Thanks to the Westward Journey Nickel Series™, America's nickel changed for the first time in 66 years! Two new designs took their turns on the back of the nickel in 2004, while the image of President Thomas Jefferson on the front was the same as the image on earlier nickels. But the front of the 2005 and 2006 nickels showed new images of Jefferson as well.
The new designs celebrate two events of about 200 years before: the Louisiana Purchase and the westward journey of Lewis and Clark.
When Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States, he bought a piece of land from France called "Louisiana," an area much larger than the state of Louisiana today...so large, in fact, that buying it made the United States twice as large as it had been before. Since Thomas Jefferson was already on the nickel, it was the perfect coin on which to celebrate the Louisiana Purchase.
In 1804, President Jefferson sent a group led by Lewis and Clark to explore this land, to describe the flora (plants) and fauna (animals) they saw, and to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean if there was one.
Jefferson had a medal made as a token of peace, which we call his "Peace Medal." The explorers were to give the medals as gifts to the Native American chiefs they met as a sign of peace.
The design that was used on Jefferson's Peace Medal is used on the first of the new nickels, the Peace Medal Nickel. It shows the hand of a Native American and the hand of a European-American clasped in a friendly handshake below a crossed pipe and tomahawk. The words "Louisiana Purchase" are inscribed above the date of the purchase, 1803.
The second nickel of 2004 shows the keelboat that was part of the transportation for Lewis and Clark's expedition. In this Keelboat Nickel design, captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are standing on deck at the start of their famous trip.
The new design on the front of the 2005 nickels features a new image of Thomas Jefferson. The word "Liberty" appears in a style that is like Jefferson's own handwriting.
The first new 2005 design on the nickel's reverse (back) features the American bison, also called a buffalo. This animal used to roam the plains in such great numbers that the animal was noted often by Lewis and Clark in their journals. This buffalo also reminds us of the American Indians who counted on the animal for food, clothing, and shelter, and of all the wildlife that the explorers wrote about and brought back to the United States as a record for science.
The second reverse design shows a view of the Pacific Ocean, the goal that the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached after more than a year of hard travel. The scene surrounds a quote written by Captain Clark: "Ocean in view! O! The joy!" This design is based on a photograph by Andrew E. Cier of Astoria, Oregon.
Hopes were dashed when the Expedition proved that the Missouri River was not part of a Northwest Passage across the continent by water and that there were two mountain ranges to cross instead of one. Still, less than a century later, the continent was crossed by telegraph and railroad lines that brought the eastern and western coasts together in ways hard to imagine in Lewis and Clark's time. Today, with cars, airplanes, telephones, and computers, the distance between coasts seems even shorter... but the steps that Lewis and Clark took were among the first to bring them so close together.
So be on the lookout for these new nickels...they really are history in your pocket!
Just as Lewis and Clark came full circle, returning to the East and Jefferson's home in Monticello, the "Return to Monticello" Nickel brings the Westward Journey Nickel Series back to its beginnings: Thomas Jefferson on the front and his home, Monticello, on the back. And yet, how the coin has changed!
The final obverse design in the series features a new portrait of Jefferson. And, instead of the usual side view, Jefferson faces forward. This design marks the first time a presidential bust on a circulating American coin is not shown in profile.
The reverse design, although very much like the pre-2004 design, is actually very different. The new image takes advantage of the advances in coin-making technology to produce a crisper, more detailed Monticello than has ever been seen on the five-cent coin.
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