A Central Park bison is on the buffalo nickel

BlackdiamondElephants, monkeys, sea lions, camels, bison—in the early 1900s, the Central Park Menagerie, as it was known, was home to all.

One of the most famous of these creatures was a bull bison given up by Barnum & Bailey Circus named Black Diamond.

Black Diamond, born in 1893, was known for being very calm.

That may be why artist James Earle Fraser used Black Diamond supposedly used him as his model when he was given the plum assignment of designing the buffalo nickel.

There’s some confusion about it, but Fraser himself said Black Diamond, at six feet tall and about 2,000 pounds, was the one.

[Above: not Black Diamond, but another bull bison at the Central Park Menagerie in a similar pose]


“Black Diamond was less conscious of the honor being conferred on him than of the annoyance which he suffered from insistent gazing upon him,” Fraser reportedly said, via antiquetrader.com.
Blackdiamondbuffalonickel“He refused point blank to permit me to get side views of him, and stubbornly showed his front face most of the time.”

And what did Black Diamond get for this honor?

In 1915, when he was an old bull whose days were numbered, the menagerie decided to sell him to a slaughterhouse and turn him into buffalo steak.

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9 Responses to “A Central Park bison is on the buffalo nickel”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    The reverse of this vintage coin was the famed Indian Head (Native American, in today’s PC.) It was mandated no living person could be on a US Coin or US Stamp, so several men posed. Different portions of their profile, eyes, hair, etc…were incorporated into the final artwork.
    I guess there was no such legal problem with critter profiles!
    The buffalo turning to face the artist / no side views, was simply the animal’s way of defending himself. He would have butted with his thick skull and horns had he felt endangered.
    I regret the disrespectful details of the buffalo’s end-of-life.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Interesting about the various people who posed for the image on the flip side. As for Black Diamond, yes, they preferring sending him to slaughter and making a little cash over having to pay to have his carcass removed from the zoo one day.

    • Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

      …and IF instead, Black Diamond had been buried in the park and an exact replica statue of the great beast had been placed to mark his grave – wouldn’t that have been a draw in the park – suitable for animal lovers, Buffalo Bill’s family picnics and nickel lovers amongst NYC’s money-changers?
      (I like my idea best!)

  3. Joe R Says:

    A real collectable is the so-called three-legged buffalo nickel, a few of which were mistakenly made in the late 30’s. It can be worth thousands to collectors.

  4. Monica Lee Says:

    Just saying — if our forefathers had the same sentimental feelings for animals, as people today, we’d still be living in caves.

  5. Adrienne Morris Says:

    Reblogged this on Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained–Writing Historical Fiction at Middlemay Farm and commented:
    My favorite animal–the buffalo (bison).

  6. Behind the Design: The Designs of Collectible Coins Says:

    […] mound. The buffalo, symbolizing sacred life and abundance to the Native Americans, is said to be modeled after a Central Park Zoo buffalo named Black Diamond. Of course, Black Diamond also appears on the five-cent nickel, which shares […]

  7. kimdramer Says:

    Visiting South Dakota, we were told that the buffalo herds that now roam there were started with sperm from bulls in the Bronx Zoo. Maybe Black Diamond lives on…..

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Interesting…I never heard that! I would’ve thought the buffalo herds were descendants of a few hearty survivors native to the Great Plains.

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