April 19, 2014

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A Penny (or Nickle) for My Thoughts

A surprising connection to the Jefferson Nickle unearthed!

I was born on the tail end of the baby boomer's generation.  As such, I inherited a lot of toys, values and history that went along with that boom in school kids and education.

When I was just three years old, the U.S. Mint decided to end the wheat-stalk penny in favor of the new Lincoln Memorial penny.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but at the time, the change made news not only in our schools, but also with our grandparents...who always were looking for something to give or leave to their grandchildren.

I my instance, my grandpa gave me Whitman coin collecting Penny books, and was happy to supply pennies from his change to get me started.  At first, it was great fun, as almost every penny found a place within the pop-in frames...but later, as the books filled up, it was harder and hard to find a new penny.  Some were rare, and some were low circulation.

Eventually, I put it aside, in favor of other interests and collections, like most boys.  But first I totaled up all the pennies in my three books.... $1.67!  WOW!  I was rich.

Along with these books, someone also picked up a white type-writer sized sheet of paper, tri-fold pamphlet that was an overview of coin collecting.  It sat, folded nicely and waiting for me, inside one of the Whitman penny books, for years and year.

Eventually, I read it, and was surprised by an entry under the Jefferson Nickle.  It had been designed by Felix Oscar Schlag (December 4, 1891 – March 9, 1974)  who had lived in Owosso, Michigan...my home town.  In fact, he lived in the house behind my parents home!

On April 21, 1938, Schlag's design for the Jefferson nickel was selected by Nellie Tayloe Ross, Director of the United States Mint. Schlag won $1,000 for his winning design of the coin; he had been an award-winning artist in Europe. Sadly, his prize money was spent on his wife's funeral. In the 1930s, Felix won several sculptural commissions and art prizes.

Schlag accepted the offer of the American government to place his initials, FS, on the nickel beginning in 1966.

The designer relocated to Owosso, Michigan, where he died and is buried. He and his wife Anna, whom he married in 1920, had three children: Feliza (1920), Leo (1921), and Hilda (1929). A memorial was placed by the Michigan State Numismatic Society on September 14, 2008.

With the help of another coin researcher, I've found photos of him, of the memorial to him, and additional information about this famous son of my home town. 

Last night I shared this connection with another coin collector, who dug up confirming information that the man was living in Owosso during the years I lived there.

So, from a small slip of paper in my old childhood coin collecting book, I found a connection to my past.  Take that, Ancestory.com !!!

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