From 1938 to today we have used the Jefferson Type Nickel. In the 20th century we have seen a definite trend to people preferring portraits on their coins more than the symbols of the earlier centuries. The coin was designed by Felix Schlag and was chosen over other designs in a competition that saw more than 375 artists enter. His reward for winning was $1,000.00. There is one major variety; the coins that were produced from an alloy containing silver that were struck from 1942-45. Nickel was needed for the war effort on World War II and silver wasnt, hence the temporary change. These War Nickels are easy to spot as each has a large mintmark (a P, D or S) over the dome on the reverse.
A good reference work for those more interested in this type of coin is The Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen.
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