The Birth of the Jefferson Nickel:
In 1938, the United States Treasury Department introduced a new five-cent coin to replace the aging Buffalo Nickel. This decision marked a significant change in the nation’s coinage history, as it would become the first U.S. coin to feature the portrait of a President. Felix Schlag, an immigrant from Germany, played a pivotal role in shaping the coin’s design.
Felix Schlag’s Winning Design:
The Treasury Department organized a design competition to determine the face of the new Jefferson Nickel, and it was Felix Schlag who emerged as the winner. His design featured a left-facing portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, on the obverse side of the coin. Jefferson’s name was inscribed above his image, and the word “Liberty” adorned the space below. The reverse side showcased Monticello, the iconic Virginia home of Thomas Jefferson. “Monticello” appeared above the image, and “E Pluribus Unum” and “Five Cents” were inscribed below. This design choice marked a departure from the tradition of featuring Lady Liberty or allegorical figures on previous U.S. coins.
Composition and Specifications:
When the Jefferson Nickel was introduced, it was minted with a composition of 75% copper and 25% nickel, had a diameter of 21.2 mm, and weighed 5 grams. The coin’s introduction was met with enthusiasm and curiosity from the public, as it marked the beginning of a new era in U.S. coinage.
The Wartime Changes:
The coin’s early years were marked by challenges and adaptations due to the demands of World War II. In 1942, as part of the war effort, the composition of the Jefferson Nickel was altered. The coin’s alloy was changed to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese, resulting in the coin’s common moniker as the “War Nickel.” This change was aimed at conserving nickel, which was considered a critical material for the war industry. The War Nickel was used until 1945, after which the coin returned to its original copper-nickel composition.