Westward Journey Nickels
In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Mint produced the first commemorative nickels in history. A series of four coins – two per year – the nickels celebrated the 200th anniversary of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the 200th anniversary of the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored the new territory and forged the first overland route to the Pacific Ocean. Together, the coins are known as the Westward Journey series.
The first coin in 2004 honors the Louisiana Purchase, a remarkable agreement which saw the U.S. acquire over 800,000 square miles west of the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains – an area that nearly doubled the size of the United States at that time. The coin features the Peace Medal given to Native Americans by Lewis and Clark while exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory.
The second 2004 coin depicts a keelboat with members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as they embarked on their journey from St. Louis in 1804. Like the previous Jefferson nickels that had been struck since 1938, the obverse depicts Thomas Jefferson, who was President at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The portrait was by sculptor Felix Schlag.
The first 2005 nickel features a buffalo to symbolize the wildlife encountered by the Expedition, while the second 2005 coin celebrates the Expedition’s arrival at the Pacific Ocean in late 1805.
The 2005 coins depict a one-year-only portrait of Jefferson on the obverse; the word “Liberty” is in Jefferson’s handwriting.
In 2006, the reverse of the Nickel reverted to Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Virginia, which had appeared on all coins from 1938 to 2003. This coin features another new portrait of Jefferson, so each year’s coins have a different image of Jefferson. Although not technically part of the Westward Journey series, the 2006 coin is often included since it completes the series and shows the three different portraits of Jefferson that were used over a three-year period.
The Westward Journey series remains the only commemorative nickels in U.S. history, and all coins are now more than a decade old. It is increasingly hard to find the complete set, especially in original Uncirculated condition.