By Dr. Thomas Bush, PhD. – Thomas Bush Numismatics ……
A Treasury Department Art Projects Bulletin, No. 14, of 1938 announced an open competition for the design of the new Jefferson nickel. Although the competition was open to the public, there had been a number of announcements already mailed off to known artists who might be interested and capable.
The winner of the competition would receive $1,000 and the committee to pick the winner would be composed of Nellie Tayloe Ross, Director of the Mint, along with the sculptors Sidney Waugh, Albert Stewart and Heinz Warneke.
Two of the major requirements were that the models could not be signed and that any artist that would have liked to have had his or her models returned would have to pay for the return shipping. Additional detailed instructions as to the format and content were included in the announcement.
Approximately 390 entries were submitted and, unfortunately, the great majority of those entries have not been found and/or connected to their artists. The winner of the competition was of course Felix Schlag, with Honorable Mention going to Henry Kreis.
Kreis is better known to modern numismatists as the designer of the Connecticut and Bridgeport commemorative half dollars and the artist who engraved the obverse of the Robinson commemorative half dollar. Although Schlag won the competition, the final reverse design chosen to be placed into production bore little resemblance to his dramatic three-quarters view of Monticello.
The two plaster models included here are without signature marks of any type. They are most likely a pair submitted at one time by a single artist as their patina and style look quite similar.
The creamy, antique white obverse (above) has IN GOD WE TRUST in front of the portrait, a widely spaced LIBERTY above and a closely spaced date set off-center below. There are some pencil marks that appear to be guidelines on the model as well as some tape on the edge, though the tape does not appear to have any function.
The reverse is unmarked aside from some red, violet or pink ink that has long ago bled. The most dramatic feature readily-visible, aside from the design, are a pair of holes drilled neatly through the model, each with an outer diameter of approximately 3/8 inch, perhaps for mounting on a wall.
The likely mate for this obverse is a reverse that is strikingly similar to what was finally put into production later in 1938. It has many of the features we are familiar with on the first Jefferson nickels, but also has a pair of bold stars and the fine details of Monticello are in striking relief. Interestingly, the ink seen on the obverse mate is also seen on this piece in the field beneath E PLURIBUS UNUM as well as on the reverse. Additionally, myriad pencil markings are on the surfaces, generally along the edge and plain back, as well as a fairly large chip that has been lost from the rim above the A in AMERICA. This model also has holes drilled into it.
Each model is approximately 8-1/2 x ¾ inches.