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The New Nickel


In 1803, North Dakota tribal leaders received a medal from the strange troop hauling flatboats up the Missouri. It had an image of a man on one side – his name was Jefferson, they were told – and on the other side, clasped hands and a peace pipe overlapping a hatchet. 200 years later, in 2003, these images showed up on the U.S. nickel.

The “half dime,” worth five cents, was a silver coin first issued in 1790. According to legend, silver for the coins was provided by George Washington, who donated the silver service from his home.

Later, when the economic hardship of the Civil War drove gold and silver from circulation, the government began issuing paper currency. The five-cent paper note was discontinued after Spencer M. Clark, the head of the Currency Bureau, put his own portrait on it, creating an uproar in Congress, which responded by passing a law retiring the 5¢ denomination, and another that forbid portraying any living person on federal coins or currency.”

The first “base metal” 5 cent coin was struck in 1866. The nickel’s popularity grew in the 1890s with the advent of vending machines.

The original Shield nickel was replaced by the Liberty Head in 1883. The Buffalo nickel followed in 1913. The Jefferson nickel was in use beginning in 1938. In the 90’s the Mint decided to design a new nickel honoring the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On this date in 2003, President George W. Bush authorized a series of four new designs – the first change in the nickel in 65 years.

The Mint used the original Felix Schlag design of Jefferson for the “heads” side. This is appropriate since Jefferson was not only responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, he was also the driving force behind the Voyage of Discovery. New designs were commissioned for the “tails” side. The first featured a design based on the Jefferson Peace Medal we mentioned before. The second nickel features an engraving of the keelboat used by Lewis and Clark to explore the West, including North Dakota. Other designs included a bison and a view of the Pacific Ocean. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia objected to Monticello being permanently removed from the nickel. As a compromise, Monticello and Jefferson returned to the nickel in 2006.

In a bit of irony, as of 2013 it cost more than nine cents to produce one nickel.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


CNN Money. “U.S. to Get Two New Nickels.” "http://money.cnn.com/2003/11/06/news/economy/nickel/" http://money.cnn.com/2003/11/06/news/economy/nickel/ Accessed 9 March, 2015.

Lewis and Clark Trail. “Westward Journey Nickel Series.” "http://lewisandclarktrail.com/usmint.htm" http://lewisandclarktrail.com/usmint.htm Accessed 9 March, 2015.