Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /home4/eric678/public_html/thejeffersonnickel.com/wp-content/themes/simplicity/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Archive | April, 2013

Felix Schlag: Designer of the Original Jefferson Nickel

Beginning in the 1790s, the five-cent piece in circulation in the United States at the time was made of silver was referred to as the half-dime and was struck in the cellar of a saw maker which the Philadelphia mint was under construction. Then in the 1860s, the nickel in its current composition of 75% copper and 25% was struck and placed into circulation in order to conserve silver and other precious metals for the efforts of the Civil War.

In 1938 when the Buffalo Nickel was discontinued, it was finally replaced by the Jefferson Nickel which is still in existence today. Since that time,Thomas Jefferson has always been represented on the US nickel five cent coin piece, except for 2004 and 2005 when a nickel commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition was issued.

The most common, and possibly most famous, nickel design was the left-facing side view of Jefferson by Felix Oscar Schlag, which graced the obverse of the coin from 1938 to 2003. After the two years of Western Journey Commemoratives, the nickel went back to featuring Thomas Jefferson on the obverse in 2006, but the design was updated to a front-facing portrait of the former president, created by Jamie Franki.

The design for the most recognizable Jefferson Nickel design which was struck in US mints for 65 years, was created by Felix Schlag whose artistry was chosen through a competition. In preparation for the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth in 1943, a public contest was announced during which participants could submit designs for the obverse of the new nickel, which would include a portrait Jefferson’s head. The reverse of the new nickel would include a pictorial of Monticello, Jefferson’s home. The prize for winning the contest for the Jefferson Nickel was $1000. Almost 400 designs were presented in the competition

The winner of this competition, Felix O. Schlag, had created a design which was similar to a famous bust of Jefferson in a Boston Art Museum. Officials, however, did not prefer Schlag’s rendition of Monticello submitted for the reverse, nor did they approve of the lettering used on the original submission. The designer and winner of the competition was required to submit changes for both, which would ultimately be struck onto billions of coins and eventually circulated throughout the United States and even over the world.

After alterations were made to the design, the Jefferson nickel was finally produced in October of 1938 and released into circulation that November. Upon its release, the new nickel was apparently squirreled away by coin collectors who saw potential in this unique situation. Reports indicate that this new 1938 US five cent piece designed by Schlag was not regularly used as currency for two more years.

Mr. Felix Schlag, born in 1891, was an immigrant from Germany to the United States in 1929, and was an already successful artist prior to his arrival. During his early time in the US, Schlag assisted with the design of automobiles for General Motors. Upon moving to Chicago, the artist was commissioned to design sculptures for prominent public places around the city in that era. Schlag became a United States citizen the same year that his design appeared on the Jefferson nickel.

In 1939, Felix Schlag commemorated the circulation of his design with the creation of 150 limited edition serialized and notarized certificates of authenticity, which included a Proof of the 1938 nickel and a photo of his original design.  Some collectors have set about to find the location of these 150 signed certificates. Their value is difficult to determine but they are unique.

It wasn’t until nearly 30 years after the original minting (in 1966) that the designer’s initials, FS, were struck into the nickel’s design below Jefferson’s portrait on the front bottom rim of the coin. Two special coins with this alteration were struck and given to Mr. Schlag as a commemorative gift.

Felix Schlag died in 1974 and several years later a granite stone was erected at the foot of his gravesite. The stone contains replications of the obverse and reverse of the Schlag’s original Jefferson nickel design he submitted to the competition in 1938.

Since 2006, the design on the obverse of the Jefferson nickel has been replaced with a design by Jamie Franki. The image is a front view rather than side view, and the details of the design look sharper when struck into the metal of the coin. The reverse of the Jefferson nickel still contains the same Monticello design that was designed by Schlag and placed on the reverse of the 1938 five cent coin.

At some point near the end of his life, Felix Schlag is quoted as saying, “America’s got its nickel’s worth out of me, wouldn’t you agree?”