The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 12, March 21, 2005, Article 21


Bob Van Ryzin writes: "Regarding what people had to say
when Fraser's "Buffalo" nickel debuted in 1913, Edgar H.
Adams wrote in the March 1913 issue of The Numismatist:

"Through the courtesy of the Hon. George E. Roberts,
Director of United States Mint, we are enabled to show in
this number a reproduction of the new five-cent piece, which
is now being coined at the mint. It was intended to issue this
coin early in February, but it was not until Feb. 17 that regular
coinage started, when one press produced them at the rate
of 120 per minute.

"The design is radically different from that of any five-cent
piece that has ever been issued at the Mint, and is slightly
concave on both sides, somewhat like the present ten and
twenty-dollar pieces. Directly under the figure '3' of the date
1913 on the obverse is the letter 'F' for the designer of the
piece, James Earl Fraser of New York City. It is said that
Mr. Fraser took as a model an Indian of the Cheyenne tribe
who recently visited New York City. The bison was modeled
after a specimen in the New York Zoological Garden.

"Mr Fraser, the designer, is reported as saying that the capital
'F' below the date has met with the approval of the Secretar
of the Treasury, the Director of the Mint, and also the National
Art Commission.

"Already, it is said, the presence of this tiny letter has aroused
a certain amount of criticism, similar to that which greeted the
appearance of the letters 'V.D.B.' on the Lincoln cent, which
resulted in their removal, doing injustice to Mr. Brenner, its
designer, and violating all precedents.

"It is to be regretted that the new coin does not show much
more finished die work, which could easily have been
accomplished. We are inclined to think that the rough finish
of the design will encourage counterfeiters, whose handicraft
need not now fear comparison which it has met in the past
with the ordinarily delicate and finished mint issues.

"The new piece certainly has radically changed the old-time
tradition that Columbia is our best representation of 'liberty.'
In view of the rather restricted character of both the Indian
and the buffalo to-day, it is an open question whether either
is a good symbol of 'liberty.' St. Gaudens, in an interview,
once stated that his conception of a symbol of liberty was
that of 'a leaping boy.'

"We still prefer Miss Columbia as the proper representation
of freedom, and regret that she does not appear on the new
five-cent piece. We have no doubt that the original enlarged
model of this design was of a handsome character, but that
it would not allow for the great reduction to the size of a
five-cent piece is quite apparent. From an artistic point of
view no doubt the design is all that it should be, but there is
another element to be considered in the making of a coin
design, and that is the one of practicability. For instance,
the date and the motto are in such obscure figures and
letters that the slightest wear will obliterate them beyond

"Altogether the new design emphasizes the absolute necessity
of the appointment of a proper committee to pass upon new
coin designs. Such a committee should be composed of sculptors,
numismatists, and die engravers. One of this committee should
be the Chief Engraver of the Mint. It will not be until the
appointment of such a committee that we may expect to see
a coin that will embody all the proper requisites."

Also, William T. Hornaday, the first director of the New York
Zoological Park, wrote in reply to a Jan. 7, 1918 letter from
Martin S. Garretson, secretary of the Bison Society "...judging
from the character of the buffalo on the nickel, I should say
from its dejected appearance" that the animal was likely an
inmate of a small menagerie, having lived all of its life in a
small enclosure.

"It's head droops as if it had lost all hope in the world, and
even the sculptor was not able to raise. I regard the bison
on the nickel as a sad failure."

The New York Zoological Park was cited by Fraser as
the place where he modeled Black Diamond. However,
Hornaday, who was responsible for bringing a herd of
bison to the park, where they grazed on a special 20-acre
range, knew of no such animal in the zoo's holdings. The
above quote from Hornaday appeared in William Bridges'
Gathering of Animals: An Unconventional History of the
New York Zoological Society, 1974. "

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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