Schlag Wins the Competition

April 4th, 2011  |  Published in Circulating Coins

Even though the Buffalo Nickel is very popular with collectors today, apparently it was not viewed as such by official of the United States Treasury Department. At the time, the law provided that the designs of circulating coins would be eligible for redesign after a period of twenty five years. After exactly that duration, a competition was announced to create a new design for the five cent piece.

The stipulations for the design were that an authentic portrait of Thomas Jefferson was to appear on the reverse and a representation of Monticello would appear on the reverse. The prize for the winning design would be $1,000. A total of 390 different designs were judged by US Mint Director Nellie Taloe Ross and three sculptors. The winning design was by Felix O. Schlag.

His obverse design featured a left-facing bust of Thomas Jefferson, and the reverse featured an angled view of Monticello with some shrubbery and trees visible. The Fine Arts Commission did not approve of his reverse design and replaced it with a front view of the building without any trees. The lettering on the obverse was also changed from a stylized font to a more formal one.

The Jefferson Nickels would first be issued in 1938. Schlag obtained 150 brilliant proof examples of his work and put them into plaques that were numbered, autographed, and notarized.  The plaque also included images of his original reverse design. He managed to sell surprisingly few of the special plaques, but gave a few away. Every now and then one of these original plaques will come onto the market and generated significant collector interest.

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