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Coin History – Westward Journey Jefferson Nickels

In 2004 and 2005, the Jefferson Nickel was significantly altered for the first time in its long history. Having been in production since 1938, The 5-Cent piece that had depicted the third President of the United States, had undergone virtually no changes from then up until 2003, some 65 years on. The only exception were in World War II when the composition of the Nickel changed to have 35% silver and the mint mark was moved to above the dome of Monticello on the Reverse.

That changed in 2004 with the two year production run of what is now known as the Westward Journey series. But like many of our coins that have gone through a change, the Westward Journey series has an interesting history of inception and why it only lasted for two years, quickly returning to a Jefferson-Monticello design in 2006.

The Westward Journey series began in earnest in 2002. That year, the United States Mint began mulling the ideal of redesigning the Jefferson Nickel in honor of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. For those that don’t remember your American history, the Lewis and Clark Expedition was commissioned in 1803, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase to explore and map the newly acquired terrify and to find a practical path to the west cost of the continent. Important for this discussion is that President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition.

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent, and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. The campaign’s secondary objectives were scientific and economic: to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local American Indian tribes. The expedition returned to St. Louis to report its findings to Jefferson, with maps, sketches, and journals in hand.


Fast forward back to 2003. The Mint is now well into the designs for the updated Jefferson Nickel but run into a problem, namely the Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia. Mr. Cantor’s issue was that he did not want to see Monticello removed permanently from the Nickel. Monticello, Jefferson’s home, is located in Virginia. The problem was that the Mint was already gearing up for the change and had decided on designs. Representative Cantor introduced a new bill, the “American 5-Cent Coin Design Continuity Act of 2003”. Signed on April 23, 2003, it gave the Treasury Secretary permission to alter the Jefferson Nickel for 2004 and 2005 but in 2006, Jefferson and Monticello had to return to the 5-cent piece. In fact, this bill is so strict that unless another bill is passed by congress related to this, every nickel in the future must, in some way, feature Jefferson and Monticello.

In 2004, the Jefferson Nickel continued to use Obverse designed by Felix Schlag while there were two Reverse designed released that year. First was that of the Louisiana Purchase Reverse. It was modeled after the Indian Peace Medal that was struck for Jefferson by Mint sculptor-engraver Norman E. Nemeth.

2004 Westward Journey Nickel Series Uncirculated Obverse
2004 Westward Journey Nickel Series Louisiana Purchase Uncirculated Reverse

The second Reverse of 2004 is from Mint sculptor-engraver Al Maletsky and is the keelboat Reverse, depicting the boat that was used by Lewis & Clark on their expedition.

2004 Westward Journey Nickel Series Keelboat Uncirculated Reverse

In 2005, both the Obverse and Reverse of the Jefferson Nickel got a makeover. The Obverse, which was only struck in 2005, was designed by sculptor Joe Fitzgerald. Interestingly, the world “Liberty” on the Obverse was made from tracing’s of Jefferson’s handwriting in a draft of the Declaration of Independence. In that document however, the “L” was not capitalized so Fitzgerald used a capital L from other Jefferson writings.

2005 Westward Journey Nickel Series Uncirculated Obverse

Like in 2004, there were two Reverse images uses in 2005. First was the American Bison, marking both the discovery of the animal by Lewis & Clark as well as a throw back to the popular Buffalo Nickel. This Reverse was designed by Jamie Franki.

2005 Westward Journey Nickel Series American Bison Uncirculated Reverse

Joe Fitzgerald also designed the second Reverse of 2005, the Ocean in view Reverse. The phrase comes from a journal entry from William Clark after he and Lewis found the Pacific Ocean.

2005 Westward Journey Nickel Series Ocean In View! O! The Joy! Uncirculated Reverse

In 2006, per the “American 5-Cent Coin Design Continuity Act of 2003”, both Jefferson and his home Monticello had to return to the 5-Cent piece. But that mean that the coin returned to its previous look entirely. A new Obverse was designed by Jamie Franki. Instead of a profile of Thomas Jefferson, it showed him forward facing. This has been the Obverse of the Nickel since.

2006 Westward Journey Nickel Series Uncirculated Obverse

The Reverse from 2006 onwards has returned to the original Felix Schlag design of Monticello. The Mint took liberty of sharpening the design and Schlag’s initials were removed from the Obverse and moved to the Reverse to the right of Monticello since he no longer is the designer of the Obverse.

2006 Westward Journey Nickel Series Monticello Uncirculated Reverse

From a collector’s perspective, the Westward Journey Jefferson Nickels are easy to come by and easily affordable. You can pick up the 2004 and 2005 S Proof coins as a set for $9.95 (Affiliate Link) while the 2004 and 2005 P and D coins can be picked up for $7.99 (Affiliate Link).

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