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New nickels unveiled
On the new coins, Jefferson gets a makeover, the buffalo returns, and the ocean comes into view.
September 16, 2004: 11:53 AM EDT
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's not clear whether Thomas Jefferson considered the right half of his face to be his "good side," but folks at the U.S. Mint apparently think so. That's the profile they're engraving onto millions of new nickels.

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The redesign, which was made public today at a Washington press conference, is the latest in the Mint's multi-year commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The third president was the chief patron of that 19th century exploration of the American West.

In 2003, Congress passed legislation enabling the Mint to revise the nickel to mark the expedition's bicentenary, which resulted in the release of two separate nickels. They went into circulation during 2004, as part of the Mint's so-called Westward Journey series of coins.

Now, the Mint is preparing to release two more coins in 2005.

"The 2005 nickel designs follow Thomas Jefferson's vision to explore the great West," said Mint director Henrietta Holsman Fore in unveiling the new coins, which she referred to as "small pieces of contemporary art."

Since 1938, the five-cent coin has featured an image of Jefferson on its front. The new coins will continue that tradition, but display the image differently.

Most obviously, his face is cropped more closely, instead of showing his entire head. His right profile will now appear, instead of his left. And the word "Liberty," engraved in a copy of Jefferson's handwriting, has been added.

What's on the back of a nickel?

The backsides of the new coins will feature two different designs.

The first, of a buffalo, restores the animal to the five-cent coin. That symbol of the Plains appeared on the back of every U.S. nickel minted between 1913 and 1938, when the modern Jefferson head piece was introduced. The new buffalo nickels will be produced during the first half of 2005.

The second coin unveiled will be issued in the second half of the year, and may stir up some bit literary controversy.

The subject of that backside will be the Pacific ocean, inscribed with the words, "Ocean in view! O! The Joy!" The quote is taken from the journal of William Clark, who wrote down his emotions upon reaching the mouth of the Columbia river.

The problem: The words on the coin are not precisely what Clark wrote. In his journal, Clark spells it "Ocian," with an 'i.'

Thomas Jefferson
U.S. Mint

According to spokeswoman Becky Bailey, the Mint considered the issue, and chose to use the modern spelling.

"We didn't want to confuse anyone into thinking we couldn't spell," she said. But sticklers may debate whether the Mint is just keeping up with the times or literally re-writing history.

In any event, the redesigns give numismatists, historians, and everybody else a chance to put in their two cents about the nickel.  Top of page

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