverse:  Jamie Franki, an artist from North Carolina, created the bison design. Norman E. Nemeth, a United States Mint sculptor-engraver, sculpted it.

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