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2001 American Buffalo Dollar

A 2001 American Buffalo dollar graded MS-70 by ICG. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions)

A 2001 American Buffalo dollar graded MS-70 by ICG. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions)

The 2001 American Buffalo silver dollar is not just a commemorative that has done extremely well in terms of price; it is also a fascinating issue that has more than its share of interesting aspects to consider. It leaves wide open the question of whether what worked for the American Buffalo dollar can be repeated or not.

It would be safe to suggest that the proposal for the American Buffalo dollar to use the famous James Earle Fraser Buffalo nickel design left some uncertain. Yes, the design is a popular one. In fact, it’s so popular it’s been used again on a 1-ounce bullion coin which gives it the unusual distinction of having been used on a copper-nickel 5-cent coin, a silver dollar and a gold coin.

Of course, dusting off old designs does not please everyone. After all, it does suggest that no one since 1913 can draw a buffalo or a Native American. Of course, classics never go out of style.

Both sides of the debate had their points, but the real issue was how well the American Buffalo dollar would sell, drawing on a 1913 design. In the balance were funds for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The American Buffalo dollar was priced at $37 for a proof in the regular period while a BU in the regular period was $32. In the pre-order discount period, the proof had been $33 while the BU was $30. There were also 2-cent sets and a coinage and currency set and, while everyone waited, the orders poured in.

The simple fact is the American Buffalo silver dollar was wildly popular, selling out all 500,000 authorized coins quickly. This spurred on other ideas. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the only Native American in the Senate at the time, were two. They wanted an extra striking of 250,000 or even 500,000 more pieces.

To strike more commemoratives of any design just because it sells out is a bad idea. It’s, in many minds, breaking a contract, as you buy the coin knowing that only a certain number will ever be struck. Changing the rules after the sale is unwise, and fortunately, the Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill decided to save the commemorative coin program. Stretching all the way back to at least the Hawaii half dollar of 1928, coins have sold out but never has there been additional production.

Saved by that decision, the American Buffalo silver dollar began to increase in price. Its price increase has been an interesting one to watch for a variety of reasons.

It has to be remembered that prior to the American Buffalo silver dollar, no modern commemorative had sold out its entire authorization since the White House silver dollar back in 1992. Ten years in modern commemoratives is nearly an eternity and the White House dollar, like the Statue of Liberty $5 gold before it, after selling out moved significantly higher in price in a short period of time. Both cases suggested some speculation and since both went down almost as fast as they went up, the suggestion of speculation became even stronger.

The American Buffalo silver dollar, however, went up in price strongly but not explosively. The prices are interesting as we might expect the lower mintage BU to be the more expensive as is the case with most other modern commemoratives but that has not happened. It also becomes a case where other lower-mintage commemoratives are much less expensive. In theory, they should be more expensive but that has also not happened.

In fact, basically every normal thing you would expect to happen has not been the case with the American Buffalo dollar. That makes it a difficult coin to predict but a very interesting one to watch, as from day one no one has ever been quite sure what would happen.