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Sunday, 8 June 2014

139) Westward Journey Nickel Series issued by the US Mint during 2004-2006:

139) Westward Journey Nickel Series issued by the US Mint during 2004-2006:

To commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition, the US Mint released the “Westward Journey Nickel Series” in 2004. The Jefferson five cent coin image was also modified to reflect images of Lewis and Clark’s historic exploratory expedition into the Louisiana Territory on the nickels issued in 2004 and 2005 under this Series. 

However, as it had been decided by Congress to retain the Jefferson portrait and Monticello on the nickel, newer versions of depictions of Monticello and Jefferson featured on the nickel in 2006.

Louisiana Purchase or “Vente de la Louisiane” in French (or “Sale of Louisiana”):

This represented the acquisition by the United States Of America in 1803 of 828,000 sq. miles or 2,144,000 km. or 52,992,000 acres of French territory in Lousiana. The sale/purchase was concluded by the USA paying a sum pf 50 million francs or $11,250,000 and writing off of French debts amounting to 18 million francs or $3,750,000, with the total deal coming to $15 million. 
The Louisiana territory which passed into USA hands comprised all or parts of 15 present states – Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota west of the Mississippi river, most of North Dakota, Northeastern New Mexico, Northern Texas, portions of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado East of the Continental Divide, Louisiana West of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans, comprising the two Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. This purchase was made during the tenure of President Thomas Jefferson.

The Lewis & Clark Expedition or the “Corps of Discovery Expedition” (1804-1806):
Shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson commissioned this expedition consisting of a select group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark.

The primary objective of this expedition was to explore and map the newly acquired territory, find a practical route across the Western half of the Continent and establish an American presence in this territory, before Britain and other European Powers laid a claim to it.

The Expedition was also tasked with scientific and economic objectives, that of studying the area’s plants, animal life and geography as well as establishing trade routes with local Indian (Native American) tribes.

A total of 33 members participated in the expedition, including 29 participants in training at Fort Dubois (Camp Wood) winter staging area in Indiana territory.
 The expedition carried with them special silver medals with a portrait of Jefferson, inscribed with a message of friendship and peace, called the “Indian Peace Medals” to be distributed to the Chiefs of Indian Nations that the expedition met and were meant to symbolize US sovereignty over the native inhabitants.

They had a challenging task ahead, pursued, in part, by Spanish Army detachments, which contested their claim to these territories and sought to imprison the whole team. Once the expedition feared that they would have to fight the Lakota nation (the “Sioux”). Although peace was made with them, there were several instances when the expedition feared armed conflict with several Indian Nations.

 While travelling through the Mandan nation, Lewis and Clark met a French – Canadian fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau and his young Shoshone wife Sacagewea and appointed Charbonneau as their translator. He and Sacagawea helped the expedition to have interactions with the Indian nations. Peace was established with the Mandan Chiefs sharing the “peace pipe” with the expedition leaders.
An artist's impression of the Lewis and clarke expedition. In the lead boat are the two leaders of the Expedition. Just behind the oarsman is Sacagewea tending to her infant son. This portrait has been taken from "An outline of American History" received by my father (Late) Dr. J.N. Prasad by the United States Information Service in December 1983. This book is presently in my personal library.

 Sacagewea gave birth to a baby boy during the expedition. She became seriously ill during the expedition. Though she is discussed in American history frequently, much of the information is an exaggeration or fiction. Her presence and that of her infant son reassured the Indian Nations Chiefs and she played an important part in diplomatic relations by talking to the chiefs, easing tensions and giving the impression of a peaceful mission. (For more on Sacagewea, the Sacawegea dollar and Native American coins, including their Trade Routes followed by the Lewis and Clark expedition, please click on the follwing link: Sacagewea dollar and Native American Dollar Programme.

After facing  severe winter months and being ridden with sickness and down to very meager resources,  the expedition travelled along the lands and water towards the Pacific Ocean  over snow-clad mountains, till they sighted the Pacific Ocean which brought them immense relief and joy.

 Lewis made an account of the territories visited in his record titled “A Statistical view of the Indian nations inhabiting the Territory of Louisiana” which included the names of various tribes, their locations, trading practices and water routes et al.

The expedition was successful in charting out maps, trade routes including river and sea trade routes along the Pacific coast and studying the flora and fauna of the Area and giving detailed accounts to Jefferson on their return.

Although, initially the expedition was consigned to the realms of obscurity, interest in its pioneering work was revived in the mid twentieth century and in the 2000s in the bicentennial of the expedition popular interest in the Lewis & Clark expedition was regenerated so as to become a household name today.

2004 nickel (five cent) issues:

2004 Spring  design : Louisiana Purchase/Peace Medal:
This Programme commenced in 2004 with the Spring design commemorating the “Louisiana Purchase”.
On the Obverse, the coin had the familiar design of Jefferson’s portrait facing left with the legend “In God We trust” on the left periphery and “Liberty” and the year of issue “2004” on the right periphery.

On the Reverse this coin depicts the original Indian Peace Medal commissioned for the Lewis and Clark expedition. It bears the portrait of America’s third President on one side and symbols of peace and friendship on the other.
These medals were presented to Native American chiefs and other important leaders as tokens of goodwill at treaty signings and other events.
The design features two hands clasped in friendship, one with a military uniform cuff, symbolizing the American government and the other exhibiting a silver band adorned with beads and a stylized American eagle, representing the Native American community with whom the Lewis & Clarke expedition hoped to build good relations with on behalf of the United States government.
 On the upper periphery of the coin is mentioned “United States of America” and “Louisiana Purchase” and “1803”, the year of the Louisiana Purchase. On the lower periphery is mentioned the motto “E.Pluribus Unum” (meaning “Out of Many One”) and the denomination of the coin “Five Cents”.

This design was engraved on the coin by Norman E. Nemeth. His initials “NEM” appear below the eagle symbol on the sleeve of the hand on the right hand side of the coin.

2004 Fall design: Keelboat:

On the Obverse, the coin had the familiar design of Jefferson’s portrait facing left with the legend “In God We trust” on the left periphery and “Liberty” and the year of issue “2004” on the right periphery.

On the Reverse, this coin featured an angled side-view of the keelboat at full sail, laden with supplies and the Lewis and Clark expeditionary party rowing with long oars as they explore new routes in uncharted territories. In the bow of the keelboat are Captains Lewis and Clark in full uniform.
Built to specifications which were compatible to the expedition’s aims, this 55-foot keelboat could sail, be rowed and poled like a raft. It could also be towed from the riverbank upland.

This design was engraved on the coin by Al Maletsky. His initials “AM” figure just below the end of the keelboat on this nickel.

2005 nickel (five cent) issues:

On the Obverse this coin had a contemporary image of President Jefferson. The portrait of Jefferson carried on nickels for 67 years (since 1938), underwent a change so as to present a more front-facing image.

 The cursive “Liberty” inscription on this coin is in Jefferson’s own handwriting. The design on this coin has been created by Joe Fitzgerald and sculpted by Don Everhart. The design has been inspired by paintings by Gilbert Stuart and Rembrandt Peale.

Of the two reverse designs issued  one recognizes the American Indians and the wildlife encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition while the other portrays  the progress and culmination of the journey.

2005 Spring Design: “American Bison”:

On the Reverse this coin depicts the American Bison, in recognition of the Native American Indians and the wildlife met upon by the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The American buffalo was described at length in the journals written by the expeditionary group and it symbolizes an animal of great significance to many American Indian cultures. Interestingly, a buffalo figured on the reverse of the nickel from 1913 to 1938.

This design on this coin was created by Jamie Franki, and engraved by Norman E. Nemeth. 

2005 Fall Design: “Ocean in view! O! The Joy!”:

On the Reverse, this coin featured a scene of the Pacific Ocean and an inscription reflecting a joyous entry in the journal of Captain William Clark on This design is based on a photograph by Andrew E. Cier of Astoria, Oregon which depicts the expedition’s exultation on believing that they had finally reached the Pacific Ocean after many months of arduous travel in unfamiliar territories.

The design on this coin was created by Joe Fitzgerald and sculpted by Donna Weaver. Joe Fitzgerald’s initials “JF” appear on the left below the inscription “O!” and Donna Weaver’s initials “DW” just before the outermost ocean wave towards the right of this face of the coin.

Interestingly, Clark had written the word “Ocian” which was modified to read as “Ocean”. (I don’t blame Clark!! Have you ever tried to write a word in a moving car on a bumpy road or even on the crest or trough of a choppy Ocean or river, while travelling in a longboat/keelboat? In any case there is no need to read too much into his spelling. Poor guy had been travelling for several months in uncharted – in several instances, hostile – territories and may have misspelt a letter or two. He didn’t have a spell-check, did ‘e? ).

2006 nickel (five cent) issues:
Obverse design on the nickel:

Nickels issued in 2006 and  2007, having the same portrait of Jefferson, placed here as an illustration.
On the Obverse of the 2006 nickel, the “Jefferson, 1800” portrait was used, so called because it was completed during 1800. This face of the coin was designed by Jamie Franki and was inspired by the first Rembrandt Peale life study of Jefferson. The portrait by Peale was frequently used as a reference through which Jefferson was known/recognized.
This portrait depicts Jefferson as Vice President at 57 years of age, just before he became President. The “Liberty” inscription in Jefferson’s own handwriting which appeared in the 2005 nickel, also found a place on this coin. The obverse face was engraved by Donna Weaver.

2006 Reverse design:

On the Reverse this coin features the familiar “Monticello” design. Monticello was President Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home. (Jefferson had designed Monticello himself and construction began in 1768 when he was 25 years old and completed in 1823 when he was in his 80th year). This design was originally made by Felix Schlag which was placed on the nickel for the first time in 1938.

Some improvements on Schlag’s design have gone into this coin, viz, facets of the dome of Monticello have been restored, the balconies of the building have been reworked and Relief has been restored to the detail around the door and windows to retain more of Felix’s original work.

The Nickel history:

A US nickel is a five cent coin having a composition of copper – 75% and Nickel – 25%. This denomination has been in use since 1866.

The Shield Nickel (1866-1883):

From 1866 to 1883, the initial design on the nickel was the shield, as such the nickel was nicknamed the “Shield nickel” as the approved design was that of a stylized shield on the obverse, chosen after much debate and rejection of proposed designs. The design on the reverse had the numeral “5” surrounded by stars and rays. The obverse design came in for a lot of criticism including some critics calling it a “tombstone”. Owing to the hardness of the planchets, these coins were not of high quality and the life of the striking dies was brief.

In 1867, the rays were removed from the reverse to mitigate the difficulty in minting nickels. Again the different designs caused some confusion among users with some suspecting that the later nickels were forgeries and refusing to use them.

As a result, by late 1876, production of the Shield Nickel was halted as the Treasury had a large accumulation of nickels in its vaults.

Production of the Shield nickel restarted in December 1881, when the stock of nickels was put into circulation.

Liberty Head Nickel (1883-1913):
From beginning 1883 this design was replaced by the “Liberty Head nickel”. The Liberty Head nickel on the obverse depicted the Head of Liberty with the legend “LIBERTY” and the year of issue. The reverse had a wreath of wheat, cotton and corn around a Roman numeral “V” for “5” denoting the denomination of the coin.

This coin design was flawed as it did not contain the word “cents” and the country name “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” appeared on the obverse and not on the reverse as was required by US Law. Accordingly, the corrections were incorporated in the later nickels issued during June 1883.

The earlier designs were promptly hoarded by collectors in anticipation of selling the coins at a premium at a later date as they believed that the Treasury would recall the “centless” nickels.

This design continued till 1913 when it was replaced once again.

Buffalo or Indian Head nickel (1913 – 1938):
In March 1913, the “Buffalo or Indian Head nickel” representing “truly American themes” replaced the earlier design. The Indian Head Penny inspired the changes made to the nickel in 1913, when pictorial motifs were used on both sides of the coin.

 James Earle Fraser’s design of the Head of a Native American Chief on the obverse, based on the profiles of Chiefs Big Tree (of the Kiowa people), Iron Tail and Two Moon was selected as was the buffalo design on the reverse, which was inspired by an American bison named “Black Diamond” in New York’s Zoo. The minting of this design on the nickel continued till 1938, when it was replaced by the Jefferson Nickel. The last Buffalo nickel was minted in April 1938.

The 2005 Westward journey nickel again featured the buffalo design for nickel history aficionados to be nostalgic about.

Jefferson Nickel (1938 – 2003):
In 1938, a competition was held by the US Treasury department to submit designs for the obverse and reverse of the nickel. The obverse was to feature an authentic portrait of Thomas Jefferson (third President of the United States and principal author of the declaration of Independence) and the reverse was to have Monticello his historic home near Charlottesville, Virginia.

The winning obverse design was submitted by Felix Schlag who submitted a left facing Jefferson profile, based on a bust created by sculptor Jean – Antoine Houdon which showed Jefferson dressed in a period coat and wearing a traditional 18th century “peruke” wig.

The winning reverse design of Monticello was also submitted by Schlag.

These two designs featured on the nickel from 1938 to 2003.

Interestingly, between 1942 and 1945, the nickel was struck in silver as nickel was vital for the war effort.

During this period, the design on the Jefferson nickel was slightly altered and the “nickel” no longer contained nickel for the first and only time in its entire minting history. During this World War II period the nickel like other metals was much in demand and the composition was changed to silver – 35%, copper – 56% and Manganese – 9%. Consequently, these coins are somewhat darker in appearance.  
These coins termed as the “War nickels” are easily identifiable by the mint mark which was placed on the reverse, just above Monticello. The war nickels were the first coins on which a “P” mint mark was placed on coins struck at the Philadelphia mint, a practice which was not customary until the early 1980s on other denominations.
 In 1956, the U.S. Congress adopted another phrase “In God We Trust” as the official motto.

-          Obverse of a 1957 five cent coin (Nickel) from my mother-in-law’s collection, which is one of the first few coins to be minted with the new motto “In God We Trust”.
-     Also notice that this nickel has no mint mark.
 The reverse of the above coin shows the motto "E. Pluribus Unum" along with an image of Monticello.

- An image of a  1995 nickel which carries the Philadelphia mint mark “P”, unlike the 1957 coin.It also carries the motto "In God We Trust".

Reverse of the above coin also showing the motto "E.Pluribus Unum".

1994 & 1997 (Matte Finish) Jefferson Nickels:
In 1994 and 1997, the US Mint issued Jefferson nickels with a “matte finish” as part of special commemorative coin sets in low mintages as collector’s items.

The 1994 uncirculated coin was issued as part of the Thomas Jefferson Coinage and Currency Set. The theme of this Commemorative set was to pay tribute to Jefferson’s legacy as the Father of America’s decimal coinage. The special finish was created by sandblasting the dies and striking the coins twice to result ina “matte finish” or “matte proof”.

The 1997 coin was issued as part of a set titled “Botanic Garden Coinage & Currency Set”. This set contained an uncirculated Jefferson nickel again struck with the special matte finish.

Determining the quality of Nickels:
Strikes have always been a problem for the Jefferson nickel since 1938. Due to the hardness of the metal, die cracks, breaks and cuds were extremely common in the Shield nickel series. 

The Liberty and Buffalo nickel designs too displayed occasional damage from use of the dies. Weak strikes are still very common on any nickel and as a determining factor, collectors check out the steps of Monticello ever since 1940s, which are often the weakest struck, thanks to their  position which is exactly opposite of Jefferson’s hair , which is the highest point on the obverse.
 “Step collecting” (as it is sometimes referred to) has now become a serious consideration for determining the quality of a Jefferson nickel. From 1990s onwards, collecting “Full step” Jefferson nickels has become extremely popular.

(The first image of the reverse of the five coins together issued under this Series is from the collection of Dr. P.V. Satyaprasad. The other individual coin scans are from the collection of Jayant Biswas. Coins scanned and Article researched and written by Rajeev Prasad).


  1. Did not know that these nickels told a story.. very informative indeed!