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My 5¢
Guest Editorial by Jimm Lasser

I am in Los Angeles for pleasure.

Despite promises to myself, I find a way to work during my vacation. The first culprit was the purchase of a pack of gum, and then correct change from my purchase. Finally, the real guilty party emerged: the U.S. Mint.

In my hand was a wondrous thing.

Suddenly I am in Los Angeles on business; my business is spreading the gospel of the new design of the nickel.

What an odd thing to advocate, but a surprisingly good design has compelled me to do so. Good design makes you feel great. It’s one of those rare elements in which price is not reflective of value. Whether it’s a $3 Pez Dispenser, a $340 iPod, or a $34,000 BMW, good design reflects well upon you. So I am showing off my nickel to people I see in Los Angeles. New currency is a nice ice breaker. Most people have not noticed it, but everyone is pleased with the design.

The new nickel represents how it is the everyday objects for everyday people that especially need good design. These objects have fallen upon aesthetic hard times in the past sixty years. There was once a time when good design was seen as good for the community, not just good for business. Even the simplest of grid-work on bridges, tunnels and park benches once swelled with beauty. With time that sentiment faded. Good design began to go to the highest bidder, usually coming with a hefty price tag.

The new nickel disproves that. Good design does not have to sprout from private enterprise. I feel the marvelous new nickel reflects that good design and public good are one and the same again.

That’s a big thing for five cents.

The coin itself is an American Beauty. It is all about simplicity, keeping the look pure and easy, like the boundless lines of our capital dome itself. There is a new minimalism here.

2005Nickel.jpg

The new 5-cent coins will be issued for three years starting this year to recognize the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition. The nickel’s current design was introduced 65 years ago, in 1938.

Images of the Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark’s legendary trip across the West will be shown on the “tails” side of the new coins. The “heads” side will continue to carry President Jefferson’s face to recognize his role in the purchase from the French and the commissioning of Lewis and Clark’s journey.

The first of the “tails” side designs bears the retro styling of the Buffalo Nickel. Note that this is not “retro for the sake of retro,” this is a clever nod to the current regeneration of the endangered beasts on our plains. Turning the coin over, the portrait of Jefferson is blended gently into the curved edge. This is remarkable that we have the government taking liberties (pun intended) with graphic position. With its cropping of Jefferson, it’s what you don’t see that makes his portrait remarkable for currency. It’s like seeing a bra, a bit of a breast, and starting to dream. Jefferson’s head is slightly angled as well, making him appear as if he will emerge from the face of the coin. Near his lips, Jefferson whispers the one word which unites us all: liberty. Effortlessly elegant.

What is most notable is how the new design restores the spirit of Jefferson’s legacy. The Louisiana Purchase opened up the West to American settlers. This wild, roaming spirit, this “Fresh, green breast” of land would energize generations of Americans. The coin speaks of this legacy through the Buffalo, the enduring symbol of the old west. The buffalo successfully replaces the somber and grim graphic of Jefferson’s sterile memorial at Monticello. Though it is an estate noted for its beauty, it fails to evoke the boundless energy of Jefferson’s legacy. Unlike America, Jefferson’s Monticello is stationary. It is stuck in the past, planted in one of the thirteen original colonies. But the buffalo changes that. The buffalo is constantly roaming. It was the exotic American creature. To see it, one had to bravely board wagons or trains and journey west. The coin then, has a speed all its own. In a country that is perpetually “going west”, whether it is California or the World Wi! de Web, Jefferson and the Buffalo are perfect symbols of the American people.

The true beauty of this design is that five cents is now worth considerably more.

Jimm Lasser, Esq. (1974-    )
On the stormy morning of Sunday, December 9, 1974, Nancy Lasser, wife of Alan, gave birth to a boy. He was born on a bed of poles covered with corn husks. The baby was named Jimm, after Comedian Red Foxx. The birth took place in the Lasser’s rough-hewn cabin in Winnetka near Chicago, Illinois. Alan Lasser was a dermatologist and a farmer. Nancy Lasser had little or no accounting schooling and could not write french poetry. Jimm spent a short amount of time in a log schoolhouse, before graduating from the University of Michigan, Vanderbilt University School of Law, and the Portfolio Center. Jimm attended school dressed in a raccoon cap, buckskin clothes, and pants so short that several inches of his calves were exposed. Jimm earned his first dollar ferrying passengers to a steamer on the Ohio River, and designing T-shirts for the 84-year old James Toast at sharpastoast.com. He was a member of the charter class of John Bielenberg’s Project M, spoke out against the Dred Scott Decision, and has won many decorations for valor in battle.

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PUBLISHED ON Oct.04.2005 BY Speak Up
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Todd R.’s comment is:

Contrast this very elegant initiative to what has happened to our paper money and weep. Currency serves as a cultural ambassador for any nation, an opportunity to convey national culture and history to untold billions. Look at the inelegant new $10 bill

and ponder what statement this makes about the United States of America.

On Oct.04.2005 at 03:19 PM
danny’s comment is:

The bra analogy ... it really pulled the whole thing together for me :)

I think your interpretation of the new design is probably more insightful than what the designer meant it to be (it's elements, their meanings and symbolic representations). It's relavent, and seems fitting. But to be honest, would we say that these were his intentions?

Curious.

On Oct.04.2005 at 03:45 PM
Armin’s comment is:

As a related aside, here is an interesting article on the troubles brewing behind Jefferson's head.

On Oct.04.2005 at 06:19 PM
Caren Litherland’s comment is:

Hm, I remember reading about the new design in the Times last spring, so I was all the more interested to read the article from the Daily Astorian cited by Armin.

On Oct.05.2005 at 02:07 AM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

I respectfully disagree on the coinage, Jimm.

Back in New Orleans, we used to have these Mardi Gras throws called dabloons. Always badly designed, but who cared? Some of the parades had satirical political themes, so the idea of fat cats throwing worthless "money" always had an hilarious irony to it too.

The new American money looks like it was designed-by-committee. Dull and inelegant, especially the reverse sides for each state. Kinda sad really. Roman coins started to descend in quality towards the end of their civilization too.

I now have the new Red Cross Disaster Relief debit card, (talk about basic bad design) only it's not working properly at grocery stores and the 1 800 # is out of India...my welcome to the New World Order.

Give me a Buffalo nickle anyday.

On Oct.05.2005 at 06:59 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Great post! Glad to see so much passion in appreciating designs manifestation in everything.

I have bring up one thing. It concerns the nature of symbols and what they mean. You see the buffalo and think of freedom and the excitement of pioneering new territory. I see the buffalo and I am saddened by images of several million slaughtered animals done in the name of destroying the American Indian pretty much because we couldn't find a way to coexist.

Freedom or genocide? You decide.

On Oct.05.2005 at 08:47 AM
bradley d’s comment is:

and a new nickel in the pipeline:

On Oct.05.2005 at 08:56 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Jimm,

A great tribute. The coin distinguishes itself with the enlarged portrait, and this is its greatest asset. Jackson appears monolithic, and epic in his proportions.

The buffalo illustration on the back was rendered by University of North Carolina's own Jamie Franki. Agrayspace brings up an interesting matter, one of symbolism, or specifically, semiotics. I too see the buffalo and grow hardened with emotions. First, because of what that animal represents: a wild and natural inhabitant of our soil, and an animail that Native American inhabitants relied on. Symbolism aside, it's still a buffalo and it signifies strength and adversity. Two attributes that Americans have possessed since establishing their roots here.

On Oct.05.2005 at 08:56 AM
Jimm’s comment is:

Thanks for the imput. I well considered the other side of the coin in writing this article. The slaughter of Native Americans and Buffalo alike are certainly the dark side of westward expansion. It is a worthy discussion.

Also, czech out today's New York Times. A small article on the next "new" nickel. Jefferson is now turned to gaze at you Avedon-style.

On Oct.05.2005 at 10:27 AM
Hrant’s comment is:

The important thing, of course, is that

Money remains God - it says so right there!

hhp

On Oct.05.2005 at 12:30 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Freedom or genocide? You decide."

Both, which makes the Buffalo a much more important symbol than a few pine trees.

"As a related aside, here is an interesting article on the troubles brewing behind Jefferson's head."

Oh man...the designer did a Google search and pasted the photo into the design. I'm so glad our Mint takes such pride in the quality of vendors it hires.

"The important thing, of course, is that

Money remains God - it says so right there!"

Are there other countries that have make the silly affiliation between commerce and religion?

On Oct.05.2005 at 01:24 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Are there other countries that have make the silly affiliation between commerce and religion?

I prefer to look at "In God We Trust" this way: What better place to remind people that there are bigger things in life than money, than on the face of money?

On Oct.05.2005 at 01:51 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

I prefer to look at "In God We Trust" this way: What better place to remind people that there are bigger things in life than money, than on the face of money?

This is America. Nothing is bigger than money. ;o)

On Oct.05.2005 at 01:54 PM
Neil’s comment is:

I'm surprised this is your first encounter with the new nickel. Just this weekend I saw the third "tail" of the series, with a coastal landscape (pine trees centered in the foreground, ocean spreading into the background) and a banal quote ("first sight of ocean!"). Like many of the state quarters, and unlike the new Jefferson head, it is overcrowded and too specific. I can only conclude that the new Jefferson head was a lucky misfire in the Mint's pursuit of ugly currency.

On Oct.05.2005 at 03:34 PM
Rob Bennett’s comment is:

I assume that as long as the US Mint pursues a policy of 'design contests' to use as the basis for the design of new currency, we will be faced with a true lack of consistency and quality across the series. Not to mention the previously mentioned issues of copyright.

On Oct.05.2005 at 03:52 PM
Zoelle’s comment is:

I assume that as long as the US Mint pursues a policy of 'design contests' to use as the basis for the design of new currency, we will be faced with a true lack of consistency and quality across the series.

If the US government were to commission a high profile design firm to redesign the nation's currency, do you think that the media would spin it to become another example of irresponsible spending?

On Oct.05.2005 at 04:08 PM
Caren Litherland’s comment is:
If the US government were to commission a high profile design firm to redesign the nation's currency

Wow, I just had a utopian vision: Sagmeister Inc. redesigns U.S. currency. It's kind of fun to think about what that might look like...

(I'm reminded of another Times article from last spring in which Sagmeister cited the Swiss franc as one of his favorite design objects—in conrast to the super-banal Euro.)

On Oct.05.2005 at 04:52 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

If the US government were to commission a high profile design firm to redesign the nation's currency, do you think that the media would spin it to become another example of irresponsible spending?

Maybe, but it should be noted that the Mint is a money making machine now. They have a product line that they are succesfully marketing. In many ways, hiring talented artists/designers rather than having contests would generate more collectible/wanted product, ergo, increasing profits = saving taxpayer money.

Though, there is some appeal to having a contest, being a government of the people for the people and all that...

On Oct.05.2005 at 06:04 PM
ian’s comment is:

bradley d - who's the woman on the pipeline nickle?

i liked the new nickle. when i saw it i remember thinging, "wow this is pretty clean and modern look for u.s. currency. what a crop on jefferson's face."

the edge on the front of the thing is crazy, it catches your fingers and almost feels sharp.

google searched for an image to base the coin on...wow!

On Oct.05.2005 at 08:56 PM
ben...’s comment is:

I've been getting proof sets from the mint since 1999 when the new quarters arrived on the market. The program has been a complete success and many people I know collect the coins. This new money has helped create a new wave of coin collectors. My dad collected pennies when he was a kid as did all of my aunts and uncles and they have all those books filled with coins from different mints and crap. More than anything a new design makes people feel good. Part of me says its just money, but when you get that shiny new coin as change its cool to see a clean, fresh, George smiling and winking at you, and thanking you for supporting America by purchasing non-American made goods. The nickel looks great, and after the success of the quarter program only more things will come like this.

As far as some guy getting his picture ripped off. Five million people have probably taken the same picture from the same Kodak moment spot. That is like complaining that someone stole your Grand Canyon picture.

Bottomline, the euro, the dollar, the yen, they will become one.

Our money will be placed on a microchip in our skin and we will all be forced to chooose if we will worship the beast or not. In God we trust will be off the money soon and Bush will kill everyone in the world.

God Bless America!

On Oct.06.2005 at 01:46 PM
Chris’s comment is:

I can say that I enjoyed Jimm's piece on the new nickel. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who gets excited about good design in everyday objects. More often than not, I believe that good design is lost on a public that is aroused over Microsoft word and clip art.

Ben: enjoyed your last paragraph

On Oct.07.2005 at 11:06 AM
candy’s comment is:

I do the same thing.

The first time i saw that nickle I just stopped. I couldn't beleive what i was seeing. The font of "liberty" is perfect. To think, a coin with great typography.

On Oct.07.2005 at 11:58 AM
cmkg’s comment is:

According to the U.S. Mint's Website, the word "liberty" on the design is actually based on Jefferson's handwriting. A really nice touch in a lovely overall design.

On Oct.07.2005 at 05:13 PM
bradley d’s comment is:

ian- the nickel that is in the works (shown in my above post) still carries the face of jefferson. only now he is facing forward and supposedly has a little bit of a smirk.

brad.

On Oct.07.2005 at 06:26 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Anybody else think the jefferson portrait looks like actor Gary Busey on a good hair day?

On Oct.07.2005 at 08:12 PM
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Anybody else think the Jefferson portrait looks like actor Gary Busey on a good hair day?

On Oct.07.2005 at 08:13 PM
ian’s comment is:

just being a smart ass. but something is extremely feminine about that portrait.

On Oct.08.2005 at 01:43 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

It’s because TJ’s not sporting the powdered wig/ponytail arrangement as favored by so many of the era. His choice of short bangs and feathered back has mulletlike overtones, but we all know what a trailblazer the man was.

Personally, I don’t like my money to look ´┐Żfriendly.’ I want it to look credible and serious. I want it to look like it’s up to the task.

On Oct.08.2005 at 03:03 PM
Hrant’s comment is:

I want money to look ugly, so we

remember what's actually important.

hhp

On Oct.08.2005 at 06:08 PM
feelicks sockwl jr’s comment is:


On Oct.10.2005 at 12:21 PM
Caren Litherland’s comment is:

Okay, Felix, whereas before it looked like a cross between Gary Busey and Patricia Arquette, it now looks like Iris Murdoch...

On Oct.10.2005 at 07:40 PM