If you are interested in the new American Innovation $1 Coin Program and have a fancy for Buffalo nickels, we have some good news for you. A commonly unnoticed (or at least undiscussed) detail on the reverse of the 2018 American Innovation dollar hints toward a connection with the designer of the Buffalo (or Indian Head) nickel, James Earle Fraser. The description of the reverse for the 2018 American Innovation dollar on the Mint’s website is as follows:
The 2018 United States Mint American Innovation $1 Proof coin reverse design features George Washington’s signature and the inscriptions “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “AMERICAN INNOVATORS.” The stylized gears represent industry and innovation. The design also includes the inscription “SIGNED FIRST PATENT” under Washington’s signature.
After reading through this description, you’ll notice that every detail on the reverse is elucidated — save one. Above the inscription, AMERICAN INNOVATORS, there is a notable cartouche of an eagle crouching on an angled shield. The eagle’s wings are spread behind it, and below the shield are tools that symbolize innovation. Apart from its size, the cartouche stands out from the rest of the reverse design since it appears to be of Neoclassical style rather than a modern one. The reason for this is quite simple because the cartouche is based on the work of beloved Neoclassical sculptor, James Earle Fraser.
The cartouche on the reverse of the 2018 American Innovation dollar is based upon a bas-relief, on the outside of the Herbert Hoover Federal Building, which represents the U.S. Patent and Trade Office. This relief, like many other sculptures and architectural designs in the nation’s capital, is an example of Neoclassical art. It turns out that Fraser sculpted the many reliefs and figures on the Herbert Hoover Federal Building, including the one representing the U.S. Patent and Trade Office that inspired the cartouche on the 2018 American Innovation dollar. Fraser was a prolific sculptor and designer, with much of his work still featured throughout Washington D.C. However, in the world of coin collecting, he is best known for his design of the Buffalo nickel.
While it is almost universally received positively by collectors today, the Buffalo nickel was released into circulation amid some degree of controversy in 1913. In an editorial, the New York Times penned:
The new ‘nickel’ is a striking example of what a coin intended for wide circulation should not be …[it] is not pleasing to look at when new and shiny, and will be an abomination when old and dull.
It would be hard today to find a collector who agrees with the Times’ opinion! Fraser’s design for the Buffalo nickel was re-used again in 2001 for a commemorative silver
Coin design is a critical issue among today’s collectors, and the survivability of the hobby will at least be partially due to the continuation of excellent coin design. In this way, it is appropriate that an example of Fraser’s work is visible on the first coin of the American Innovation $1 Coin Program.
Can you find any further similarities between the 2018 American Innovation dollar and the Buffalo nickel, or any other examples of Fraser’s works? Let us know in the comments!