WASHINGTON – The nickel is getting a makeover.
The back side of the new 5-cent coin will commemorate the bicentennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark expedition. The U.S. Mint hopes to issue the nickels late this year or in early 2004.
In 2006, nickels will return to a depiction of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home, although the image will not necessarily replicate the version on today's coin.
Lawmakers from Virginia pushed for and received assurance that the coin design eventually would go back to an image of the Virginia landmark. Some coin collectors worried that Virginia was trying to lay undue claim to the nickel.
Jefferson, who made the Louisiana Purchase and was the force behind the Lewis and Clark expedition, will remain on the front side of the new coins.
Legislation introduced in January by Republican Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia introduced and signed by President Bush on Wednesday established a committee to advise on a possible design or designs.
"There's a real spirit of renaissance" in coin design, Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore said in an interview, citing the 2002 introduction of the Europe's common currency. "This is a new century and it is an historic period for the United States, so thinking about design is something people are doing."
The last change to the nickel's design was in 1938. The current Jefferson and Monticello images replaced what was known as the "buffalo nickel," which had been in circulation since 1913.
William T. Gibbs, news editor at Coin World, the largest weekly publication for coin collectors, said most of his readership will be happy with the change, "especially if the designs are pleasing to the eye."
He acknowledged that some die-hard collectors who have memorized minute details of the current nickel design might not enjoy the new design. But, he said, "Overall, this is very exciting to most of us in the coin collecting hobby."
Latest figures show nickel circulation at 18.9 billion. The Mint said it would increase production if the public began collecting the new nickels in large numbers.
The Mint does not plan to change the five-cent coin's 75 percent copper, 25 percent nickel composition. During World War II, nickel was temporarily taken out of coin's mix because the metal was needed for the war effort. Otherwise, the 5-cent coin always has contained nickel, remaining faithful to its name since it was introduced in the mid-19th century.
The last redesign of the nation's coinage involved the limited-issue state quarters, which are still being issued. According the Mint, more than 130 million people collect the limited-issue state quarters.