Black Diamond was born in 1893 of a bull and cow given to the zoo by Barnum and Bailey (most reports claim his age to be 20 at the time of his demise)
The popular Indian Head, or Buffalo, five-cent coin (nickel) was introduced February 22, 1913
Although aficionados prefer the name Buffalo Nickel, the official name of the coin is the Five Cent Indian Head.
1913. Designed by James Earle Fraser, a student of legendary sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the Indian Head/Buffalo nickel design showcases the native beauty of the American West.
In a letter to Michael Moran (author of Striking Change: The Great Artistic Collaboration of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Theodore Roosevelt), Roger W. Burdette, who carefully researched archival and other records in the preparation of his book Renaissance of American Coinage 1900–1915, said this:
“Research for my book clearly shows that Fraser identified a bull bison named “Black Diamond” as the primary model of the reverse of his nickel design. That said, there is considerable ambiguity because Fraser also states that he did his sketching at the Bronx Zoo. Records of the era are clear that Black Diamond was never a resident of the Bronx Zoo.I note that Black Diamond lived at the small Central Park Menagerie, which, incidentally, was much closer to Fraser’s studio than the Bronx Zoo. I suspect that Fraser sketched Black Diamond but absentmindedly associated the animal with the much more famous Bronx Zoo. Only a handful of Fraser’s bison sketches exist and none have annotations about location of subject name. Incidentally, the name “Black Diamond” was commonly used in the New York area. It was the name given to a premium railway train to upstate, and to a natural black diamond in the Museum of Natural History, and was associated with something that was rare, exotic, and of high quality. The Central Park bison was likely named for the train. So, to answer the question: Fraser says Black Diamond was the model and he names no other animal. If correct, then Fraser’s statement about location is incorrect. If, however, the location (Bronx Zoo) is correct, then the bison must be “unidentified.” Given the Central Park convenience to Fraser’s studio, I tend to go with Black Diamond. After all, the critter was chopped up for steaks in 1915, so I guess he deserves some recognition”.
The model for the beastly figure on the reverse of the coin was Black Diamond, an American bison that resided at the Central Park Zoo. Some numismatic scholars theorize that the bison model may have actually been a herd leader at the Bronx Zoo named, appropriately, Bronx. In reading the article below, you to will wonder. Was it really Black Diamond?
The Native American depiction on the coins obverse is believed to be based on three different American Indians. Two of the American Indians who modeled for Fraser as he sculpted the coin were named by the designer before his death. They were Chief Iron Tail of the Lakota Sioux and Chief Two Moons of the Cheyenne. Although many have claimed to have had a sitting with Fraser for this design, he could not recall the name of the third person, and satisfactory documentation has not yet been found to identify that individual. 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 issue, 1913, there were two distinct varieties, the first showing the bison on a mound (pictured above) and the second with the base redesigned to a thinner, straight line. Matte proof coins were struck and made available to collectors from 1913 to 1916. The designer’s initial, the letter ‘F,’ appears on the obverse below the date.
The coins are also quite accessible to the average collector as many fine examples covering a variety of dates are available. In total, more than 1.2 billion were struck between 1913 and 1938. Buffalo nickels are also regarded as good luck pieces by some and seem to engender a sense of nostalgia for others.
Dates on Buffalo nickels are easily worn away when used in circulation. The Mint tried unsuccessfully to adjust the design. In 1938, after the minimum 25-year period had expired (without Congressional intervention), it was replaced by the Jefferson nickel. [ source ]
Can be worth .25 cents to 3,600.00 (source)
Black Diamond was put up for auction June 28, 1915. However, no bids were received. He was purchased for slaughter in a private sale for $300 by A. Silz, Inc., a game and poultry dealer. He was slaughtered November 17 and “Black Diamond Steaks” were sold for $2 a pound. Fred Santer, a New York taxidermist, mounted Black Diamond’s head and turned his hide into a then-fashionable 13-foot automobile robe.
He is also reported to have been the model for the obverse (face) of the $10 U.S. Banknote, Series 1901.