My favorite circulating commemorative coins of the modern era of US coinage
are definitely the US Bicentennial pieces that were struck in 1975 and 1976 and dual-dated "1776-1976." I think my fondness for the coins dates back to my days as a young collector at the time of the bicentennial and my pursuit of a variety of coins and medals that were issued to commemorate the milestone event. Good times!
My second favorite set of circulating commemorative coins is the Westward Journey series of commemorative five-cent coins issued in 2004 and 2005. The coins commemorate the US' purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 and its subsequent exploration in 1804 and 1805 by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Why are they among my favorites? IMO, they have all the elements that a proper commemorative coin needs. They celebrate a truly significant and important event, they mark the original event on an appropriate anniversary date and they are well designed and executed.
The roots of the Westward Journey Nickel Series extend back to January 2003 when the American 5-Cent Coin Design Continuity bill was introduced in the House; the House version became law, but companion versions were also introduced in the Senate during the same session of Congress. The Act (Public Law 108-15) specified that "the Secretary of the Treasury may change the design on the obverse and the reverse of the 5-cent coin for coins issued in 2003, 2004, and 2005 in recognition of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark." (In 2002, companion bills were introduced to change the design of the nickel for 2002 and 2003 (but not in 2004 and/or 2005) to mark the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase; nickels commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition were not specified within the bills.)
Regarding the designs, the authorizing legislation placed general constraints on the design themes but left the specific details TBD.
For the obverse of the coins the legislation stated: "If the Secretary of the Treasury elects to change the obverse of 5-cent coins issued during 2003, 2004, and 2005, the design shall depict a likeness of President Thomas Jefferson, different from the likeness that appeared on the obverse of the 5-cent coins issued during 2002, in recognition of his role with respect to the Louisiana Purchase and the commissioning of the Lewis and Clark expedition."
For the reverse of the coins: "If the Secretary of the Treasury elects to change the reverse of the 5-cent coins issued during 2003, 2004, and 2005, the design selected shall depict images that are emblematic of the Louisiana Purchase or the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark."
The Law also mandated a return to a design featuring Thomas Jefferson on the coin's obverse, and his Monticello home on the reverse beginning in 2006.
No Westward Journey five-cent coins were struck in 2003; the series kicked off on March 1, 2004 with the release to the Federal Reserve System of the Peace Medal design. The commemorative reverse design was the work of US Mint Sculptor/Engraver Norman E. Nemeth. The design depicts shaking hands (one meant to symbolize the US Government and the other - the one with an eagle on a band on its wrist - Native Americans) with a crossed pipe and tomahawk above them. The design is an adaptation of the reverse of the Indian Peace Medal that was carried by Lewis and Clark to give to the Native American VIPs that they encountered and with whom they sought friendly relations. The obverse of the coin featured the standard, left-facing Jefferson portrait created by Felix Schlag
.Images courtesy of the US Mint, http://www.usmint.gov.
On August 2, 2004, the Mint released the second nickel of the series - the Keelboat Nickel - to the Federal Reserve System. The reverse was created by US Mint Sculptor/Engraver Al Maletsky. It features "an angled, side-view of the keelboat, with full sail, that transported members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and their supplies, through the rivers of the Louisiana Territory." Image courtesy of the US Mint, http://www.usmint.gov.
The third nickel of the series was released to the Fed on February 8, 2005; it featured new designs for the obverse and reverse. On the obverse, a new portrait of Thomas Jefferson designed by Joe Fitzgerald
, a member of the Mint's Artistic Infusion Program (AIP), and sculpted by US Mint Sculptor/Engraver Don Everhart
, replaced the Feliz Schlag portrait that had been used since 1938. The new design presented a partial right-facing portrait of Jefferson (the profile portrait of Jefferson starts off the coin, with the visible portion beginning forward of his right ear). The reverse depicts an American bison, facing right; it is reminiscent of the bison found on James Earle Fraser
's Indian Head/Buffalo nickel design (though in mirror image). The bison design is the work of AIP member Jamie Franki; it was sculpted by US Mint Sculptor/Engraver Norman E. Nemeth.Images courtesy of the US Mint, http://www.usmint.gov.
The series' last nickel was released to the Federal Reserve System on August 1, 2005 - the Ocean in View Nickel. Joe Fitzgerald
was responsible for the design, thus making him responsible for the design on both sides of the coin! Fitzgerald's design was sculpted by US Mint Sculptor/Engraver Donna Weaver
. The design depicts a scene that overlooks the estuary of the Columbia River as it empties into Gray's Bay. Upon seeing the waters for the first time, Clark mistakenly believed he was looking at the Pacific Ocean. His exclamation at the time is seen as part of the coin's design. Fitzgerald used a photograph by professional photographer Andrew Cier of Oregon as his design reference.Image courtesy of the US Mint, http://www.usmint.gov.
The nickels were struck for circulation at the Philadelphia Mint and the Denver Mint. Proof versions of the coins were struck at San Francisco for collectors.
In addition to the 3+ billion coins it produced for circulation (see below), the US Mint also produced a variety of Westward Journey Nickel Series(tm) products for collectors. In addition to the Coin Covers shown below, it also made the five-cent pieces available in:
two-roll sets - P and D mints ($8.95)
bags of 500 ($45.95) and 1,000 ($79.95) - (bags required an additional $7.95 each for shipping)
Westward Journey Nickel Series(tm) Coin Sets (each year's set includes examples of each nickel design for the year struck at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco [proofs])
the annual Proof Sets ($22.95)
the annual Silver Proof Sets ($37.95)
the annual Uncirculated Sets ($16.95)
Each year of the program also saw the release of a Coin and Medal Set that included a silver-plated small bronze reproduction of the Jefferson Peace medal along with proof versions of the year's nickels and Sacagawea dollar
; the sets were issued at $19.95.
The products all went off sale by December 31, 2005 due to the wording in the series' authorizing legislation and the required changeover to the new design for 2006 and beyond.Final Production of Westward Journey Circulation Nickels:
Year/Description Philadelphia Denver Total
2004 LA Purchase/Peace Medal 361,440,000 372,000,000 733,440,000
2004 Keelboat 366,720,000 344,880,000 711,600,000
2005 American Bison 448,320,000 487,680,000 936,000,000
2005 Ocean in View 394,080,000 411,120,000 805,200,000
Grand Totals 1,570,560,000 1,615,680,000 3,186,240,000
In addition to the Mint coin images shown above, I'm including images of the Coin Covers that the Mint produced for each nickel of the series. Each cover includes examples of coins that were struck at Philadelphia and Denver and then placed in the official philatelic-numismatic combination/cover (PNC) or Coin Cover that was postmarked on the day the coins were made available to the Federal Reserve. The Mint issue price for the PNCs was $19.95. The images for each of the covers shown are images I took of the covers in my collection.
The Westward Journey series of commemorative nickels is obviously a brief series (just two years!), and one without any great varieties or rarities. As such factors are not important to me, I've enjoyed including circulation/business strike and proof examples in my collection simply for the story they convey.
For more of my posts on the modern and classic series of US commemorative coins, check out: Read More: Commems Collection