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Bison back on nickels
New five-cent coins featuring madeover Jefferson and a restored buffalo image.
February 28, 2005: 4:25 PM EST
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money staff writer
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - There's more change for your change, as another new U.S. nickel is launched into general circulation.

On Monday, Feb. 28, the U.S. Mint released the latest in its series of redesigned five-cent coins, honoring the 200th anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expedition and its patron, President Jefferson.

The new nickels look quite a bit different than current ones. The front and back of the piece both feature a new engraving.

The nickel will continue to honor the nation's third president, as it has since 1938. But on the front, the familiar left-side profile of the Sage of Monticello will be replaced.

Instead, the new coin features the right side of Jefferson's face. His face is also cropped closely, rather than showing his entire head. The word "Liberty," engraved in a copy of Jefferson's handwriting, has been added, too.

(To see images of the coin, click here.)

The backs of the coins depict the American bison, familiarly known as the buffalo.

The launch restores a beloved 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 2005 nickel designs follow Thomas Jefferson's vision to explore the great West," said Mint director Henrietta Holsman Fore in unveiling the new coins last autumn. She referred to them as "small pieces of contemporary art."

What's on the back of a nickel?

Later in the year, the Mint will unveil a second 2005 series nickel. It will replace the bison with a portrait of a great scene from the American Northwest.

That second coin could stir up controversy among sticklers for literary accuracy, who may charge that the Mint is literally re-writing history.

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.'

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

"We didn't want to confuse anyone into thinking we couldn't spell," she said.  Top of page

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