A Brief Overview of Presidential Coins

The United States’ coins have gone through many changes since the founding of the nation. Many of these coins now feature depictions of the presidents of the United States of America and are an important part of many coin collectors’ portfolios. Here is a quick overview of all the official government-issued coins that feature presidents.

Which Presidents’ Likenesses Have Made It Onto Coins?

Aside from the Eisenhower dollar coin, each coin that features a president’s image is still in use today. Here are some quick histories of each presidential coin, ordered by presidential years:

George Washington – Quarter, 1932-present [1]

The George Washington Quarter replaced the Standing Liberty Quarter in 1932 to commemorate the president’s 200th birthday.

The Washington Quarter’s reverse depicted the American eagle from 1932 to 1998. From 1999 to 2008, the reverse commemorated the 50 United States. In 2009, the quarter featured U.S. territories and Washington D.C. Starting in 2010, the quarter’s reverse shows an image from the ‘America the Beautiful’ quarter series, which commemorates important landmarks from each state and U.S. territory. This series will last until 2021.

Thomas Jefferson – Nickel, 1938-present [2]

The Jefferson nickel replaced the Buffalo nickel in 1938.

The reverse side of the Jefferson nickel shows Jefferson’s Virginian home, Monticello. In 2004, the reverse featured depictions commemorating the Lewis and Clark Expedition as part of the Westward Journey Nickel Series.

Abraham Lincoln – Penny, 1909-present [3]

The penny has had Lincoln’s face on it for over 100 years. His likeness was first placed on the penny to commemorate his 100th birthday. The Lincoln penny was the first-ever United States coin to feature a president’s likeness. Many people criticized the design ” which replaced the Indian Head penny ” as it reminded people of the European monarchs who had their likenesses emblazoned on coins.

The first Lincoln penny had the initials V.D.B. on the reverse side. Around 28 million of these were made before the designer’s initials were shortened to only the B. after public outcry over the artist (Victor David Brenner) receiving such prominent recognition on a coin [4]. The Mint moved the B. from the reverse to the obverse in 1919 and made it so small that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to see it without magnification or if the coin has been in circulation for long.

The reverse’s depictions have changed multiple times throughout the years:

  • 1909-1958: Two stalks of wheat
  • 1959-2008: The Lincoln Memorial
  • 2009:The Lincoln Bicentennial One Cent Program produced four reverse depictions for this year’s mintage:
    • ‘Birth and Early Childhood in Kentucky,’ which depicts the log cabin Lincoln grew up in
    • ‘Formative Years in Indiana,’ which depicts Lincoln sitting on a log, reading a book
    • ‘Professional Life in Illinois,’ which depicts Lincoln standing outside the statehouse in Illinois
    • ‘Presidency in Washington,’ which depicts the White House
  • 2010-current: The Union Shield

Franklin D. Roosevelt – Dime, 1946-present [5]

The 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was put on the dime in 1946 to celebrate his support for the March of Dimes program. This program raised funds for finding the cure for polio, which Roosevelt contracted at age 39. The first Roosevelt dime was minted the year after his death.

The reverse of the Roosevelt dime features an olive branch, Liberty’s burning torch, and an oak branch. The olive branch represents peace, and the oak branch represents strength. The reverse design has not been changed since 1946. The obverse side of the coin has not been redesigned either, except for an enhancement to Roosevelt’s hair in the early 2000s.

Dwight D. Eisenhower – One-dollar coin, 1971-1978

The Eisenhower dollar, or ‘Ike’ dollar, is by far the largest of these coins. This dollar coin was struck for both circulation and collectors. The Eisenhower dollar is 40% silver and was meant to reduce the need for paper dollars. The Mint decided to replace the Eisenhower dollar with the smaller 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar.

This dollar coin’s reverse normally features an eagle on the moon with Earth in the background. This design is based on the Apollo 11 mission insignia. To celebrate the bicentennial of the founding of the United States, 1975’s Eisenhower dollars have reverse depictions of the Liberty Bell on the moon and the years 1776-1976 on the front. This means that there are no Eisenhower dollars with a 1975 date.

John F. Kennedy – Half dollar, 1964-present [6]

The Kennedy half dollar was minted to celebrate the life of John F. Kennedy the year after the president’s assassination. These coins are not in circulation. They are offered primarily in coin sets for collectors. Until 1971, the half dollar was made with 80% silver, so many of the early versions of this coin were melted down. In 1992, special 90% silver proof sets of the half dollar, and the other circulating coins were released. In 2014, there was a nearly 100% gold version of the Kennedy half dollar released.

The reverse of the Kennedy half dollar features the Presidential Seal: an eagle with a shield, holding arrows and an olive branch. In 1975-1976, the reverse was changed to depict Independence Hall in Philadelphia to celebrate the country’s bicentennial.

The Presidential Dollars

The Presidential $1 Coin Program ran from 2007 to 2016. This program featured every president who had been deceased for at least two years. All the first 38 presidents and the 40th President, Ronald Reagan, have been featured on the dollar coin. George H. W. Bush was slated to have his likeness on the dollar coin some time in 2020.

From 2007-2011, each coin ran for a mintage anywhere from 340,360,000 (Washington) to 72,660,000 (Andrew Johnson). Starting in 2012, the mintage for each coin was significantly cut down to ranges between 14,600,001 (Cleveland) to 7,980,000 (Wilson). Rather than produce the dollar coins for circulation, the United States Mint began to make them and sell them to collectors.

Whether you’re collecting these presidential coins to complete your collection or you want to start investing in rare coins, these coins represent an important aspect of United States history that makes them worthy of pursuing. From the penny to the Eisenhower dollar, these American coins are worth more than their face value with their histories in mind.


Article sources:

1. United States Mint. ‘Quarter,’ https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/quarter. Accessed Sept. 9, 2020.

2. United States Mint. ‘Nickel,’ https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/nickel. Accessed Sept. 9, 2020.

3. United States Mint. ‘Penny,’ https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/penny. Accessed Sept. 9, 2020.

4. Professional Coin Grading Services. ‘The Controversial 1909 V.D.B. Lincoln Cent,’https://www.pcgs.com/news/the-controversial-1909-vdb-lincoln-cent.. Accessed Sept. 15, 2020.

5. United States Mint. ‘Dime,’ https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/dime. Accessed Sept. 9, 2020.

6. United States Mint. ‘Half Dollar,’ https://www.usmint.gov/coins/coin-medal-programs/circulating-coins/half-dollar. Accessed Sept. 9, 2020.