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Many Ways to Collect U.S. Presidents
By Ginger Rapsus, Numismatic News
December 07, 2012

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Forty-three men have held the office of President of the United States. One served for a month and another was elected to four terms. One served two non-consecutive terms. Two were impeached and another one resigned. Ages of the Presidents ranged from age 42 to age 77. Some were more popular than others. Some are barely remembered. There have been two named Adams, two Johnsons, two Harrisons and two named George Bush.

Numismatists who appreciate American history and the role of the President can collect portraits of their favorites on coins, medals and tokens. A collector can start with the familiar coins found in circulation.

Presidential portraits were first used on circulating coinage in 1909, with the Lincoln cent. This was followed by George Washington in 1932, Thomas Jefferson in 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1946, John F. Kennedy in 1964 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1971. The Eisenhower dollar was only struck until 1978, but the other coins are still being minted today.

Pick your favorite President and collect.

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Building a complete set of Lincoln cents will keep a collector busy for many years, covering over 100 years. Maybe a Lincoln fan will want a few representative cents from the set instead of one of each date and mintmark. One cent with the wheat ear reverse, one wartime steel cent of 1943, one Lincoln Memorial cent (Lincoln appears on both sides) and one each of the four special cents of 2009, along with one of the brand new union Shield reverse cents. The portrait has changed over the years, too. Compare the cents of 1909 to those of 1916, 1968 and 1969 and the more recent issues.

A Lincoln fan can spend a lifetime pursuing a collection of Lincoln portraits. Besides the cent, Lincoln has appeared on a 1918 Illinois commemorative half dollar, the Illinois statehood quarter and a 2009 silver dollar. Don’t forget the Mount Rushmore coins of 1991 – the portrait is small, but it’s there.

A dedicated Lincoln collector can find a whole new collecting field in Civil War tokens. Lincoln appeared on a great number of these tokens when they were issued from 1862-1864.

Abraham Lincoln has been honored on dozens of different medals. Many attractive medals were produced in 1909 on the occasion of Lincoln’s 100th birthday. A famous Sanitary Fair medal was struck in 1865. Large and impressive, this medal has a die break, visible to the naked eye, on Lincoln’s head, which approximates the route of the assassin’s bullet.

As important as Lincoln has been to numismatics, George Washington has done pretty well. The most popular numismatic items in the 1860s were medallic portraits of George Washington. The Father of our Country has appeared on many Colonial issues, with an entire section of the Red Book devoted to these pieces. Some are handsome, such as the 1792 half dollar pattern, and some are unattractive, such as the “ugly head” piece of 1784.

Washington quarters have been around since 1932, making a large collection in itself. Washington can also be seen on many commemorative issues, classic and modern. The first modern commemorative was the Washington half dollar of 1982. The 1999 $5 gold, issued on the 200th anniversary of Washington’s death, was based on the original Laura Gardin Fraser design considered for the quarter.

The only classic commemorative silver dollar was the 1900 Lafayette dollar, depicting Washington and Lafayette on the obverse. Washington also appeared on the 1926 Sesquicentennial half dollar. And don’t forget the Mount Rushmore commems.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President, is seen on the nickel 5-cent coin in a few different portraits. An impressive bust of Jefferson with the inscription “architect of democracy,” is on the obverse of the 1993 commemorative silver dollar. A smaller portrait appears on the 1903 Louisiana Purchase gold dollar.

Perhaps the most desirable Jefferson item is the Indian Peace Medal. Issued as tokens of peace between the white man and Indian tribes, these medals are large and impressive, bearing designs not seen on other coins or medals. The famous Jefferson Peace medal depicts two clasping hands, a motif used in 2004 for the Lewis and Clark commemorative nickels. Other Indian Peace medals show a scalping, and still others show a baseball game being played. Most Presidents from Jefferson to Benjamin Harrison are shown on the obverses of Indian Peace medals.

Many Americans loved John F. Kennedy. His portrait appeared on the half dollar in early 1964, only a few months after his assassination. Kennedy half dollars were widely hoarded as souvenirs; half dollars have disappeared from circulation since then. Kennedy half dollars are still being minted, but only for the collector market since 2001.

Kennedy’s familiar portrait can be found on modern medals. One issued by the Franklin Mint in 1973 was designed by Gilroy Roberts and shows Kennedy on both sides of the medal. A lovely memorial medal was struck by Presidential Art Medals, depicting the eternal flame at Kennedy’s grave site on the reverse. Many other memorial medals were issued. A silver coin from the Kingdom of Sharjah on the Arabian Peninsula shows Kennedy on its obverse.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only President elected to four terms. His portrait appeared on the dime in 1946, the year after his death. Roosevelt dimes are still being struck, with no changes to the design in over 65 years. It’s a modern set with no true rarities, but can be a fun set to put together. FDR also appeared on a 1997 $5 gold commemorative.

Older Americans may remember Dwight Eisenhower as General Eisenhower. A plain portrait of Ike is seen on the dollar coin of 1971-1978, the first dollar coin issued since 1935. In 1990, a more attractive silver dollar was minted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. The obverse shows two portraits of Eisenhower: as a five-star general and as President; the reverse shows his home at Gettysburg, Pa.

Besides the familiar circulating coins, other coins have featured presidential portraits. Ulysses Grant’s portrait is seen on half dollars and gold dollars of 1922, with his birthplace home on the reverse. The same design was used on both the half dollar and gold dollar.

James Monroe and John Quincy Adams are shown on the 1923 Monroe Doctrine half dollar. James Madison appears on the 1993 Bill of Rights silver dollar and $5 gold coin in two different poses. A portrait is seen on the dollar, and a half-figure rendering on the gold coin, shows Madison studying the Bill of Rights.

William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901, is shown on two different gold dollars. One was minted in 1903 to honor the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The other, minted in 1916 and 1917, was issued to pay for a Memorial at McKinley’s birthplace in Ohio.

Calvin Coolidge is the only President to appear on a coin while alive and in office. The 1926 Sesquicentennial half dollar features his portrait on the obverse, next to a portrait of George Washington.

Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren are seen on certain Hard Times tokens struck in the 1830s. Some are satirical in nature.

The series of Presidential dollar coins, begun in 2007, honors each President, so eventually, every one will appear on a United States coin. with the stipulation that they will have to have been deceased for at least two years. From the popular Washington and Lincoln, to the not so popular Pierce and Hayes, President fans and historians can collect a portrait gallery of the men who have held the nation’s highest office. This collection can be a starting point for a numismatist interested in Presidents, or as an addition to a set honoring a favorite President.

First Spouse $10 gold coins are also being minted. A dedicated collector can spot a President on the reverse of some of these coins, such as the Ulysses Grant, John Tyler and Andrew Jackson coins.

Each President from William McKinley to Barack Obama has had an official Inaugural medal. These large silver and bronze medals are impressive and feature the work of prominent sculptors.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens executed the famous 1905 Theodore Roosevelt medal, featuring an eagle on the reverse that resembles the proud bird used on his $10 gold coin. Gilroy Roberts, who designed the Kennedy half dollar, also designed and engraved the Inaugural medals for Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon’s second term. Mintage figures range from 60 or so for the Warren G. Harding 1921 medal, to over 78,500 for the 1969 Richard Nixon medal.

Ralph J. Menconi was the designer/engraver for the 1969 Nixon medal. Menconi became famous for his work on Presidential Art Medals, a favorite in the 1970s when modern medal collecting was popular. The Franklin Mint also enjoyed popularity in the 1970s and issued many medals featuring Presidents, including sets of silver and bronze medals and silver mini-medals.

A few Presidential medals are available from the United States Mint, including medals depicting Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln.

Serious collectors of Presidential memorabilia can also find portraits on badges worn at Inaugural parades.

Numismatists who specialize in a favorite President can obtain reference works on medallic issues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, although the Kennedy volume has been out of print for years and has only one edition. Pursuing a set of medallic portraits of these three Presidents can become a lifelong challenge.

Pick another President you admire and enjoy learning about, such as one of the Roosevelts, Grant, or Madison. Find coins and medals depicting them and keep your eyes open for more when you go to a local coin shop or a convention. I once found old aluminum tokens used in a gasoline company’s “Mr. President” coin game. Prizes in this 1968 contest ranged from a set of Presidential medals to thousands of dollars in cash.

Historians who enjoy learning about the Presidents can assemble sets of medals and new dollar coins depicting one of each President. Even the lesser known Presidents appeared on complete sets of medals. Searching through dealers’ junk boxes can yield some good finds. Going to a major convention and looking up dealers of tokens and medals can result in locating Presidential items that are seldom seen except by specialists. Maybe your favorite dealer can find special pieces for your set.

Numismatists and historians who enjoy Presidential items can find a worthwhile challenge in collecting medallic portraits of the men who served as chief executive. Pursuing these sets goes beyond filling in holes in an album, and can lead to a new appreciation of American history – an important part of United States numismatics.

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