24-karat American Buffalo

Release dateThursday, June 22, 2006
Face value$50
Mintage300,000
Diameter1.287 in (32.7 mm)
Thickness.116 in (2.946 mm)
Weight1 Troy Oz.
FinenessGold 999.9/1000 (24K) Proof
Price$800

The United States Mint unveiled its 24-karat American Buffalo gold coins on June 20, 2006. The American Buffalo gold bullion coins are struck at the Mint's facility at West Point and have the distinction of being the first pure gold (.9999 fine, 24-karat gold) coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint for public sale as an investment product. Production of these coins was authorized by the Presidential $1 Coin Act (Public Law 109-145, dated December 22, 2005) and provides for gold bullion to be minted in the form of $50 legal tender coins, conveying that the content and purity is guaranteed by the United States Government. According to the official U.S. Mint press release on June 20, 2006:

This American Buffalo Gold Coin will appeal to both investors who choose to hold gold and to others who simply love gold," said Deputy Director David A. Lebryk during the ceremonial striking at the United States Mint at West Point, where the coins are being produced. "These classic and beautiful American Indian and buffalo designs by James Earle Fraser [a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens], which have been American favourites since they were first used in 1913, recall a golden age of coin artistry.

Obverse and reverse design

The design of the $50 gold coins is a replica of the popular Buffalo Nickel minted from 1913 to 1938, featuring the image of an American bison one side, and an American Indian on the other. That coin, known as the Indian Head, was introduced in 1913 and showcases the native beauty of the American West, with the Native American portrait honoring the legacy of the land's first inhabitants, while the power of the American Buffalo recalls the pioneering spirit of the Nation's westward expansion. The Fraser "Indian Head" nickel design was so popular that, prior to its selection as the U.S. Mint's purest gold bullion coin, it was released by the U.S. Mint as a $1 uncirculated and proof silver coin in 2001.

Buffalo Nickel - Obverse Buffalo Nickel - Reverse

The Native American depiction on the coin's obverse is believed to be based on three different Indian chiefs - two of whom were named by the designer as Chief Iron Tail and Chief Two Moons - who modeled for Fraser as he sculpted its design. Conflicting statements exist on the third Indian as being either Chief John Big Tree of the Onondaga tribe, or John Two Guns, son of White Calf. It is widely believed that the bison on the coin's reverse was modeled after "Black Diamond," a popular attraction at the New York Zoological Gardens. In the first year of the coin's issuance, 1913, there were two distinct varieties, the first showing the bison on a mound (Type I) and the second with the base redesigned to a thinner, straight line (Type II). The buffalo without the Indian chief made a brief comeback on the nickel in 2005 as one of the designs used to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

American Buffalo 50 Gold coin - Reverse American Buffalo 50 Gold coin - Reverse

The new American Buffalo Gold coin's obverse and reverse designs feature images originally prepared by the noted American sculptor James Earle Fraser, once a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, for America's 5-cent coin (nickel). The golden buffalo has a buffalo standing on a grassy mound on one side and a stern-looking Indian chief on the other side (Fraser Type I design), along with the inscriptions of the coin's weight, denomination and gold content incused on the reverse (Buffalo side). By law, each Buffalo Gold Coin contains one troy ounce of 24 Karat gold and it is legal tender bearing a $50 face value.

Production details

The U.S. Mint in West Point, N.Y., produced the one-ounce coins in both a bullion version for investors and a proof version for collectors. Although the face value is $50, the price depends on the price of gold, plus markups. According to the Mint, it will sell the coins to authorized purchasers, who will distribute the coins to a network of several thousand dealers - coin shops, banks and other financial institutions. Those purchasers will be able to sell the pieces to the secondary market. The final price is based on the current price of gold, plus a premium of about 3% to cover minting and marketing, while other markups in the distribution chain are expected to push the final sales price to about 5% to 7.5% above the market gold price.

The United States Mint will also produce a proof version of these coins for collectors. The term "proof" refers to a specialized minting process that begins by manually feeding burnished coin blanks into presses fitted with special dies. Each coin is struck multiple times so the softly frosted and highly detailed images seem to float above the field. An official Certificate of Authenticity will accompany each coin. The Mint is setting the initial price for the proof coin, which bears the "W" mint mark of the West Point mint, at $800 and will only produce 300,000 of them, while spot gold was worth about $570 an ounce.

In 2006, only the 1-ounce gold bullion version will be produced, to be followed in 2007 by half-, quarter-, and tenth-ounce versions. The American gold Eagle program will continue to be struck, as it has since 1986, in all four sizes of .917 fine gold. Packaging for the new gold Buffaloes will consist of each coin sealed in a mylar-like plastic sheet, configured 4 rows of 5 coins each. These 20-coin sheets will come from the Mint in boxes of 500 1-ounce coins per box. Collectors can buy the proof coins from dealers or directly from the Mint by going to the Mint's website -- or by calling 1-800-USA-Mint.

From 22K to 24K godl coins

The United States Mint is the world's largest maker of 22-karat (91.67 fineness) gold bullion coins, called the American Eagles, and also silver and platinum American Eagles. However, investors only had the option of purchasing 22-karat gold when buying American coins, because 24-karat gold is softer and it was generally accepted that a 24-karat coin would not stand up to the rigors of circulating. Thus, although gold coins have not circulated since 1933, American gold coins have traditionally been a mix of gold with copper and silver for hardness. This descision was changed because of stiff competition in the gold investing world from Canada and others, that forced Congress to authorize the production of the new American Buffalo coins.

Deputy Director David A.Lebryk estimated that the world market in gold coins is divided between sales of 24-karat coins such as the Canadian Maple Leaf, which account for 60% of the market, and more durable 22-karat coins, a category dominated by the American Eagle. Last year the mint sold 420,000 American Eagle coins, which also have a face value of $50 and contain 1 ounce of gold plus some alloy metal for durability. The American Buffalo became the first .9999 fine 24-karat gold coin ever struck by the United States Mint and offered for sale through a network of Authorized Purchasers. They are available to members of the public seeking a simple and tangible means to own and invest in 24-karat gold in the form of legal tender coins whose content and purity is guaranteed by the United States Government. The coins are available at many coin and precious metals dealers as well as many brokerage houses and participating banks. Pricing for precious metal investment coins typically depends on the market price of the metal.

Officials believe with the new coin they have found a winning combination that will appeal to nostalgia buffs and investors and hope that the new American Buffalo gold coin will be a hit not only in this country but with investors around the world. Global investors the past few years have turned increasingly to purer gold coins. Those sales now make up about 60% of the gold coin market, led by Canada's Maple Leaf.