The Who2 Blog

Here Come the Dollar Presidents

The U.S. Mint has released designs for the first four presidential dollar coins.Hot dog! The U.S. Mint announced today the official release of the new gold-colored U.S. President Dollar Coins. The first four presidents to get the dollar coin treatment are that grand old quartet of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison — otherwise known as the first four presidents of the United States.

You may recall that the American dollar coin has had a rocky recent history. The Susan B. Anthony silver dollar came out in 1979 and was a resounding (if fascinating) flop. The coin was (allegedly) sized too much like a quarter and Americans were (allegedly) too lazy to discern the difference, even though they routinely sorted one, five, ten and twenty dollar bills of identical size. Old habits die hard.

The Sacagawea dollar came next, in 2000. It was a different color (gold) and a wee bit larger than the Anthony dollar. It also was designed by Harry Connick, Jr.’s mother-in-law. (There was even a hearty controversy over whether Sacagawea’s baby was facing the right direction.) But for all that, the coin still didn’t inspire a panic of acceptance among the spending public.

So now the Mint is “rolling out the big guns,” as the Los Angeles Times puts it: the Prezdets of the United States. The release plan for dollar coins is pretty close to the successful 50 State Quarters Program: four new dollar coins will be released each year between now and 2016.

The real excitement comes in the year 2012, when we get two Grover Cleveland coins because the old boy served two non-consecutive terms: from 1885-89 and from 1893-97. Then it’s on through the 20th century until the year 2016, in which the schedule ends with the Richard Nixon coin.

Federal law bars living presidents from appearing on money. It’s not clear whether the Mint ends with Nixon because they weren’t prepared for Gerald Ford‘s death last month, or because they don’t want to give Jimmy Carter the vulture treatment. He’ll turn 92 in 2016, after all. They could just list all the presidents on through Ronald Reagan and put a note next to Carter reading (assuming he’s dead by then), but that would be gauche, to say the least.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to notice that continuing through Reagan would give us a nice, even four coins for 2016 to round out the stack. Not that we wish President Carter, a great president, any ill. We’re just saying.

One mystery of the new dollar coins is why they were released on 15 February — which happens to be Susan B. Anthony’s birthday. (1820, if you’re wondering.) It seems hardly likely to be a coincidence, yet the Mint makes no mention of it in today’s big announcement. A subtle “drop dead” gesture to Ms. Anthony, perhaps, for not pulling her weight in the first place?

The other mystery of the new coins is why Adams, Madison and Jefferson were made to look roughly like Paul Giamatti, Harvey Keitel, and Ricardo Montalban in The Wrath of Khan, respectively. We’re all for realism, but give the poor old guys a break. They’ve got an uphill battle selling the dollar coin as it is.

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