Accompanied by Indian dancing, drum-beating and chanting, U.S. Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore displayed the new nickels publicly for the first time during a ceremony on the snowy grounds of Capitol Hill with Cody standing patiently next to her, occasionally snorting in the cold air.
Some 97 million of the five-cent coins are being shipped this week from the Federal Reserve's (search) 12 regional banks to local banks around the country. They should start showing up in store cash registers within the next two weeks.
"The 2005 American Bison nickels will look significantly different from any nickels you have ever seen," Fore told the crowd.
The new nickel features a jazzed-up profile of Thomas Jefferson (search) on one side and a bison standing on a clump of grass on the other side. It marks the return of the bison to the nickel for the first time since 1938 when the Mint changed the design of the five-cent piece from one depicting an American Indian on one side and a buffalo on the other.
The bison nickel is the third in a series of four new nickels that are being introduced in 2004 and 2005 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase (search) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (search), both of which occurred during the administration of Jefferson, the nation's third president.
Emil Her Many Horses, an associate curator of the National Museum of the American Indian (search), told the audience that the selection of the buffalo for the new nickel was particularly appropriate. "Not only did the buffalo sustain us spiritually, but physically as well," he said.
After the brief ceremony, the Mint conducted a coin exchange at nearby Union Station where a long line of people showed up beginning two hours early to buy $2 rolls of the new nickels.
First in line was retired auto mechanic Thomas Monaco of Hyattsville, Md., who said he remembered the original buffalo nickel as a youth and was anxious to get the new version.
"It's a nice looking nickel," he said.
The coins can also be purchased from the Mint's Web site.