WASHINGTON – After nearly 100 years of depicting presidents in somber profiles on the nation’s coins, the Mint is trying something different: The new nickel features Thomas Jefferson, facing forward, with the hint of a smile.
"It isn’t a silly smile or a smirk, but a sense of optimism that I was trying to convey with the expression," says Jamie Franki, an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. His drawing was chosen out of 147 entries.
In unveiling the design Tuesday, Mint officials said they believed the new image of Jefferson was an appropriate way to commemorate his support for expanding the country through the Louisiana Purchase and sending Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the territory in 1804-05.
"The image of a forward-looking Jefferson is a fitting tribute to that vision," said David Lebryk, the acting director of the Mint.
For the past two years, the Mint has changed the design of the nickel every six months to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition, both of which occurred during Jefferson’s administration.
The new five-cent coin, which will go into circulation early next year, is the last scheduled change in the nickel’s appearance. It will feature Jefferson’s Monticello home on the reverse side of the coin but in an updated image from the Monticello that first began appearing on the nickel in 1938.
The image of Jefferson will be accompanied by the word "Liberty" in Jefferson’s own handwriting, a detail that was introduced last year in the Westward Journey series of nickels.
Since Abraham Lincoln became the first president to be depicted on a circulating coin, in 1909, presidents have always been shown in profile, in part because profile designs remain recognizable even after extensive wear on the coin. The Mint, however, believes it has produced an image of Jefferson for the new nickel that can stand up to heavy use.
For next year, between 1.4 billion and 1.8 billion of the new nickels are expected to go into circulation. The coins will be called the Jefferson 1800 because Franki’s image of Jefferson is based on a Rembrandt Peale portrait of Jefferson done in 1800, the year Jefferson was first elected president.
Jefferson will be the first but perhaps not the last president to go from profile to frontal view on U.S. coins. Congress is considering whether to direct the Mint to redesign the penny for 2009, the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.