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    

1945-s Silver Jefferson War Nickel Ngc Ms66t~super Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning172 Pc Jefferson Nickel Set Bu & Proof 1938 To 2000 - P,d,s In Dansco AlbumPartial Roll Uncirculated 1950d Nickels-low Mintage Jefferson-34 PiecesLincoln Wheat Cent & Jefferson Nickel Whitman Albums (3) W/partial Sets Of CoinsComplete Bu Silver War Jefferson Nickel Set ~ Rainbow Toned ~11 Coins TotalComplete Set Jefferson Nickels 1938pds To 1964pd Whitman Deluxe Album Bu 1950-d1942-s 1944-d & 1945-s 5c Ngc Certified Gem Rainbow Toned Wartime Silver Nickels1982-s Jefferson Ngc Pf 70 Ultra Cameo! *rare! King Of Proof Jeff's! No Reserve*Jefferson Nickel Partial Set, 1938 - 1975 Au, Uncirculated, 1939 D 1950 D 1943 SSet Of Jefferson Nickels Complete From 1938-2005 Dansco Album No Proofs1950 D Jefferson Nickel - Unused Bright Toned - Better Date1979-s Jefferson Ty 2 Ngc Pf 70 Ultra Cameo * Rare! Pop 11/0 Rare! No Reserve! *1950d Ngc Ms67 Key Date Jefferson Nickel1944 Jefferson War Nickel Henning No Mint Mark No P Contemporary 1960 Jefferson Nickel Ngc Pf67 Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~gem Proof1950-d 5c Jefferson Nickel1987-s Jefferson Ngc Pf 70 Ultra Cameo * Price Guide $850 Rare! *Jefferson Nickels Dansco Book Including Proof-only Issues Complete Set1979-s Jefferson Ty 1 Ngc Pf 70 Ucam * Rare! Pop 13/0 Rare! No Reserve! *Complete Ngc Ms 66 Silver Jefferson War Nickels Set - 11 Coins - 1943 Thru 19451954 S/d Omm Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms65 No Reserve1959 5¢ “black Beauty” Sintered Pcgs Ms-63 40pc Roll Of Brilliant Uncirculated 1938 Jefferson Nickels { 1st Yr Of Issue }1939 D Jefferson Nickel Roll, Full 40 Coins!!!1939-d Jefferson Nickel - Nice Blue Toning - From Old Collection! - N/r1947 D Jefferson Nickel Nice Bu Partial Roll Uncirculated 38 Coins Steps Lot Jefferson Nickel Collection Old Us Five Cent Coins 1938 - 1961 Complete 2012 D Jefferson Nickel 5c Pcgs Ms67fs Business Strike1950 D Jefferson Nickel 5c Pcgs Ms 65 FsUncirculated 1944-d Denver Mint Silver Jefferson Nickel Free Shipping1938-s 5c Jefferson Nickel1985-s Jefferson Ngc Pf 70 Ultra Cameo * Price Guide $650 Rare! *1988-s Jefferson Ngc Pf 70 Ultra Cameo * Price Guide $500 Rare! *No Date B.s / Obv. Indent Jefferson Nickel Ms66 By Ngc1943-d Silver Jefferson War Nickel Ms66fs Ms 66 Fs Pcgs Cert 11201897 Full Steps1962 Jefferson Nickel Ngc Pf67 Cameo Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~gem Proof1961 Jefferson Nickel Ngc Pf66 Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~gem Proof1994-p 5c Ms69 Sms Jefferson 250th Anniv Set Jefferson Nickel(2) 2015-d Unc Jefferson Nickels Rolls & (2) Lincoln Cent Rolls (4 Rolls Total)2015 S 5c Jefferson Nickel Birth Set Pcgs Pr70dcam First StrikeComplete 1938-1958 Jefferson Nickel Set In Whitman Album1989-s Jefferson Ngc Pf 70 Ultra Cameo * Rare! No Reserve! *2014 S Jefferson Nickel Proof Roll (40 Coins)Complete Set Of Jefferson 5c Nickels 1938 -1961 Inclusive1999 Proof Susan B Anthony Dollar With Coa And Us Mint BoxNear Complete 1938-2000 Jefferson Nickel Set Collection, 144-total Circulated Uncirculated 1945-d Denver Mint Silver Jefferson Nickel Free Shipping1942 -1945 P D & S (3) Rolls Of Jefferson War Nickels 120 Nickels 35% Silver !!1938 Pf67 Jefferson Proof Nickel By Ngc1938 - 2007 Jefferson Nickel Set - Bu Uncirculated & Proof - Complete 192 Coins2015 S 5c Jefferson Nickel Birth Set Pcgs Pr70dcam First Strike1942-p 5c Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms 66 - No Reserve!Near Complete 1938-2014 Jefferson Nickel Set/collection, 169-total Circulated1999-p Jefferson Ngc Ms 67 6fs * Ngc Price Guide $275 Rare! *1941-d Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Ms64fs ~rainbow Toned~ Colorful Toning~near GemJeff. 5¢ Bow-tie Clip Blank - Ngc 1938-1964 Jefferson Nickel Circulated Collection 1 - Missing 3 - See DescriptionLot Complete Set Of 11 Silver Jefferson Ww 2 War Nickels 1942-1945 1941-s Jefferson Nickel 5c Pcgs Ms 66 - No Reserve!Uncirculated 1944-s San Francisco Mint Silver Jefferson Nickel Free Shipping