This nickel was originally designed by Felix Schlag, who won an award of $1,000 in a competition with some 390 artists. His design established the definite public approval of portrait and pictorial themes rather than symbolic devices on our coinage.
On October 8, 1942, the wartime five-cent piece composed of copper (56%), silver (35%), and manganese (9%) was introduced to eliminate nickel, a critical war material. A larger mintmark was placed above the dome of Monticello, indicating the change of alloy. The letter P (Philadelphia) was used for the first time.
The Westward Journey Nickel Series?(2004–2006) commemorated the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore that vast territory.
2004: The Louisiana Purchase / Peace Medal reverse, by Mint sculptor Norman E. Nemeth, was adapted from the reverse of certain of the original Indian Peace Medals commissioned for the expedition. These medals bore a portrait of President Thomas Jefferson on one side, and symbols of peace and friendship on the other. They were presented to Native American chiefs and other important leaders as tokens of the goodwill of the United States. The Keelboat reverse, by Mint sculptor Al Maletsky, depicts the boat that transported the Lewis and Clark expedition and their supplies through the rivers of the Louisiana Territory. Built to Captain Lewis’s specifications, this 55-foot craft could be sailed, rowed, poled like a raft, or towed from the riverbank.
2005: The new obverse portrait of President Jefferson was inspired by a 1789 marble bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon; the inscription “Liberty” was based on Jefferson’s handwriting. Joe Fitzgerald designed the new obverse, which was rendered by Mint sculptor Don Everhart. The American Bison reverse, designed by Jamie Franki and produced by Norman E. Nemeth, features a bison in profile. Described in journals from the expedition, bison held great significance for many American Indian cultures. (The design also recalls the popular Indian Head / Buffalo nickel design of 1913–1938.) The “Ocean in View” reverse, designed by Joe Fitzgerald and produced by Mint sculptor Donna Weaver, depicts cliffs over the Pacific Ocean and an inscription inspired by a November 7, 1805, entry in Clark’s journal: “Ocean in view! O! The joy!”
2006: The “Monticello” design shows a facing portrait of Jefferson, designed by Jamie Franki and sculpted by Donna Weaver. This new obverse and the traditional depiction of Monticello are used on this and subsequent nickels.
The Mint also produced Westward Journey Nickel Series? Coin Sets for 2004 and 2005.