The Many Faces of Thomas Jefferson

Have you ever compared the numismatic images of Thomas Jefferson? They are amazingly different. If you didn’t know they were the same person, you would think most of them were images of different people.

Let’s take a look.

First, here’s an image used on the certificates of authenticity and the coin and currency sets for the Thomas Jefferson commemorative dollar.

Thomas Jefferson Portrait

But this portrait does not readily compare to the portrait used on the 1993-94 Thomas Jefferson commemorative dollar. In the coin and currency set, the Mint included a picture of the medallion portrait used as the basis for the commemorative dollar.

The Fogg Art Museum of the Harvard University Art Museums loaned the medallion portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1805 to the Mint for their development of the commemorative dollar.

Thomas Jefferson Medallion Portrait

Per the Mint’s description, the profile portrait was “painted in a classical manner to look like a coin or medal, and was considered by Jefferson’s family and friends to be the best likeness of him.” That may be true, but since most male images from that era include suit coats and high-necked collars, one has the feeling they’re seeing something they shouldn’t with this image.

Take a look at the 1993 commemorative coin. It makes one feel voyeuristic. Granted, it’s only a neck, but most other portraits show only Jefferson’s facial features framed by a high collar.

1993 Thomas Jefferson dollar obverse

Perhaps the most familiar Thomas Jefferson image is the one introduced on the 1938 nickel. This design by Felix Schlag was used for the nickel obverse through 2004.

2004 Thomas Jefferson nickel obverse

In 2004, the first two of the four nickels called the Westward Journey nickels  included Mr. Schlag’s obverse for the last time. The second two of the Westward Journey nickels distributed in 2oo5 included a different portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

Don Everhart of the US Mint sculpted the 2005 portrait based on the 1789 marble bust by Jean-Antoine Hudson.

2005 Thomas Jefferson nickel obverse

But, this version only occurred on the 2005 Westward Journey nickels. In 2006, a new, facing portrait of Jefferson designed by Jamie Franki and sculpted by Donna Weaver became the obverse for the nickel from 2006 forward.

A 2009 nickel shows the facing portrait.

2009 Thomas Jefferson nickel obverse

As our third president, Thomas Jefferson’s likeness also appeared in the first set of four presidential golden dollars introduced in 2007. Joseph Menna of the US Mint provided the scupting and engraving for the Jefferson golden dollar.

2007 Thomas Jefferson Presidential dollar obverse

Another – and different – image of Jefferson resides on the two dollar reserve note. He looks kind of tired and frustrated on the note’s portrait.

Of interest, the $2 note was first introduced in 1862, but Jefferson’s portrait began with the Series 1869 United States Notes. The same Jefferson portrait continued on the Federal Reserve Notes. Furthermore, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving states, “There are no plans to redesign the $2 note.” 

Thomas Jefferson two dollar reserve note

Scroll back up the page and just look at all the different faces of Thomas Jefferson.

Look at the $2 Federal Reserve Note portrait and the Felix Schlag nickel design, would you think the images are the same person? What about the commemorative dollar versus the presidential golden dollar?

The only two images that seem close to being the same person are the presidential golden dollar and the current nickel obverse. Even in those portrayals, the facial features differ.

Regardless of the numismatic imagery for the gentleman over the years, we owe a debt of gratitude  to Thomas Jefferson for our easy to use, decimal system of coinage.

Interestingly, in his Notes on Coinage, Jefferson argued, “Certainly in all cases where we are free to choose between easy and difficult modes of operation, it is most rational to choose the easy.”

If only today’s politicians believed the same…