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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

Jefferson Nickel

I'm Flip, the face on the United States Mint H.I.P. Pocket Change seal...sort of a seal of approval!  And this month I'm giving my approval to a coin you've probably seen before:  the five-cent coin.

We call it a nickel because it contains some nickel—not a common metal for coins when the nickel first came out.  That was in 1865, when copper coins were called "coppers."  Today, all of our circulating coins contain nickel...but there's only one "nickel."

Thomas Jefferson has been on our nickel since 1938, for well over 50 years.  And rightly so!  As both a founding father and a fan of freedom, few have done as much as Thomas Jefferson.

This "gentleman farmer" wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.  He served in the Continental Congress, and as governor of Virginia after Patrick Henry.  He was made Secretary of State by George Washington.  He served as President for two terms as well as Vice President, and Minister to France after Benjamin Franklin.  He bought the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon and sent Lewis and Clark's team to explore it.  He founded the University of Virginia, studied and raised plants from around the world, and designed buildings including his own estate, Monticello.

And he did all that before breakfast!  (Just kidding.)

In fact, if it wasn't for Thomas Jefferson, there might not BE a five-cent coin.  When Congress was trying to decide on what kind of money the new United States should use, someone suggested a dollar that was divided into 1,440 parts instead of 100!  I'm sure glad Jefferson came along to talk sense...and cents!  The decimal system he favored makes money math a lot easier.

The big September in nickel history is September of 1938, almost 200 years after Jefferson was born.  That's the month when the very first Jefferson nickels were produced by the United States Mint!  That gets a big clap of the flippers from me!

Flip, the Mint Seal

Teacher Feature

Obverse: Jefferson Nickel
Obverse:  Felix Schlag's portrait of Jefferson was based on a marble bust by a famous French sculptor named Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Reverse: Jefferson Nickel
Reverse:  Schlag won the contest and the $1,000 prize, but the Federal Commission of Fine Arts had him improve the design before it was produced.

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