Presidential Dollar History
The Presidential Dollar Coin Program is part of an Act of Congress, Pub.L. 109–145, 119 Stat. 2664, enacted December 22, 2005, which directs the United States Mint to produce $1 coins with engravings of relief portraits of U.S. presidents on the obverse.
From 2007 to 2011, presidential dollar coins were minted for circulation in large numbers, resulting in a large stockpile of unused $1 coins. Since 2012, new presidential coins have been minted only for collectors.
The program began on January 1, 2007, and is similar to the 50 State Quarters program in that it will not end until every eligible subject is honored. The program is to issue coins featuring each of four presidents per year on the obverse, issuing one for three months before moving on to the next president in chronological order by term in office. The U.S. Mint calls it the Presidential $1 Coin Program.
The reverse of the coins bears the Statue of Liberty, the inscription “$1” and the inscription “United States of America”. Inscribed along the edge of the coin is the year of minting or issuance of the coin, the mint mark, 13 stars, and also the legends E Pluribus Unum. The edge-lettering looks like this: ★★★★★★★★★★ 2009 D ★★★ E PLURIBUS UNUM; before 2009, In God We Trust was a part of the edge lettering. The legend “Liberty” is absent from the coin altogether, since the decision was made that the image of the Statue of Liberty on the reverse of the coin was sufficient to convey the message of liberty. The text of the act does not specify the color of the coins, but per the U.S. Mint “the specifications will be identical to those used for the current Golden dollar”. The George Washington $1 coin was first available to the public on February 15, 2007, in honor of Presidents’ Day, which was observed on February 19.
This marks the first time since the St. Gaudens Double Eagle (1907–33) that the United States has issued a coin with edge lettering for circulation. Edge-lettered coins date back to the 1790s. The process was started to discourage the shaving of gold coin edges, a practice which was used to cheat payees. In December 2007, Congress passed H.R. 2764, moving “In God We Trust” to either the obverse or reverse of the coins. This is the same bill that created a program that will include quarters for Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
The act had been introduced because of the failure of the Sacagawea $1 coin to gain widespread circulation in the United States. The act sympathized with the need of the nation’s private sector for a $1 coin, and expected that the appeal of changing the design would increase the public demand for new coins (as the public generally responded well to the State Quarter program). The program is also intended to help educate the public about the nation’s presidents and their history. Should the coins not catch on with the general public, the Mint is hoping that collectors will be as interested in the dollars as they were with the State Quarters, which generated about $4.6 billion in seigniorage (i.e. the difference between the face value of the coins and the cost to produce them) between January 1999 and April 2005, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office.
Stack showing writing on edge
Unlike the State Quarter program and the Westward Journey nickel series, which suspended the issuance of the current design during those programs, the act directed the Mint to continue to issue Sacagawea dollar coins during the presidential series. The law states that at least one in three issued dollars must be a Sacagawea dollar. Furthermore, the Sacagawea design is required to continue after the Presidential Dollar Coin program ends. These requirements were added at the behest of the North Dakota congressional delegation to ensure that Sacagawea, whom North Dakotans consider to be one of their own, ultimately remains on the dollar coin.
However, Federal Reserve officials indicated to Congress that “if the Presidential Dollar Coin Program does not stimulate substantial transactional demand for dollar coins, the requirement that the Mint nonetheless produce Sacagawea dollars would result in costs to the taxpayer without any offsetting benefits.” In that event, the Federal Reserve indicated that it would “strongly recommend that Congress reassess the one-third requirement.” The one-third requirement was later changed to one-fifth by the Native American $1 Coin Act, passed on September 20, 2007, and Sacagawea dollars were only 0.8% of the total dollar coins produced through November 2007.
Previous versions of the act called for removing from circulation dollar coins issued before the Sacagawea dollar, most notably the Susan B. Anthony dollar, but the version of the act which became law merely directs the Secretary of the Treasury to study the matter and report back to Congress. The act does require federal government agencies (including the United States Postal Service), businesses operating on federal property, and federally funded transit systems to accept and dispense dollar coins by January 2008, and to post signs indicating that they do so.
The program’s end
The act specifies that for a president to be honored, the former president must have been deceased for at least two years before issue. It will take about ten years to honor all currently eligible presidents. The series is therefore scheduled to end in 2016 after honoring Ronald Reagan, unless Jimmy Carter, or one of Reagan’s other still-living successors, dies by 2014. Once the program has terminated, producing coins for those presidents not yet honored would require another Act of Congress.
On March 8, 2007, the United States Mint announced, on February 15, 2007, that an unknown number of George Washington Presidential Dollar Coins were released into circulation without their edge inscriptions (the U.S. mottoes, “In God we trust” and “E pluribus unum”, the coin’s mint mark, and its year of issuance; i.e. E PLURIBUS UNUM • IN GOD WE TRUST • 2007 X (where X is either P or D)). Ron Guth, of the Professional Coin Grading Service, estimates that at least 50,000 coins were released without the edge inscriptions. The first such coin discovered was sold on eBay for $600, while later coins were selling for $40–$60, as of late March 2007. Because one of the inscriptions missing from the coins is the motto “In God we trust”, some articles on the subject have referred to them as “Godless dollars”. Fake “Godless dollars” have been produced with the edge lettering filed off.
Also, John Adams Presidential Dollars have been discovered with plain edges. They are fewer in quantity than George Washington plain-edge dollars, making them rarer, thus more expensive. A more frequently encountered edge lettering error for the John Adams dollar is a coin with doubled edge lettering. This error occurs when a coin passes through the edge lettering machine twice. Most examples of the doubled-edge-letter John Adams dollar are from the Philadelphia Mint (Denver Mint issues are comparatively scarce). They are seen in two varieties: 1) with both edge lettering inscriptions reading in the same direction, called “overlapped”, and 2) with the two inscriptions running in opposite directions—i.e., inverted or upside-down relative to one another—called “inverted”.
In early March 2007, a Colorado couple found a dollar coin that was not stamped on either side, missing the portrait of George Washington and the Statue of Liberty.
Some of the coins have the words on the rim struck upside down (president face up). These are not minting errors, but rather a variation created by the minting process. Such upside-down coins have been sold on auction websites for greater than their face value, even though they represent roughly 50% of the minted population.
Stockpile and suspension of production
A graph showing mintages of issues minted from 2007 to 2011.
By 2011, 1.4 billion uncirculated $1 coins were stockpiled, which, if stacked flat, could reach from Los Angeles to Chicago. By 2016 this number might have reached two billion.
Rep. Jackie Speier of California circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter recommending that the U.S. not produce any dollar coins. She was planning to introduce legislation calling for the immediate halting of all dollar coin programs.
The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has stated that discontinuing the dollar bill in favor of the dollar coin would save the U.S. government approximately $5.5 billion over thirty years.
On December 13, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced that the minting of Presidential $1 Coins for circulation would be suspended. Future entries in the program, beginning with that of Chester A. Arthur, would be issued in reduced quantities, only for collectors.