The Jefferson nickel debuted in 1938, replacing the Buffalo nickel in the 25th year of its production run. A design contest to commemorate Founding Father and third president of the United States Thomas Jefferson, open to “all American sculptors”, was held in 1937. German émigré and American artist Felix Oscar Schlag was the winner. He received $1,000 for his effort.
Schlag’s concept for the obverse, which art scholar Cornelius Vermeule claimed was similar to Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1789 bust of Thomas Jefferson, appeared essentially the same on the five-cent nickel for 66 years. His original reverse concept, however–featuring an innovative three-quarters perspective of Jefferson’s mansion Monticello–was rejected by the Treasury Department. Various changes were requested, the most significant of which being the flat, head-on portrayal of Monticello that is found on Jefferson nickels minted to this very day (though commemorative issues with different reverses have also been released). According to the rules of the design competition, the winning artist would receive no additional compensation for this extra work.
In 1964, Mint Director Eva Adams took measures against the coin collecting community for what she perceived as their part in contemporary coin shortages (in truth, the recent explosion in automatic tolls, vending machines, and other coin accepting devices had caught the Mint unprepared). Wrongly believing that the impact of collectors, hoarders, and speculators pulling modern coins from circulation was the significant factor, Adams removed mint marks from coins produced in Denver (D) and San Francisco (S) and stopped the production of Proofs.
As a consequence, nickels dated 1965, ’66, and ’67 do indeed lack mint marks.
Luckily for collectors, 1964-dated nickels were not affected, and so it is a matter of public record that the Denver Mint struck 1,787,297,160 pieces that year. Part of the reason for this is that coins dated 1964 were also struck in the early part of 1965, but regardless of this quibbling detail, the 1964-D Jefferson nickel has the highest mintage to date of the entire series.
As such, the 1964-D is the most common coin in a series full of common coins, but collecting by condition and strike may present challenges. Among the major third-party grading services, PCGS lists 129 examples certified MS-66, with none finer. A total of 507 specimens rate MS-65, and 239 are graded MS-64. NGC grades seven pieces MS-67, with none finer. The next common grades at NGC are 66 (with 193 examples), and 65 (with 163 specimens).
As for the strike, many coin collectors are familiar with the notion of “Full Steps“. This refers to the sharpness and visibility of detail in regards to the steps in front of Monticello on the reverse. A grand total of six steps are rendered in the absolute best examples, while five full steps are still exceptional. Unfortunately, dies used during the period 1960 through 1967 did not always include a sixth step to begin with, so five full steps are the best one can hope for in a 1964-D. But the determined collector should be able to cherry-pick a full five-step specimen out of almost two billion potential candidates.
A left-facing bust of President Thomas Jefferson, including a colonial-era pigtail and strikingly similar in detail to the profile of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1789 bust, takes up the majority of the obverse. The top of his head almost touches the rim, and the barest of truncations is visible at the bottom where Jefferson’s left shoulder meets the edge of the coin. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST–which became the national motto in 1956–arcs clockwise along most of the length of the left side of the coin, starting from Jefferson’s chest and extending to his hairline. The inscriptions LIBERTY and the date 1964 run clockwise along the right side behind Jefferson. A small five-pointed star divides the two inscriptions
The reverse features a front view of Monticello, Jefferson’s mansion near Charlottesville, Virginia. The polymath Jefferson designed the neoclassical building himself, based on architectural principles from the Italian Renaissance; the name “Monticello” comes from the Italian for “mound” or “little mountain”. The building loses much of its dimensionality in the flattened rendering, but the octagonal nature of the dome can still be interpreted, and better strikes reveal significant detail in the steps and portico.
Atop the reverse is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out of Many, One”). The name MONTICELLO–the placement of which on the coin was one of the revisions forced upon Schlag by the Mint–is found in a straight line immediately under the building; the positions and spacing of the other inscriptions had to be adjusted to make room for it. The denomination FIVE CENTS forms a gently curving line beneath that, and the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA runs counterclockwise along the bottom edge of the coin. A small mint mark “D” is found to the far right of the mansion.
Interestingly, Felix Schlag’s initials did not appear on a Jefferson nickel until 1966.
The edge of the 1964-D Jefferson Nickel is smooth.
Felix Schlag was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1891. After receiving an education at the Munich University of Fine Arts, he moved to the United States in 1929. Schlag died in 1974. Yet while he did win numerous art contests and commissions throughout much of the remainder of his life, the Jefferson Nickel was his only coin design.
|Year Of Issue:||1964|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||75% Copper, 25% Nickel|
|OBV Designer||Felix Schlag|
|REV Designer||Felix Schlag|