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Roaming buffaloes 

New nickels creep into circulation, divide critics

With all the hoopla surrounding the U.S. Mint's issuing of state quarters, including one featuring a "colorful" Colorado mountain that looks suspiciously like Long's Peak, many people failed to notice the new buffalo in our midst.

A new nickel raises eyebrows with its artsy close-up of Thomas Jefferson's partially obscured face. On the reverse stands a buffalo, somewhat skinnier than the buffaloes that branded nickels from 1913 to 1938.

At the American Numismatic Association's Money Museum in Colorado Springs, curator Douglas Mudd deals with citizens freaked out by the new currency.

"People come in and say, 'What happened to this coin? Is this an error coin?'" he said.

Last year, the U.S. Mint suspended normal nickel production and introduce a four-part "Western Journey" coin series commemorating the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The first two coins issued last year -- featuring a keelboat and the Louisiana Purchase handshake -- displayed a traditional Jefferson head.

The two 2005 models, including the new buffalo nickel, feature the new Jefferson image. Some 975 million new buffalo coins will be issued until Aug. 1, when the fourth coin, "Ocean in View," will be issued. Next year, the Jefferson nickel will return to normal, with a redesigned Monticello on the reverse.

That return to form will be a shame, Mudd says. "I think [the new coin] is head and shoulders above the regular Jefferson nickel,"

Not all critics agree.

"No one likes it because that's a scary picture of Jefferson," said Vic Galante, a self-described "traditionalist" coin collector from Florida, who was visiting Colorado Springs on business. "He's got the big nose, and you can't see his face."

-- Dan Wilcock

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