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Martha or George? Comparing First Spouse and Presidential Dollar Coins


By Ron …..
The First Spouse Bullion Coin Program consists of several different numismatic products offered by the U.S. Mint. The series runs concurrently with the Presidential $1 Coin Program and honors the spouses of our presidents. Over the course of each year since 2007, the Mint issues half-ounce gold coins that feature the likenesses of the spouses of the presidents honored that year.

It’s interesting to compare the two programs. Presidential dollars are primarily copper, with a manganese brass outer coating. First Spouse bullion coins consist of one half ounce of .9999 fine gold. They also have a face value of $10, as opposed to the “presidential” $1.
marthageorgeThrough 2011, Presidential dollar coins were made for circulation. As the name of the program attests, First Spouse bullion coins have always been special, non-circulating products of the Mint.

Up to four presidents are honored on dollar coins every year. The law says that only former presidents who have been dead for at least two years by the time the series catches up to their term of office are eligible to be on a coin. The rules are slightly different for First Spouses. Their eligibility is tied to their spouses’, so while most of the First Spouses honored are deceased, it isn’t a requirement.

There have also been more than four First Spouse coins released in a year, since some presidents have had more than one spouse while in office. Lookin’ at you, John Tyler.

And some presidents had none, which adds another appealing wrinkle to the program.

In order to keep the two programs on the same release schedule (I’m assuming), the law stipulates that whenever a president was unmarried during his term, his corresponding “First Spouse” coin should feature a representation of Liberty on the obverse, and that Liberty’s design should be based on her appearance on contemporaneous circulating coinage.

So for example, the obverse of Thomas Jefferson’s First Spouse coin features a Flowing Hair Liberty. Andrew Jackson’s respective First Spouse coin features the Capped Bust design. Martin Van Buren’s features Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty.

Chester Alan Arthur’s First Spouse coin also portrays a representation of Liberty.

first_spouse_2But wait, you say. Doesn’t Arthur’s First Spouse coin feature 19th century suffragette Alice Paul? Yes it does! Intriguingly, not only does the law mandate that she appear on the coin, but it also declares that her portrayal is itself a representation of Liberty.

Speaking of Liberty, Presidential dollar coins feature the Statue of Liberty on the common reverse. Each First Spouse coin’s reverse design is “emblematic of the spouse of each president”.

The two programs also have similar inscriptions, but the First Spouse coins include the weight (1/2 OZ.) and purity (.9999 FINE GOLD) of the bullion. And even though it’s one of the Presidential dollar’s most famous (some might say infamous) design features, First Spouse coins lack edge-lettering.

But enough of that. There’s one more aspect of the First Spouse program that demands attention.

The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005–which legislated not only the Presidential golden dollar coin but also the First Spouse program–also authorized the production of First Spouse bronze medals. These medals are reproductions of the coins, and, being medals, are not legal tender. The medals are slightly larger and lack most of the legally-mandated inscriptions (such as IN GOD WE TRUST, E PLURIBUS UNUM, and weight and face value information) that are found on federal coinage. Together, these traits present a better canvas for the artwork.

First Spouse medals are available individually, in four-medal year sets, and together with their corresponding Presidential $1 coins in attractive packaging.

So I ask you: who is better honored? The presidents, or their spouses?


PS – The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 never once says “First Lady”, or uses the word “wife”. The name of the “First Spouse” program is intentionally gender neutral.

Thus, the Presidential $1 Coin and First Spouse Bullion Coin programs manage to look ahead to the future of American politics while celebrating its past in the most comprehensive way to date.

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