Washington's dollar coin, the first to be released Photo Credit: U.S. Mint
Side view of the presidential dollar coins, with lettering on the edge Photo Credit: U.S. Mint
Starting February 2007, the U.S. Mint will be introducing a new dollar coin four times a year, one for each president of the United States.
The U.S. Mint has been trying for years to get the public to embrace dollar coins. In 1979, it introduced the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was criticized for being too easily confused with a quarter. The coin never caught on with the general public. In 2000, it introduced the Sacajawea dollar. This was colored gold and hard to confuse with any other coin, and it was introduced with a large marketing campaign. Nevertheless, it is only rarely used for day-to-day transactions; Americans have overwhelmingly preferred dollar bills.
This time, the dollar coin might actually get some takers. Building on the success of the State Quarter program, the Mint is hoping that this new series will catch the interest of collectors and the public at large. They have reason to hope so: dollar coins are much more cost-effective than bills.
The first presidential dollar coin, released February 15, 2007, features George Washington on the front. Adams, Jefferson, and Madison will follow in the course of the year. Each coin has an engraving of the Statue of Liberty on the back. The plan is to go through each president in the order in which they served, until reaching those who are still living. (A president will need to have been dead for two years before being eligible to appear on a dollar coin; as matters currently stand, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan would end the list in 2016.)
In general, U.S. coins bear the year in which they are minted, a mintmark, "E Pluribus Unum," and "In God We Trust" on either the front or back. These coins are the first in U.S. history to have them engraved on the edge of the coin. This is partly to make the coins more interesting to collectors, and partly to make room for information about each president; the front of each coin will include its president's name, number, and years in office.
Normally, the word "Liberty" also appears on every U.S. coin. In this case, Congress decided that putting the Statue of Liberty on the back fulfilled this function without having to spell it out.
The presidential dollar coins will not completely replace the Sacajawea dollars; by law, the latter will continue to make up at least a third of all new dollar coins minted.
In addition to the $1 presidential coins, a companion set of $10 gold coins featuring the First Ladies is also being issued, following the same schedule.