WASHINGTON – Coming soon to a cash register near you — a smiling Thomas Jefferson looking straight at you from a new nickel that will end nearly a century of tradition for U.S. coins.
The Mint plans to begin shipping 80 million of the new five-cent coins on Thursday to the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks. They will be the first of an estimated 1 billion new nickels which will be put into circulation over the next year.
Since 1909 when Abraham Lincoln became the first president depicted on a circulating coin, all the presidential images have been in profile.
But in a break with that tradition, the new nickel has an image of Jefferson taken from a 1800 Rembrandt Peale portrait in which the nation's third president is looking forward, with just the hint of a smile. The word "Liberty" in Jefferson's handwriting is also shown as is the phrase "In God We Trust."
On the opposite side, the nickel features Monticello, Jefferson's Virginia home. Jefferson and Monticello had been on the nickel without change for 66 years until 2004.
In that year, the Mint began the "Westward Journey Nickel Series" to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase and the exploration of the new territory by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
For two years, Monticello was replaced with images commemorating their journey including a keel boat, a buffalo and a view of the Pacific.
The new nickel with a smiling Jefferson is the perfect way to complete the series, said Acting U.S. Mint Director David Lebryk.
"This nickel features a forward-looking President Jefferson who recognized that the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark expedition would expand our horizons in numerous ways," Lebryk said. "This is a hopeful, positive image, emblematic of a bright future for our nation."
The redesigned nickel is expected to be around for quite a while with no current plans for further changes. The next circulating coin that will undergo changes will be the Sacagawea dollar. Beginning in 2007, two-thirds of those coins produced each year will feature images of deceased presidents in the order they held office. Four past presidents will be honored each year.
Congress has also directed the Mint to bring out a redesigned penny in 2009 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. The image of Lincoln on the coin will remain in profile although the Lincoln Memorial on the other side will be replaced with various images of Lincoln's life.
Mint officials predicted that the new Jefferson nickels will start showing up in change drawers over the next four to six weeks. People who can't wait that long can order bags and rolls of the 2006 nickels at the Mint's Web site or by calling 1-800-USA-MINT.