March 05, 2004
New nickels

The US Mint will be rolling out new nickels soon to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase, then even more new ones with a Lewis & Clark theme.

Millions of the new nickels have been shipped to the Federal Reserve, supplier of the nation's cash. They should start showing up in change in several weeks, say officials of the U.S. Mint.

"This marks the first time in more than half a century that Americans will see a new design on their nickels," said Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore, who showed off the new coins today.

On the back of the new nickels, Jefferson's home, Monticello, is replaced with a scene that commemorates the Louisiana Purchase.

The back of the new nickels now headed into circulation 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" (meaning "Out of many, one"), and hugging the bottom of the coin is the denomination: "Five Cents."

Approximately 900 million of these new nickels have been made.

Another nickel honoring the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition will be released in the late summer or early fall, Mint officials say.

I collected coins as a kid, so I'm always interested in news like this. I've never had a pre-Jefferson nickel in my possession - "collecting" coins back then meant keeping all the pre-1959 wheat pennies and other older coins I'd get as change. Other than one Liberty dime and a couple of 1943 non-copper pennies, I never did find anything really unusual. I'd love to see some more variation in our coins, just because it'd be cool.

One last thing: Look at the picture of the new nickel. Is it just me, or does that peace pipe look like something you'd find in a bag of golf clubs?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 05, 2004 to National news | TrackBack

As an avid coin collector, one of my pet peeves is the general refusal to change designs permanently.

Once the nation went into "hero worship" mode and started changing all the designs to dead presidents, two things happened: the uglification of our coinage and an inability to change coin designs.

Design changes used to happen every 25-40 years or so; these days it's politically impossible to get them changed lest it be considered a "slam" on the displaced dead president. For a while they were talking about removing Jefferson from the nickel, and the Virginia congressional delegation acted as if the Army was going to drop bombs on the entire state. There's also been talk of replacing FDR on the dime with Reagan. Not only is this a clear ideological clash in the halls of Congress, but for crying out loud, Reagan isn't even *dead* yet.

Most of the early coinage with dead presidents was supposed to be "commemorative" -- a one-shot deal, a one-year change such as the 1909 Lincoln cent to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abe's birth, or the 1932 Washington quarter to celebrate his 200th. But these things take a life of their own...and we're stuck with ugly coinage with dead presidents. The irony is that Washington was known to have despised seeing his likeness on coins, feeling it was too similar to what they do for kings.

And finally, like him or not, at least Phil Gramm tried to get the dead presidents off of coins to restore the beauty of our coinage and get the politics of dead presidents away from our money. There was just too much politics involved to ever get anything changed.

Posted by: Tim on March 5, 2004 10:21 AM

Although I never really collected coins, I have had several buffalo nickels, numerous wheat pennies, some liberty dimes and a Morgan Silver Dollar (I think it was from the 1880s).

"One last thing: Look at the picture of the new nickel. Is it just me, or does that peace pipe look like something you'd find in a bag of golf clubs?"

I was thinking of hockey, but golf works just as well.

Posted by: William Hughes on March 5, 2004 11:47 AM

Reading the fine print

The new design is pretty much straight from the back of the original 1801 Jefferson Indian Peace Medal. The Peace Medals were much larger than the nickel: over 4 inches across. The peace pipe doesn't look nearly so much like a golf club when the details are more clear.

Coincidentally, an original Peace Medal was appraised on PBS's Antiques Roadshow recently for $40-50,000.

Posted by: Matt on March 5, 2004 2:51 PM