After 67 years, Mint offers new buffalo nickel

The U.S. mint's latest commemorative coin features a new image of Thomas Jefferson and the word "Liberty" in the third president's own handwriting.
The U.S. mint's latest commemorative coin features a new image of Thomas Jefferson and the word "Liberty" in the third president's own handwriting.U.S. Mint

Coin collectors got their first chance in 67 years to get their hands on a shiny new buffalo nickel Tuesday when the U.S. Mint rolled out its latest product.

Accompanied by Indian dancing, drum-beating and chanting, Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore displayed the new nickels publicly for the first time at a ceremony on the snowy grounds of Capitol Hill, with a 2,000-pound bison named Cody standing patiently next to her, occasionally snorting in the cold air.

Later the Mint conducted a coin exchange at nearby Union Station where a long line of people showed up beginning two hours early to buy rolls of the new nickels.

The 2005 American Bison nickel is the third of four new nickel designs being minted to commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition to the American West.

The bison nickel could generate more excitement than usual, partly because it hearkens back to the popular Buffalo nickel that was produced from 1913 to 1938. The commemorative nickel also will be instantly distinctive because it features the first new portrait of Thomas Jefferson since the coin honoring him was introduced 67 years ago.

Officials of the Mint are hoping the new nickels prove popular with the same collectors who have turned the 6-year-old 50 State Quarters’ Program into something of a national craze. The Mint estimates that 140 million Americans — roughly half the population — are socking away quarters in dresser drawers, closets and special collectors’ folders as the government rolls out five new designs each year.

Cody, the American Bison participates in a press conference with owner Mike Fogel as the new buffalo nickels are introduced across the street from the U.S. Capitol, seen in background, in Washington, Tuesday, March 1, 2005. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)Gerald Herbert / AP

Some 97 million of the five-cent coins are being shipped this week from the Federal Reserve’s 12 regional banks to local banks around the country. They should start showing up in store cash registers within the next two weeks.

First in line for the new nickels at Union Station was retired auto mechanic Thomas Monaco of Hyattsville, Md., who said he remembered the original buffalo nickel as a youth and was anxious to get the new version.

“It’s a nice-looking nickel,” he said.

The coins can also be purchased from the Mint’s Web site.

The Mint charges a premium for uncirculated coins sold to collectors, amounting to about twice the face value for nickels, plus shipping. Collectors can buy two 40-coin rolls (face value: $4) for $8.95 or a bag of 500 coins (face value: $25) for $45.95.

Because the cost of producing coins is less than their face value, the government essentially makes a profit just by putting more coins into circulation, but the profit margin is far higher on a quarter than a nickel.

According to the latest figures from the Mint, it costs nearly 4 cents to produce a nickel, including distribution and administrative costs, but only 7.7 cents to produce a quarter.

By law the Mint will go back to producing regular Jefferson nickels, with the president’s famed home Monticello on the reverse, beginning in 2006 when the current program ends.

In addition to the bison Nickel, the Mint produced two commemorative nickels last year, one depicting a sailboat that transported Lewis and Clark and the other featuring a rendition of the Jefferson Peace Medal presented to the two Army explorers. Both coins featured the traditional image of Jefferson on the obverse.

Later this year the Mint will release the final nickel in the series with an image of the Pacific Ocean on the reverse, symbolizing the end of the Army Corps' westward journey. The Mint expects to produce between 600 million and 650 million copies of each nickel.