The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel is a commemorative coin issued by the United States Mint in 2004 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. It is the first coin in the Westward Journey Nickel Series, which also includes the Keelboat Nickel, the Ocean in View Nickel, and the Corps of Discovery Nickel.

The Westward Journey Nickel Series is a series of four commemorative nickels issued by the United States Mint in 2004 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Each coin in the series features a different aspect of the Louisiana Purchase and the westward expansion of the United States.

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel features a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and a map of the Louisiana Purchase on the reverse. The Keelboat Nickel features a keelboat on the Mississippi River on the obverse and a portrait of Meriwether Lewis on the reverse.

What is the Louisiana Purchase?


In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in a deal known as the Louisiana Purchase. This land acquisition doubled the size of the United States and opened up vast new territories for American expansion and settlement.

At the time, the region was still largely unexplored by Americans, but it held tremendous potential value.

France had gained control of the Louisiana Territory, which encompassed all or part of 15 current U.S. states, in the late 17th century. By the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France and envisioned building a vast French empire in North America.

However, unrest in Europe forced Napoleon to abandon these plans and raise money instead by selling the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. for $15 million.


In early 1803, President Thomas Jefferson sent James Monroe to join ambassador Robert Livingston in France to negotiate the purchase of New Orleans. Napoleon instead surprised the American negotiators by offering to sell the entire Louisiana Territory.

The Americans agreed to this deal, realizing the enormous benefits of controlling the whole region.

The treaty was formally signed on April 30, 1803. Despite some Constitutional concerns about the deal, Jefferson and the Senate quickly approved it. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was widely popular in the U.S., doubling the size of the country and stoking nationalist pride.

Terms of the Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase treaty gave the United States full control of the vast Louisiana Territory, some 828,000 square miles, for the bargain price of around $15 million. Roughly half the territory was considered uninhabited wilderness.

With the Louisiana Purchase, the U.S. gained its first foothold of public domain land, which eventually became a major force in American expansion.

The treaty set the Mississippi River as the territory border from the Gulf of Mexico to the 31st parallel. Beyond this line to the Rocky Mountains, the territory boundary was not firmly set and had to be clarified by later treaties.

In acquiring the Louisiana Territory, the United States gained control of the vital Mississippi River waterway and the bustling port city of New Orleans.

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase Nickel


The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel was minted in 2003 by the U.S. Mint to commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. The coin features a unique “Peace Medal” design created by artist Joe Fitzgerald based on the Indian Peace Medals distributed by President Thomas Jefferson following the Louisiana Purchase.

The coin’s obverse depicts Jefferson’s left profile, making it one of only two circulating U.S. coins to feature a president facing left (along with the President Franklin D. Roosevelt dime).


The obverse of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel features a left-facing profile portrait of President Thomas Jefferson along with the inscriptions “IN GOD WE TRUST”, “LIBERTY”, and the years “1803” and “2003”.

Jefferson’s portrait was based on the iconic 1800 Rembrandt Peale painting commissioned by Jefferson himself. Below Jefferson’s chin is Jefferson’s name rendered in a style resembling his own signature.

To the upper left along the rim are the mint mark (P for Philadelphia) and designer’s initials (JF for Joe Fitzgerald).


The reverse of the coin depicts an adaptation of the Indian Peace Medal commissioned by Jefferson bearing clasped hands along with two peace pipes and the words “LOUISIANA PURCHASE” arching above. The Indian Peace Medal motif symbolizes the peaceful transfer of land from France to the United States through the Louisiana Purchase treaty in 1803.

Along the bottom rim is the statement “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” flanked by laurel branches. To the lower left is the denomination “5 CENTS”. The clasped hands symbolize trust and friendship between the U.S. government and Native American tribes following the Louisiana Purchase.

Some key details about the 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel:

Date of Issue: October 20, 2003
Mint Mark: P (Philadelphia)
Designer: Joe Fitzgerald
Composition: Copper-nickel
Weight: 5 grams
Diameter: 21.2 mm

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel makes a unique addition to any coin collection. Its historic design commemorating the Louisiana Purchase bicentennial provides an opportunity to reflect on Jefferson’s monumental 1803 land acquisition that doubled the size of the United States.

This distinctive nickel reminds us of the vision and leadership that shaped early America.

The Westward Journey Nickel Series


The Westward Journey Nickel Series is a series of nickel coins issued by the United States Mint between 2004 and 2006 to commemorate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The series consists of four unique nickel designs representing important concepts related to the expansion of the American frontier in the early 19th century.

The first coins in the series were released in 2004 and depicted Thomas Jefferson and an image of the Lewis and Clark Expedition canoeing up the Missouri River. In 2005, a new nickel design featured an American bison and a Native American man.

The final coins in the series were released in 2006 with images of a Pacific coastline and the words “Ocean in view! O! The Joy!” commemorating when the Lewis and Clark Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean.

The Westward Journey Nickel Series represents the first time a United States coin design has been updated since the 1930s. The unique and frequently changing nickel designs sparked interest and increased coin circulation.

Over 1 billion nickels from the series were produced and released into circulation between 2004 and 2006.

Other Coins in the Series

The four nickels in the Westward Journey Series included:

The designs represented important concepts and events related to the Louisiana Purchase and the exploration of the American West. The series was very popular with coin collectors because of the frequently changing nickel designs.

Collecting the 1803 Louisiana Purchase Nickel

Where to Find

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel is a highly sought-after coin for collectors. Here are some tips on where you can find this rare nickel:

  • Coin shows – Attending local, regional, or national coin shows is a great way to connect with dealers and fellow collectors who may have an 1803 nickel for sale.
  • Online auction sites – Sites like eBay often have 1803 nickels up for auction. But beware of counterfeits and make sure the seller has a good reputation.
  • Coin dealers – Established rare coin dealers are a safer bet than buying from an individual. They often have a selection of rare coins including the 1803 nickel.
  • Coin clubs – Getting involved in numismatic organizations like the American Numismatic Association can help you network with other collectors who may know where to find an 1803 nickel.


Properly grading an 1803 nickel is critical for assessing its collectability and value. The two main grading services used are PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) and NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation). Here’s a brief overview of their grading scales:

PCGS Grades NGC Grades
MS-70 (Perfect) MS-70 (Perfect)
MS-60 to MS-69 MS-60 to MS-69
AU-50 to AU-58 AU-50 to AU-58
VF-20 to VF-35 VF-20 to VF-35
G-04 to G-06 G-04 to G-06

Key things to evaluate are the sharpness of the details, the luster, and the surface preservation. A nicely preserved AU grade example with sharp details can still command a premium.


As one of the earlier nickels produced by the U.S. Mint, the 1803 nickel has steadily increased in value over the years. Here’s an overview of its current market value:

  • In lower circulated grades like G-04, value ranges from $1,000 to $1,500.
  • In VF-20 grade, value jumps to $3,000 to $5,000 range.
  • In AU-50 grade, value rises to $7,500 to $10,000.
  • In higher mint state grades, value really accelerates. An MS-63 example can sell for around $20,000.
  • The finest known examples in MS-67 grade have sold for over $100,000 at auction!

So while well circulated specimens are attainable for many collectors, premium high grade examples are worth big money. Checking sites like PCGS and NGC price guides can give you an idea of current market values.

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel – Conclusion

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel is a significant coin that commemorates one of the most important events in American history. It is also a well-designed and popular coin among collectors. If you are interested in learning more about the Louisiana Purchase or collecting coins, the 1803 Louisiana Purchase nickel is a great place to start.

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