The United States five-cent coin, commonly called a nickel, is a unit of currency equaling one-twentieth, or five hundredths, of a United States dollar.
The nickel's design since 1938 has featured a profile of President Thomas Jefferson on the obverse. From 1938 to 2003, Monticello was featured on the reverse.
For 2004 and 2005, nickels featured new designs to commemorate the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition; these new designs were called the Westward Journey nickel series.
In 2006, Monticello returned to the reverse, while a new image of Jefferson facing forward was featured on the obverse.
List of designs
- Shield nickel (1866–1883)
- Liberty Head V nickel (1883–1913)
- Buffalo nickel (1913–1938)
- Profile of Jefferson nickel (1938–2004)
- Forward-Facing Jefferson (2006-)
The shield nickel, designed by James B. Longacre, was the first nickel five-cent piece minted in the United States, in accordance with the Act of May 16, 1866. There is an early variety with rays passing from the numeral 5 through the spaces between the stars. These were minted only in 1866 and part of 1867. Longacre's original design had failed to take into account the difficulties of minting with such a hard alloy, and the rays caused a general lack of detail in areas on the opposite face of the coin.
In 1883, the Liberty Nickel was introduced. The earliest versions were produced without the words "Five Cents" on the reverse. Enterprising individuals took advantage of this omission by gold-plating the coins, reeding the edges, and passing the coins off as some new $5 Half Eagle. The Mint quickly remedied the situation by adding "Five Cents" to the back of the coin later in 1883. Key dates in the "Liberty Nickel" series include the 1885, 1886, and 1912-S. A mere five 1913 Liberty Nickels are known, but these are believed to have been produced clandestinely at the Mint.
The buffalo nickel (also known as the Indian head nickel) was produced from 1913 to 1938, inclusive. Mint marks for the coins are on the reverse, beneath the words "Five Cents" and above the rim. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints all participated in the mintage, though San Francisco generally had a much smaller annual production than either of the other two mints.
The Jefferson nickel, designed by Felix Schlag in a Mint-sponsored contest, was minted beginning in 1938. (In 1966 his initials were added to the base of the bust.) The obverse features a profile of Thomas Jefferson, while the reverse features his Virginian estate, Monticello. All three mints turned out vast quantities of Jefferson nickels until 1954, when San Francisco halted production for 14 years, resuming only from 1968 to 1970. Since 1970, all nickels for circulation have been minted at Philadelphia and Denver.
In 2004, the reverse of the nickel changed, with two different designs during the year. The first design, placed into circulation on March 1, 2004, featured a design based upon a rendition of the original Indian Peace Medal commissioned for Lewis and Clark's expedition. It was designed by Norman E. Nemeth.
In the autumn of 2004, the reverse changed again to feature a view of Lewis and Clark's keelboat in full sail that transported members of the Corps of Discovery expedition and their supplies through the rivers of the Louisiana Territory. This design depicts Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in full uniform, standing in the bow of the keelboat. This nickel was designed by Al Maletsky
On September 16, 2004, the U.S. Mint unveiled its new designs for 2005. They had been chosen by John W. Snow on July 22, 2004 but were not disclosed to the public. The U.S. Mint revealed that the Felix Schlag depiction of Thomas Jefferson was being done away with in favor of a more modern depiction of Jefferson. The new obverse of the Jefferson nickel was designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Don Everhart II. Its circulation began on February 28, 2005.
Also unveiled on September 16, 2004 were two new reverses. A depiction of the American bison temporarily returns to the reverse after a 67-year absence. The new reverse was designed by Jamie N. Franki and engraved by Norman E. Nemeth. The U.S. Mint had been lobbied to include the American bison on the nickel in the hope of keeping the public interested in its continuing recovery after nearly being hunted to extinction after the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
The final Westward Journey nickel reverse was designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Donna Weaver. It depicts the Pacific Ocean and the words from William Clark's diary upon reaching it. In a controversial move, the U.S. Mint decided to amend Clark's actual words. He had originally written, "Ocian in view! O! The Joy!" but as the spelling "ocian" is nonstandard (and might have led to hoarding in the mistaken belief that the Mint had made an error that would soon be corrected), the U.S. Mint decided to modify it to "ocean".
In 2006, the nickel returned to using Felix Schlag's Monticello design on a newly cast reverse, while the obverse features a new forward-facing portrait of Jefferson, based on the 1800 Rembrandt Peale painting of Jefferson. It is the first U.S. circulating coin that features the image of a President facing forward. The new obverse was designed by Jamie Franki. The word Liberty is shown in Jefferson's own handwriting, as it was on the 2005 Westward Journey nickels.