All of the American Buffalo Gold coins feature a front-side (obverse) design created by James Earle Fraser and used on the original "Buffalo Nickel" issued in 1913. It is a Native American portrait believed to be based on a mix of three Indian chiefs, from three separate tribes: Big Tree, Iron Tail and Two Moons.
Atop a mound of dirt on the reverse (back) of the coin stands an American Bison, which commonly are referred to as buffalo. 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 said 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 wanted.
Also of interest are the 2001 American Buffalo Commemorative Silver Dollars which were struck by the US Mint as one of two commemorative coins series issued that year. The Mint released the strikes for sale to the public on June 7, 2001. These special edition coins also featured Fraser's beloved classic Native American and Buffalo design first seen on the 1913-1938 circulating nickel. Many commonly refer to that coin as the "Indian Head Nickel" or the "Buffalo Nickel." The coins were authorized by Congress with the American Buffalo Coin Commemorative Coin Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-375). Despite having a maximum mintage of 500,000 coins, the silver dollars sold out in two weeks making it one of the few modern commemorative coins to do so. To view a Proof 70 version of the 2001 American Buffalo Commemorative Silver Dollar, click here »
The design of the American Buffalo gold bullion coin is a modified version of James Earle Fraser's design for the Indian Head nickel (Type 1), issued in early 1913. After a raised mound of dirt below the animal on the reverse was reduced, the Type 2 variation continued to be minted for the rest of 1913 and every year until 1938, except for 1922, 1932, and 1933 when no nickels were struck. Generally, Fraser's Indian Head nickel design is regarded as among the best designs of any U.S. coins. The same design also was used on the 2001 Smithsonian commemorative coin.