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U.S. to get two new nickels
Jefferson still on front, but new designs to show handclasp, Lewis and Clark keelboat on back.
November 6, 2003: 2:08 PM EST
By Gordon T. Anderson, CNN/Money contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - In April of this year, the U.S. Mint announced that it would redesign the five-cent coin, with a new nickel to be released in 2004. Today, the Mint unveiled designs for not one new nickel, but two.

The first new nickel  
The first new nickel

The new designs constitute the first change in the look of the nickel since the current version was introduced in 1938. That familiar edition depicts Thomas Jefferson on its front, with an image of his Monticello estate on the back.

Like their predecessor, the new nickels will honor the nation's third president. As now, the fronts will display a likeness of Jefferson. The backs will be different.

The first of the new coins is due to be in circulation next spring.

Which of the new nickel designs do you like better?
  The Jefferson peace medal
  The Lewis and Clark keelboat

   View results

The image on the back will depict the Jefferson Peace Medal, a medallion that was presented to Native American chiefs during treaty signings and other ceremonies. It features clasped hands and a peace pipe overlapping a hatchet.

The second nickel will be released next autumn.

Its back will feature an engraving of the keelboat that the Lewis and Clark expedition party used to explore the American West. (Besides engineering the Louisiana Purchase that made westward expansion possible, Jefferson was the chief sponsor of the "Voyage of Discovery" that made Lewis and Clark famous.)

"The United States is in a renaissance in coin design," according to Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore, alluding not only to the new nickel, but to the immensely popular 50 State Quarter series.

The second new nickel  
The second new nickel

"Americans used to change designs every seven or eight years in the last century. Now we do it every 25 years or so," Holsman Fore told CNN/Money earlier this year. "We've gotten out of the habit."

Spokeswoman Sharon McPike said the Mint has been hoping to change the nickel for some time, and that "a commemoration of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark seemed like just the right opportunity."

The measure was not without controversy, however.

When the bill to change the coin went before Congress, members of the Virginia delegation expressed concern at losing free publicity for Monticello, the tourist attraction currently on the nickel's tailside.

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As a compromise, the Mint agreed to revert to a Monticello depiction in 2006.

That may seem like a lot of activity for a coin that's grown a bit dusty of late. But as McPike notes, there may even be an opportunity for the government to make a little money on the deal.

The reason: seigniorage, a numismatic term that means the difference between the cost of producing a coin and its retail price. That spread in this case is about two and a half cents on each nickel minted.

If a design change encourages people to hoard old Monticello nickels and/or collect the new ones, said McPike, the Mint might be forced to produce a higher-than-average number of pieces. Thus, it would make more money.

Currency Redesign
U.S. Mint

Now, let's see. There are about 290 million Americans. If all of them were to buy and hoard one of each new nickel, it would mean about $14 million more in seigniorage income for the Treasury.

That's not so much, of course, as a percentage of the gargantuan federal budget. Still, it's not too bad for rubbing two nickels together.  Top of page

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