Jefferson Nickels

Jefferson Nickel – design confirmed public preference for portraits, pictorial themes • Following the placement of Abraham Lincoln's likeness on the cent's obverse in 1909 and George Washington's on the quarter in 1932, Thomas Jefferson's profile on the nickel's obverse and his mansion, Monticello, on the reverse in 1938 confirmed public approval for portraits and pictorial themes over symbolic motifs on US coinage.

Introduced by the Secretary of the US Treasury

Under federal law, coin designs can't be changed until 25 years has elapsed since their introduction, otherwise Congressional approval is needed. Having made its debut in 1913, the Buffalo nickel was eligible for replacement by the Treasury in 1938.

The Jefferson Nickel's changing looks

There were 390 submissions for a Jefferson nickel design. Felix Schlag, a German who emigrated to Chicago, came up with the winning drawings for the head and tail of the new five-cent coin in 1938.

In 2005 a right-facing profile of Jefferson appeared as part of a special anniversary mintage (see below) of Jefferson Nickels.

In 2006, the Jefferson Nickel underwent a third design make-over of the nation's third president. Jamie Franki designed a face-forward portrait of Jefferson for the obverse, using the famous Rembrandt Peale painting of 1800, the year Jefferson was elected president. The word "Liberty" in Jefferson's own handwriting was included. Mint sculptor-engraver John Mercanti carefully restored Schlag's original Monticello design for the new reverse.

Issuing Mints

Circulating Jefferson nickels were struck at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. Proof coins struck in 90% silver were issued by the prestigious San Francisco Mint. A handy checklist of Jefferson nickels from 1938 to date can be found here. Jefferson Nickels in Uncirculated Mint Sets for 2005-2010 were struck with a Satin Finish.

Special Issues

During WWII, from 1942-1945, the US Mint struck Jefferson nickels in 35% silver, 56% copper and 9% manganese in order to deploy nickel for munitions. For the first time on a Jefferson five-cent piece, the Philadelphia mint mark "P" was struck, indicating the change of alloy. It is found above Monticello's dome.

A law passed by Congress, and approved by President George W. Bush in April 2003, authorized the redesign of the nickel for 2004 and 2005 in commemoration of the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Jefferson Nickel four-coin Westward Journey series was the result.

The Jefferson nickel profile for the first two coins featured the 1938 profile of the president, facing left. The two different reverses showed the Louisiana Purchase/Peace Medal by Mint sculptor Norman E. Nemeth and the expedition's Keelboat by Mint sculptor Al Maletsky.

In 2005, the Jefferson nickel's obverse was changed for one year only with a new profile of the third president, facing right and including the word "Liberty" based on his handwriting. Joe Fitzgerald was the designer of this new obverse for the Jefferson Nickel. The two different reverses showed an American Bison designed by Jamie Franki and Ocean in View by Joe Fitzgerald. They completed the special anniversary Jefferson nickel series on the Westward Journey.