Precious Metals

Bison coins include bullion options, scenes from native art

Editor's note: The following is the third of a multi-part Coin World series about the prominence of bison on coins from all over the world prepared by Jeff Starck for the August 2014 monthly edition of Coin World.

Read the earlier posts in the series:

The American bison and its worldly relatives are increasingly popular topics for new world coins, with a bevy of bison coins issued in the past three years.

When the Royal Canadian Mint issues two coins showing bison in its Aug. 5 launch, it will bring to 14 the tally of Canadian coins featuring bison in their design in the past three years.

From a series of silver $20 coins to precious metal versions and bullion releases, just about every scene imaginable showing bison has been seen on recent collector coins.

Canada is not alone in issuing a bevy of bison coins in that period, with Belarus, Niue, Poland and Tuvalu, among others, showcasing the stalwart of the American Plains or its relatives, Canada’s wood bison and the European bison.

Bullion, affordable options

Recent coins offer collectors of all budgets the opportunity to build a bison collection.

Affordable options include the 2013 2-zloty coin from Poland, which retails for about $3 to $5 in U.S. funds, thanks to its circulating status and low face value (equivalent to about 66 cents U.S.).

The Nordic gold shows two bison nearly head-to-head. The coin has a mintage of 1 million pieces.

Nordic gold, a base metal alloy of copper, aluminum, zinc and tin, is meant to approximate the color of real gold but be inexpensive to produce.

Another affordable entry point for collectors and investors is the Canadian 2013 Wood Bison 1-ounce .9999 fine silver $5 coin.

The wood bison, like the more widely known plains bison, was nearly hunted to extinction by the early 20th century. According to the RCM, Canada is the only country in the world where wood bison live in the wild.

The Wood Bison silver bullion coin was the final design in the RCM’s six-coin, three-year Canadian Wildlife series, and like other coins in the program, the coin had a mintage limit of 1 million pieces. This last coin features Emily Damstra’s design of a left-facing bison galloping in snow at the edge of a forest. Specifications, metal purity references and the nation’s name complete the reverse.

A wood bison appears on another coin from the RCM issued in 2013.

When the RCM launched its $100 face value series on May 16, 2013 (a program collectors call the “$100-for-$100” series), a herd of wood bison running across the field forms the first design issued.

The Reverse Proof coin was sold for its $100 face value plus shipping charges, and sold out its 50,000 mintage limit the first day.

The .9999 fine silver $100 coin weighs 31.6 grams or slightly more than an ounce.

Bison in art, native cultures

Bison are extremely important in the native cultures indigenous to Canada, and several coins celebrate the connection.

On May 6 the RCM issued the second piece in its Seven Sacred Teachings series of Proof .9999 fine silver $20 coins with gold plating.

Each coin in the program features a reverse by Nathalie Bertin, a Métis artist inspired by her Algonquin heritage.

The bison is one of the seven totemic creatures that comprise the Seven Sacred Teachings practiced by Native American peoples for living a full and happy life.

Many tribes reference the bison for its lesson of respect, in that the bison sacrifices its life to allow the natives to live.

In the Bertin design, a bison carries a human figure on its back in comfort and security.

The eagle feather in the human’s hand is a ceremonial object often presented as a sign of respect.

Another Canadian coin designed by a First Nations artist is the Proof 2013 Tradition of Hunting  Bison .9999 fine silver $5 coin.

Released Nov. 5, the coin features Coast Salish artist Darlene Gait’s “captivating narrative of two young boys surveying a bison herd prior to their first hunt while their father points to the miraculous White Buffalo,” according to the RCM.

The white bison, a sacred symbol, is spared from the hunt. The chances of a white bison being born have been estimated at 1 in 6 million. A white buffalo (bison) is so rare that its birth is deemed “a miracle, a harbinger of important change that brings with it the promise of hope and spiritual healing for Mother Earth,” according to the RCM.

Perhaps the coin is the perfect starting point for someone to begin a new collection of bison on coins. Many additional issues beyond those detailed here are eligible for such a collection, and the topic would be within reach for many collectors searching for new collecting pastures.

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