At the end of the Buffalo nickel’s 25-year run (1913-1938), the U.S. Treasury launched a competition to replace the popular coin with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson and his home, Monticello. Of the 390 entrants, Felix Schlag was named the winner. Nickels still bear Schlag’s imagery today—he was awarded only $1,000 for this enduring contribution to U.S. coinage.

The obverse of Schlag’s coin is just as he designed it, but the reverse was given a thumbs-down by the government’s Fine Arts Commission, even after Schlag had been given the commission. They did not care for Schlag’s side view of Monticello, and also required him to make room for the name of Jefferson’s home, since it was believed that many Americans would not make a connection between the two.

Today, of course, most Americans know that Jefferson lived at Monticello, but one could argue that this knowledge of U.S. history is due to the legend on the nickel as much as anything else.

Mintages before World War II were strong, peaking at more than 200-million coins in 1941. Of these prewar coins, collectors tend to seek out those with examples of doubling, as in the 1939 nickel.

During the war, in 1942, the Denver mintmark on some coins appears to have been struck twice, the first time sideways and the second time correctly. But the biggest thing to happen to nickels during World War II was the removal of nickel itself from the coins. Up to that point, Jefferson nickels had been composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel, a recipe that continues to this day. During the war, nickel was considered a strategic mineral, so the alloy was changed from 1942 until 1945 to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.

Wartime nickels were minted in plentiful numbers, so none are rare due to insufficient supplies. As with prewar nickels, collectors gravitate to the error varieties, such as the 1943 in which the 3 has been struck on top of a 2, the 1943 in which Jefferson appears to have two left eyes, and the 1945 with a doubled-die reverse.

Postwar coins of note include 1945 and ’55 Denver nickels in which the D mintmark has been struck over a San Francisco S, as well as those 1954 San Francisco nickels which displa...

While the Jefferson nickel continues to circulate today, the Westward Journey series of 2004 and 2005 tweaked the format a bit. In 2004, the nickel retained its Schlag obverse but featured two different reverse designs, both relating to the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The Louisiana Purchase/Peace Medal design by Norman E. Nemeth was based upon a medal produced for the expedition, while Al Maletsky’s Keelboat nickel depicted the craft the Corps of Discovery used to transport themselves and their supplies—until they reached the Rockies, that is.

In 2005, Joe Fitzgerald created a new obverse based on a sculpture of Jefferson by Jean-Antoine Houdon. Jamie Franki designed one of the two reverses for the coin, American Bison, which was a nod to both the beasts Lewis and Clark documented on their expedition and the beloved Buffalo nickels of 1913 to 1938. The other reverse, Ocean in View, was the work of Donna Weaver and imagines the view of the Pacific Ocean the explorers must have enjoyed.

Since 2006, Jefferson nickels have gone back to the Schlag reverse of Monticello, but the coin’s obverse is the work of Franki, based on a painting by Rembrandt Peale. Schlag’s initials still appear on the coin, but they are now on the reverse alongside his Monticello.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1943 D Bank Wrapped Roll Of Jefferson War NicklesDramatic Buckled 51939 D Key Date Jefferson Nickel €1939 5c Reverse Of 1940 Proof Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Pr66No Date Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms65 80% Brockage & Huge B/s Mint Error ~Nickel 35% Off Center On 16% Straight End Clip Plan Pcgs Ms 65 Mint Error Coin1944d Ms67 Plus A* Star Ngc Nice Toning Obverse Reverse Jefferson Silver Nickel1949-d Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms66~super Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~color1950 Proof Jefferson Nickel (100563)1942 P Proof Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Pr 67 Type Two High End Registry Set Coin A2Super Nickel Struck Thru Split Capped Die Cud Or Cracked Die Mint Error CoinJefferson Nickels Collection 1938 To 2012 Dansco Book #8113 Complete C2Lot Of (11) Us Wartime Silver Nickels In Set Uncirculated Rare Must Have See PicJefferson Nickel Complete Set 1938-1961 In Harris Folder Many Nice Coins NrBeautiful Lot Of 5 Different Pcgs Ms66 And Ms66 Fs Jefferson War Nickels Nr 1938 To 2003 S Complete Jefferson Nickel Collection / 178 Coins1958-d Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms66fs ~rainbow Mint Set Toned~colorful Toning~1951 Proof Jefferson Nickel (100562)1942-p U.s. Jefferson Nickel Proof Coin ++ngc Slabbed Pf-66++1951 P Pcgs Jefferson Nickel "blazing" Proof 67 Registry Set Quality(4) Ngc Gem Lightly Toned Jefferson Nickels 1943 D, 1943 S, 1945 P, And 19611939-d Jefferson Nickel ** Gorgeous! ** Free Shipping!1943/2-p, Fs-101, Nice Circulated Jefferson Nickel Variety2014-d Jefferson Nickel Ngc Ms 68 6fs * Top Pop - Rare! *2014-p Jefferson Nickel Ngc Ms 68 6fs * Top Pop - Rare! *(lot Of 20) 2014 S Jefferson 5c Pcgs Pr69dcam1943-s Pcgs Ms66 Full Steps Jefferson "war-time" Silver Nickel!!Toned Ngc Ms-66 1950-d Jefferson Nickel ~ No Reserve!1942 Type 1 Pcgs Ms65 Full Steps Jefferson Nickel!!1943-p Pcgs Ms 66 Full Steps Jefferson "war-time" Silver Nickel!!High Gem 1942-1945 P D S Jefferson Silver War-time Nickels Set ~ 11 CoinsComplete Set Of Jefferson Nickels In Album Including Silver War Nickels 1943 D Jefferson Silver War Nickel * Fs Gem Bu Uncirculated * Rare 5c 163(200 Coins) Silver War NickelBeautiful Lot Of 2 Pcgs Ms67 Jefferson War Nickels Fs? 1942-p And 1943-p Nr 1942-d Jefferson Nickel- Brilliant Uncirculated !! #w58751942-p&s-1945-pds Mixed Roll (40) Silver War//(11) Different Jefferson Nickels//1951 Pcgs Pr65 Jefferson Nickel ~ Beautiful Proof - Must See!!!1945d Ms66t Ngc Nice Toning On Obverse&reverse Jefferson Nickel Look At Step!1950-d Gem Bu Lincoln Wheat Cent Id# C7201948-s Pcgs Ms65 Full Steps Jefferson Nickel!!1945-p Ms-66 Ngc Ultra-gem Silver Jefferson War Niclel! No Reserve! 1946 5c Jefferson Nickels Uncirculated Roll United States Coins (5068)2013 S Jefferson Nickel Ngc Pf70uc Early Releases Portrait Label(100 Coins) Silver War NickelNgc Pf671941 Jefferson 5c Ngc Pf67 58 War Nickels. Dark Coloration.(?) 35% Silver Ends Saturday. Sorry-no Roll.)-:)Lot Of 119 Wartime Silver Jefferson Nickels1939 Pcgs Ms66 Full Steps Jefferson "reverse Of 1940" Nickel!!(lot Of 5) 2014 S Jefferson 5c Pcgs Pr70dcam New Blue LabelLlardo "waiting In The Park" #13741939-d Jefferson Nickel Anacs Ms65 Old HolderRoll (40) Jefferson Silver War Nickels, 2.24 Troy Oz Silver - No Reserve1945-d Pcgs Ms66 Full Steps Jefferson "war-time" Silver Nickel!!1942 - 1945 Lot Of 11 Silver Nickel War Set Mint Condition No Reserve Lot Of 10 - 2014 S Proof Monticello Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Pr69dcam 5c Pr69 .051961 Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms66 "strike And Luster" ..... No Reserve!1945p Ms67 Ngc Jefferson Nickel Look At Step!1940 Jefferson Nickel - Pcgs Ms66fs1959 Pcgs Ms65 Full Steps Jefferson Nickel!!