A Dave's Collectible Coins Article

All About Jefferson Nickels

The Jefferson nickel has been a vital part of American coinage for decades now. It has been in mintage for a very long time and shows no sign of being replaced any time soon.

1938 Jefferson Nickel

Photo by Dave's Coins

History

The Jefferson nickel replaced the Buffalo nickel in 1938. It has been the five-cent coin struck by the United States Mint ever since. 

Thomas Jefferson graces the front of the coin. The back of the coin, for many years, was Jefferson’s home.  He built the home on a hill named Monticello. “Monticello” means “little hill” in Italian.  The home inherited the name as well. You will notice the name Monticello under the image of the home on the back of the nickel. 

Jefferson spent decades designing and constructing the home. Located in Central Virginia, Monticello is a National Historic Landmark.

Jefferson's Home, Monticello

Photo by History.com

The name of the artist who designed the Jefferson nickel is Felix Schlag. He was a German artist of note. He won a huge contest sponsored by the U.S. Mint to have the image he designed on the coin. Although, originally, he provided a side view of Monticello, shown here.

Throughout the years of World War II, the coin would experience some alterations. From 1942 to 1945 the coin had some silver in it due to the need for copper for the war movement.

1943 Jefferson Nickel, War Nickel

Photo by Dave's Coins

Note on the back of the coin, the mint mark is large and placed in the top center, above Monticello. This is true only for these silver war nickels.

Original Design for Back of Jefferson Nickel by Felix Schlag

Photo by My Coin Guides

Business Strike Jefferson Nickels

Among Business Strike Jefferson Nickels, the clarity of the steps of Monticello plays a large role. A coin that is of high grade and clearly displays all six of the steps, with no breaks or blurred steps, can command a higher premium. Jefferson nickels that clearly display five of the six steps are also more valuable. 

The official term for a Jefferson nickel that clearly shows five or six of the steps is “Full Step” or “FS” for short. Following are some examples.

Here is the best example, a Jefferson nickel with six full steps.

The next is an example of the next best Full Step coin, with five steps showing clearly.

Finally, here is an example of a coin which does not qualify because the lines of the steps are not clear.

For more detailed information on this subject, read “Coin Talk, The FS (Full Step) Designation for Jefferson Nickels Defined (PHOTOGRAPHICALLY)” in the References Section below.

New Designs

The art for the Jefferson nickel remained the same for many years. In fact, from the year 1938 until 2003 the same profile of Jefferson was on the front and the same view of Monticello was on the back. However, from 2004 to 2006 there were several new special designs for the coin.

This set of special Jefferson nickels was called Westward Journey. The first of these celebrate Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the United States on a keelboat.

2004 Jefferson Nickel, Westward Journey, Lewis & Clark on a Keelboat

Photo by Dave's Coins

The second of these coins symbolizes the Louisiana Purchase. It is based off an old medallion that U.S. diplomats would give to Native American chiefs and other important people as tokens of goodwill. These were often presented at treaty signings and the like. First presented is the original peace medal. 

Following is the 2004 Jefferson nickel, based on the Peace Medal above.

 

Peace Medal

Photos by Smithsonian National Museum of National History

2004 Jefferson Nickel, Westward Journey, Louisiana Purchase / Peace Medal

Photo by Dave's Coins

In 2005, there are two additional designs for the back and a new face of the coin as well. Jefferson’s profile is looking right and is a close-up. Also, the “Liberty” inscription on the coin is based upon Jefferson’s own handwriting.

The first of these coins is called “Ocean In View”. It celebrates the day when Lewis and Clark finally made their way, after many months of arduous travel, to the Pacific Ocean. Clark wrote in his journal, “Ocean in view! O! The joy!” This is also displayed on the coin.

The second nickel of 2005 observes the American bison.

2005 Jefferson Nickel, Westward Journey, Ocean In View

Photo by Dave's Coins

2005 Jefferson Nickel, Westward Journey, American Bison

Photo by Dave's Coins

In 2006 there is another image of Jefferson, based on a famous drawing of him, where he faces front. Again, his inscription of “Liberty” is displayed on the front. On the back of the coin, we once again have Monticello. Thus, we get the name of the coin, “Return to Monticello”.

2005 Jefferson Nickel, Westward Journey, Ocean In View

Photo by Dave's Coins

2020 was a big year for the Jefferson nickel. For the first time, two of these coins were produced by the West Point Mint. The “W” mint mark is displayed on them.

The first of these is a proof coin.

The second of these is a reverse proof coin.

Per the U.S. Mint, there was going to be a third special “W” nickel in 2020. It was going to be a brilliant uncirculated coin. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, production was effected. Will we see this nickel? Were the dies made? Will it be released in 2021? For the time being, we can only speculate.

2020 Jefferson Nickel "W" Proof

Photo by Dave's Coins

2020 Jefferson Nickel "W" Reverse Proof

Photo by Dave's Coins

Tougher Dates to Collect

There are no key dates for the Jefferson nickel, per se. But some of the tougher dates to collect are as follows:
1939-D
1939-S
1942-D
1950-D
1994-P (Matte Finish)
1997-P (Matte Finish)

Also, worthy of note, the 1964 nickel is a popular coin. The Philadelphia mint produced 1,024,672,000 1964 nickels, while the Denver mint cranked out 1,787,297,160. This is the highest mintage so for for Jefferson nickels.

These coins did not have any silver content in them like quarters, dimes and half dollar coins did. However, the value for a 1964 nickel can be anywhere from five cents to as high as forty-three dollars for high grades. Certified, high grade examples can run $100.00 or more.

Review

The Jefferson nickel is reminiscent of our history. It has a distinct style which has endured many decades. And, it has one of our nation’s most well-known and famous Founding Fathers and Presidents on it. Thomas Jefferson was crucial in the formation of the United States of America, and he was irreplaceable as a U.S. president too.

Which Jefferson Nickels do you need in your collection?

References:

Coin Talk – The FS (Full Step) Designation for Jefferson Nickels Defined (PHOTOGRAPHICALLY)
https://www.cointalk.com/threads/the-fs-full-step-designation-for-jefferson-nickels-defined-photographically.49827/

U.S. Mint – Ocean in View Nickel
https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/westward-journey-nickel-series/ocean-in-view

U.S. Mint – Louisiana Purchase / Peace Medal Nickel
https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/westward-journey-nickel-series/louisiana-purchase-peace-medal

U.S. Mint – Keelboat Nickel
https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/westward-journey-nickel-series/keelboat

U.S. Mint – American Bison Nickel
https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/westward-journey-nickel-series/american-bison

U.S. Mint – Return to Monticello Nickel
https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/westward-journey-nickel-series/return-to-monticello

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