Facing Facts with Presidential $1 Coins, Their Design & Their Future

by CoinNews.net on August 27, 2007 · 5 comments

The Presidential $1 Coins have had mixed success. Where are they really going?Curiosity and enthusiasm gets jolted into overdrive when an always changing coin series comes out. You don’t need to look further than the 50 State Quarters® Program. It helped create a booming-hot collector market that’s still going strong. Better, the new quarters soundly made it as "replacements" to older circulating quarters.

The quarters program started in 1999 and ends in 2008. Will the new Presidential $1 Coin series, scheduled to last through 2016 pick up the slack? Will it continue the coin collecting momentum? And, more importantly, will the dollar coin REALLY get used in daily circulation?

Or will the new coin suffer near extinction and virtual boredom like previous $1 coin runs?

Questions… questions… and more questions… Let’s look at some answers!

Presidential Dollars are Hitting It Off with Coin Collectors

As you expect, coin collectors are certainly showing interest. The U.S. Mint reported nearly 940,000 of the four-coin presidential proof sets had been sold in its first two months.

In its very first month the 14-coin clad proof set, which also contains the first four presidential dollars, sold over 700,000 sets.

That’s nearly 2 million proofs that collectors have jumped on during the introduction phase of the collector’s programs. Not bad! Not bad at all…

But before leaping for joy, let’s be fair. Excitement and interest is at the highest during the introduction of a new coin series. It’s just too soon to know how the new series will perform with collectors.

Yet, IT IS fair to say they’re making a sound introductory performance. And these coins, like them or not, ARE unique. The potential is there…

Will the Presidential $1 Coins Be Successful with the Non-Collecting Public?

In looking at the 2007 January-July circulating coin production numbers from the United States Mint, total figures show the following:

2007 U.S. Mint Circulating Coin Production Numbers (January-July)

  1 ¢  5 ¢  10 ¢  25 ¢  50 ¢  1 $ – GD  $1 Coin Total: 
 Denver Mint  2605.60 M   463.44 M   790.50 M   830.84 M    2.40 M    3.92 M   384.79 M   5081.49 M 
 Philadelphia Mint  2758.40 M   416.16 M   702.00 M   842.00 M    2.40 M    3.64 M   390.74 M   5115.34 M 
 Total:   5364.00 M   879.60 M   1492.50 M   1672.84 M    4.80 M    7.56 M   775.53 M   10196.83 M 

Impressive… That’s almost 800 million more $1 coins made for circulation compared to last year or the year before! (For prior years, we’re talking about the GD or Sacagawea Golden Dollar coins.) So, where are they all!?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 303 million people in the United States. That means there are about 2.5 new Presidential $1 coins made this year – SO FAR – for every one person in the U.S.!

Okay, it’s true that the Thomas Jefferson Presidential $1 coins have just been made available for circulation. But even if you were to take those out of the equation, you’re still talking several hundred million presidential dollars released by the mint.

Yet, it’s a rarity to actually get one of these new coins without asking for them at a bank or other federal institution. You just don’t see them around in every day use.

Are collectors hoarding the coins? Well, for sure they’re grabbing some of the rolls up and storing them. But let’s be pointed… The vast majority of the coins are still sitting in vaults; locked away.

Likely, some of those vaults may be busting at the seams shortly. Just around the corner is the launch of new Madison $1 coins. The U.S. Mint will likely produce over 200 million of those as well!

It’s clear, at least up until now, that public acceptance and use of the new $1 coins is facing the same obstacles and fate as the Sacagawea and the Susan B. Anthony dollars. The dollar, as a coin, just isn’t cutting it.

What’s the bottom line? We all know it… A dollar coin will never be used in circulation to any large degree until the paper dollar goes away. It doesn’t matter how attractive, how special or how much education or marketing is used to promote the presidential $1 coins – they just can’t compete with the dollar bill’s light weight and ease of use.

$1 Presidential Coin’s Design – Its History and Reason for Existence

Let’s step back and review how the $1 coin came to be what it is.

A stated intent for the design of the new $1 coins was to "revitalize" US coins. But not for the sake of coins in themselves. The Government Accountability Office conducted a national survey. They hoped to uncover reasons for the lack of success of previous $1 coins, like the Sacagawea and Anthony, and provide useful information to make new dollar coins a success in daily circulation.

The survey results indicated:

"…many Americans who
do not seek, or who reject, the new $1 coin for use in commerce would actively seek the coin if an attractive, educational rotating design were to be struck on the coin."

Therego, a supposed solution. Make the new coins beautiful! Okay, you have to wonder… Has there ever been a coin designed with the intent of making it ugly?

Obviously, a big thrust for the new dollar coins is to try and replicate the success of the 50 States Commemorative Coin series. And hope the new presidential coins would catch-on in circulation!

But unlike the quarter, there’s a competitor to it. The dollar coin has to compete with the dollar bill. The very reason previous dollar coins have failed hasn’t been addressed!

A close up look of Edge-Incused Inscriptions on the Presidential $1 Coins. Edge Letterings, aka Edge-Incused Inscriptions on the $1 Coins

In the coin beautification aspect, larger and more dramatic artwork was sighted for each dollar. To achieve this, the idea of edge-incused inscriptions came into being.

In short, the thought was to remove some of the descriptive information normally on the obverse (heads) and reverse (tails) of the new $1 coins and instead place them on each coin’s edge. Or, as coin collectors like to say, on the coin’s 3rd side.

Modernization was also sighted for edge inscriptions. As stated in the Presidential $1 Coin Act:

"Placing inscriptions on the edge of coins, known as edge-incusing, is a hallmark of modern coinage and is common in large-volume production of coinage elsewhere in the world, such as the 2,700,000,000 2-Euro coins in circulation, but it has not been done on a large scale in United States coinage in recent years."

In recent years is true! The last time the U.S. Mint used edge lettering for circulating coins was with the Saint-Gaudens eagles and double eagles back in 1933. There was some aggressive thinking for change in this area. With something so new, the potential for problems and errors can only increase. And they did! (We’ll talk about that later.)

On the edge of the new 2007 presidential dollar coins you’ll see:

  • In God We Trust
  • E Pluribus Unum (latin expression meaning, "Out of many, one")
  • Issue year, indicating the year the coin was made
  • Mint mark, indicating what mint made the coin

These changes freed up space to enhance the artwork size for the front and back of each coin. And there’s somewhat of a "cool factor" in seeing letters on a coin’s edge. Yet, it’s arguable for many on whether the artwork and the edge-incused inscriptions actually resulted in positive coin improvements.

The Dollar Coin’s Reverse Design An example of a typical Presidential $1 Coin Reverse

To further increase the available space, the traditional "LIBERTY" inscription was completely removed. Was that smart? Well the inscription dates back to the nation’s birth. You’re losing some tradition and history in its removal. Plus, it’s not like it takes much room. Just look to the front of a Lincoln penny as an example.

The justification was that the image of the Statue of Liberty, which is on the $1 coin’s reverse, is so very prominent that "LIBERTY" didn’t need to be spelled out. Again, quoted directly from the law:

"…because the use of a design bearing the likeness of the Statue of Liberty on the reverse of the coins issued under this subsection adequately conveys the concept of Liberty, the inscription of ‘Liberty’ shall not appear on the coins."

The reverse of the coin must also bear inscriptions of:

  • United States of America
  • $1

An example of a typical Presidential $1 Coin ObverseThe Dollar Coin’s Obverse Design

So what’s left? The $1 coins obverse or its "heads" side. Obviously, the largest is the portrait of the president being honored. But also required:

  • The president’s name
  • The order the president served
  • Their year(s) of service

Summing Up the Design. Is the $1 Coin a Success?

With the edge letterings and missing "Liberty" theoretically able to provide larger and better images, do the Presidential $1 Coins achieve a revitalized, attractive appearance? Well, beauty is in eye of the beholder. Some really like the new look. While others will argue the theme design is hardly better than a game token.

Worse, some believe parts of the design, namely the edge-incused inscriptions, are an outright failure. More on that later…

Yet, once again, an attractive coin may spur collectors and add some fun. Perhaps the average citizen may hoard more of the coins because they look great, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get used or carried around for change! In this day and age, many people will actually PAY MONEY to get rid of their loose change!

The battle is more uphill for ANY coin dollar to succeed. (Let’s not even talk about credit card and other electronic transactions that are making coins and even currency less important in daily lives…)

Edge Lettering (or Edge-Incused Inscriptions) Result in Presidential $1 Coin Errors & Controversy

On top of everything, using edge lettering to increase the surface area to get larger, more attractive images on the faces of the presidential coins hasn’t completely worked out. The technology was new and the U.S. Mint didn’t have the system fully automated. So what’s the big deal in these? Very public coin errors were made with both the Washington and Adams Presidential $1 Coins!

There has actually been several different types of errors discovered. The standout, by far, has been circulated coins without ANY edge letters! A happy situation for many coin collectors who love and can profit from such mistakes. However, not so happy for others. The error helped focus extra attention of the what many believe is a failed coin design. Why?

Simply put, the edge letterings are more subdued than many expected. It’s not just with the circulating versions but the collecting version too! The new presidential proof sets, made just for collectors, have special protective coin holders enabling you to see through to the edges of each presidential coin. Yet, the first impression many get when looking at the new proofs is a thought that a mistake was made. It’s hard to see the edge letters!

To make matters worse, historical and religious implications arise. In particular, many are upset that not only is "In God We Trust" not prominent on the obverse or reverse of the new coins, but that you can barely see them on its edge!

This fact has hit Congress. A proposed law is being considered that’ll return the words ‘In God We Trust" to better prominence.

For sure, there can be little debate that the lettering on the presidential $1 coins is hard to see and read. Given the size of the coins and thickness of their edges, it’s not rocket science to figure out why. However, it is questionable why the decision-makers didn’t foresee the resulting consequences of the design.

As this video shows, some wish "In God We Trust" was removed completely from all coins, like the Presidential Dollars.If edge lettering is new-age-cool and a "must have", why didn’t they reflect better on what could have been placed on the edges that would have had less negative impact potential?

For example, instead of placing "In God We Trust" on each coin’s edge, why didn’t they place the president’s years of service and their order of service there?

It’s not like many American are going to remember those dates and numbers anyway on a limited release coin. As a matter of fact, according to a United States Mint press release on August 15th, a survey they commissioned showed that 65% of Americans couldn’t remember that Thomas Jefferson was on the nickel. Jefferson’s been on the nickel since 1938!

Of course, there are those who’d like nearly the exact opposite – remove "In God We Trust" completely from the new dollar coins.

In the end, if changes are made, there will never be full satisfaction. You’d be hard pressed to get just two people in a room and have them agree on much of anything! But so far, edge letterings on the presidential coins hasn’t been a hit out of the park. Far from it, in fact. And most can agree to that.

What’s the future of the Presidential Dollar Coins?

The Presidential $1 Coins will likely continue to have popularity with collectors. As the series matures in years, their desirability will most likely decrease. That’s typical when something is no longer "new". The U.S. Mints last annual report says as much.

If Congress passes a new amendment to mandate changes in the current design, that’ll help boost the numismatic value of the $1 coins already released. It’ll also pump up the popularity of the initial coins released with the even newer design.

Given the edge letters don’t stand out like they did when first thought about on paper and proposed, it’s fair to expect at least some changes down the road. Particularly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see "In God We Trust" moved from the coin’s edge and get placed to its obverse or reverse.

In terms of the success of the $1 coins being used daily in circulation, they’re likely to continue with a failing grade. That is, unless significant adjustments are made to compel their use. The removal of the $1 bill from circulation would do this but the writing on the wall just isn’t there for that any time soon.

So what’s left? Well, at least for now, many more presidential coins!

The Presidential Coins Release Schedule

By law – or more specifically – by The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-145), the new dollars will be here for a long time, honoring Presidents of the United States.

The mint will produce them in the order the presidents served and at a rate of four a year. A sound criteria in the law states the presidents must be deceased for at least two years.

Right now, that will take us through to the year 2016. Here’s a chart of the order for each presidential coin and when they come out:

Schedule and Order for each Presidential Coin Release

2007 1
George Washington
1789-1797 2008 5
James Monroe
John Adams
1797-1801 6
John Quincy Adams
Thomas Jefferson
1801-1809 7
Andrew Jackson
James Madison
1809-1817 8
Martin Van Buren
2009 9
William Henry Harrison
1841 2010 13
Millard Fillmore
John Tyler
1841-1845 14
Franklin Pierce
James K. Polk
1845-1849 15
James Buchanan
Zachary Taylor
1849-1850 16
Abraham Lincoln
2011 17
Andrew Johnson
1865-1869 2012 21
Chester A. Arthur
Ulysses S. Grant
1869-1877 22
Grover Cleveland
Rutherford B. Hayes
1877-1881 23
Benjamin Harrison
James A. Garfield
1881 24
Grover Cleveland
2013 25
William McKinley
1897-1901 2014 29
Warren Harding
Theodore Roosevelt
1901-1909 30
Calvin Coolidge
William Howard Taft
1909-1913 31
Herbert Hoover
Woodrow Wilson
1913-1921 32
Franklin D. Roosevelt
2015 33
Harry S. Truman
1945-1953 2016 37
Richard M. Nixon
Dwight D. Eisenhower
1953-1961 38
Gerald Ford
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson

The Final Legacy of the Presidential $1 Coins

Until more time passes, it’s simply impossible to tell how the new coins will fair in daily acceptance and use. For collectors, with so many new coins to come and with a time limit on their production and release, there’s bound to be a few exciting windfalls.

Minimally, just like the 50 State Quarters Program, you can expect some education benefits to peculate upward.

If you truly pay attention to each coin’s releases, the education information that’s pushed out during that time and then get the coins to help "stamp" your memory with those historical events, you’re going to learn.

That’s not a bad thing for sure. Of course, knowing more about past presidents isn’t going to bring about world peace either!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mr. M August 28, 2007 at 10:02 pm

Well, it’s obvious very few people are actually using them. I for one enjoy using them and use them whenever I can. I hope they leave the edge lettering on. I don’t see any reason to remove it on the design at this point. I think if the government really wants to promote these they should teach the vending machine industry the benefits of accepting and using the coins. Also, explore new possibilities for these coins. Just think of how many things take a dollar in a machine. An arcade game. A pool table in a bar or pool hall. These places all use change machines and I know the tables charge a dollar to play one game. Wouldn’t it be less of a hassle if vendors didn’t have to replenish the coin machines as often? Think of it, 1 dollar coin instead of 4 quarters per $1 bill. With $3 + gas in many locations I know some smaller operations were passing gasoline costs off to customers. Now changing a coin operated pool table might not be as easy as it sounds, but the government should start with the vendors. HEY CONGRESS AND US MINT ARE YOU LISTENING???? Just hoping people like me will use these in everyday life is apparently not working. A direct marketing campaign to vendors and users will need to happen. People might be more willing to give up their dollar bill and cough up the idea of a dollar coin if they had the $2 bill for a low denominational bill.

Arthur E. Holmes June 29, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Why has “IN GOD WE TRUST” not been inscribed on the edge of the Harrison and Tyler Presidential Coins? WIll this be a “policy” decision or has Congress “authorized the action?

Mr. M June 30, 2009 at 10:02 am


Many people were upset that the motto “In God We Trust” was inscribed on the side of the coin where it wasn’t apparent and wasn’t obvious to many. So congress did authorize the change and starting with the 2009 coins the aforementioned motto is on the front of the coin.

Munze March 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm

OUCH! Who let the copy editor nap through this article????

> “THEREGO, a proposed solution” … should be ERGO or THEREFORE.

> “Modernization was also SIGHTED for” … should be CITED.

> “There HAS actually been several different types of errors” … should be HAVE.

> “And hope the … coins would CATCH-ON” … should be CATCH ON.

> “A sound CRITERIA in the law” … should be CRITERION.

And that’s what I found in just one quick pass through the article!

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