Familiar nickel gets small change after 65 years
Friday, November 7, 2003
WASHINGTON -- After 65 years with hardly a change, the nickel is getting two new looks next year -- one design will feature clasped hands of friendship between the U.S. government and American Indians and the second will show Lewis and Clark on a keelboat.
Thomas Jefferson will stay on the "heads" side.
The new nickels unveiled Thursday by the U.S. Mint commemorate the bicentennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition.
"We are long overdue for a change in the coins," said Michael Sherman, vice president of PCGS, a coin-grading company in Newport Beach, Calif. "There was such paralysis in designs for so long." Collectors, he said, are excited about the new designs.
The commemorative themes will replace the image of Jefferson's home, Monticello, now on the back of the coins. The current design was introduced in 1938.
"We believe it is important for a country to pause from time to time and recognize our heritage," said Mint director Henrietta Holsman Fore.
The first of the new nickels will roll out in the spring. The back of the coin will bear the words "United States of America," "Louisiana Purchase" and "1803." There is an image of hands clasped in friendship -- one with a military cuff to symbolize the U.S. government, and the other with an ornate bracelet to represent American Indians.
Above the clasped hands is a tomahawk crossed by a peace pipe. The images are similar to those on Jefferson Peace Medals, which were presented ceremonially to Indian chiefs and other important leaders. Below the clasped hands are the Latin words "E Pluribus Unum" and hugging the bottom of the coin is the denomination: "Five Cents."
Change next fall
On the back of the second nickel, which debuts next fall, is an angled view of the keelboat in which the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled the rivers of the Louisiana territory searching for the northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are in full uniform in the bow of the boat. Under the image are the words "Lewis & Clark."
That nickel will also bear the words "United States of America," "E Pluribus Unum" and the denomination.
"I think the designs are pretty good," Sherman said. "My only hesitation ... I'm a little fearful that when the designs are reduced down to the size of a nickel whether people can see what it is or whether it looks a little cluttered."
Fore said the Mint expects to make around 500 million of each nickel design. How many nickels are minted depends on the country's overall demand for coins.
The nickel's look will change again in 2005 but will still follow the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark themes, Fore said. That design hasn't been announced.
In 2006, Jefferson's Monticello will return to the back of the nickel, although possibly in an image different from the one on the current coins. And the image of Jefferson on the front also might look different in 2006.
Jefferson was responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, which at the time doubled the size of the United States. He also was the force behind the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific coast and back.
The Jefferson and Monticello images that appear on current coins had replaced what was known as the buffalo, bison or Indian head nickels, which had been in circulation since 1913.
Vending machines will be able to accept the new nickels because their composition -- 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel -- and their size remain the same, said Mint spokesman Michael White.