No. 1 First Spouse coin doesn't feature a first lady
- Published: Mar 3, 2017, 7 AM
The most popular First Spouse gold coin during the 10-year run of the series was for the first presidency for which there was no first spouse.
The Uncirculated version of the 2007-W Thomas Jefferson, Liberty gold $10 coin in the First Spouse program recorded final sales of 19,823 coins. The Proof version recorded total audited sales of 19,815.
Rather than a portrait of a first spouse, the obverse depicts a rendering of U.S. Mint engraver Robert Scot’s Draped Bust design used on 1800 to 1808 half cents. The reverse of the Jefferson gold coin bears a rendition of the engraved obelisk that marks Jefferson’s grave at his Virginia home, Monticello.
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The design accorded with provisions in the enabling act addressing First Spouse coins to be matched to those presidents who had no spouse while in office.
Both of the Jefferson Liberty coins carry a healthy premium over their issue prices, though at least part of the higher value is due to a substantial rise in the price of gold.
Recently completed eBay auctions include sales of Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Proof 70 Ultra Cameo examples of the Jefferson issue at $725, $750 and $889.99, with one buyer paying $747.30 for an uncertified example in its original U.S. Mint packaging. Completed sales for Uncirculated strikes graded NGC Mint State 70 included examples at $682, $725.95 and $749.
When the Jefferson Liberty coins first went on sale, the U.S. Mint prices were $429.95 for the Proof coin and $410.95 for the Uncirculated version. Orders received within a few hours of the Aug. 30, 2007, launch of sales exhausted the maximum of 20,000 Proof and 20,000 Uncirculated coins.
The London PM Fix for gold on Aug. 30, 2007, was $666 an ounce, compared to $1,240 an ounce on March 2, 2017.
Each of the First Spouse coins holds a half ounce of pure gold.
Other 'no spouse' issues
Of the 41 First Spouse issues, 36 bear obverse portraits of a respective first spouse and a reverse design reflecting her accomplishments. Four issues carry an obverse design of a classic coin that appeared during a specific presidency lacking a first spouse, while the reverses evoke some aspect of the respective president. For President Chester Arthur, a widower, the authorizing legislation specified recognizing Alice Paul, as she was born during his term in office.
The lowest sales recorded for the series were for the 2016-W coins depicting Betty Ford, though both versions are still offered for sale by the U.S. Mint through its product catalog. As of Feb. 28, the U.S. Mint recorded sales of 1,972 of the Proof version and 1,251 of the Uncirculated version of the Ford coin, currently the lowest for any of the issues, Proof or Uncirculated.
Despite the First Spouse coin program ending its 10-year run in 2016 in conjunction with the Presidential $1 Coin Program, the U.S. Mint is still offering a remaining inventory of First Spouse coins, representing seven different presidencies.
As of Feb. 28, the U.S. Mint still had in its numismatic product stockpile Proof and Uncirculated issues from 2015 depicting Bess Truman and Lady Bird Johnson, and Uncirculated 2015 Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy gold coins. The Mint also had quantities of Proof and Uncirculated 2016 First Spouse gold coins featuring Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan.
The Proof versions for both years are offered at $815 each, with the Uncirculated versions at $795.
When the First Spouse gold coin program was inaugurated in 2007 with the simultaneous release of the Martha Washington and Abigail Adams $10 coins, U.S. Mint officials set the combined maximum mintage, in both Proof and Uncirculated versions, at 40,000 for each design.
The final totals — how many would be Proof and how many Uncirculated — would be determined by the actual orders received, up to the maximum authorization of 40,000 coins. However, not long after it was announced that mintage limits for both coins had been reached, the Mint’s marketing officials reported a change in procedure, splitting the maximum release at 20,000 Proof coins and 20,000 Uncirculated for each design.
That split would be maintained for the remaining two 2007 First Spouse releases — the Jefferson Liberty and Dolly Madison coins.
The Madison coins were the last to record final sales/mintages in five figures, until the Jacqueline Kennedy coins in 2015, of which 11,223 Proofs were sold.
Final sales figures for the 2007 First Spouse gold $10 coins, however, do not necessarily represent the current number of survivors. At the January 2008 Florida United Numismatists Convention, hundreds of the gold coins, both in and out of grading service encapsulations, were sold back to be melted, even as some of the coins certified in third-party grading service holders were still bringing retail prices at $200 above the melt value. The price of gold had risen above the coins’ issue prices, reaching a range from about $850 to $890 an ounce during the 2008 FUN convention.
Beginning in 2008, the U.S. Mint began to set the maximum number of coins issued at 15,000 per design. As the years passed and as sales of each issue began to dip below those of the previous release, Mint officials adjusted downward the number authorized for each design.
Exceptions in the downward sales trend were seen for the First Spouse issues bearing vintage coin designs instead of First Spouse portraits.
However, the only subsequent increase in authorized mintages was realized in 2015 for the Jacqueline Kennedy coins, as Mint marketing officials anticipated a higher demand for the issue. Mint officials ordered a maximum combined authorization of 30,000 coins for the Proof and Uncirculated 2015-W Kennedy coins.
The First Spouse coin program was issued under provision of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, Public Law 109–145, signed into law Dec. 22, 2005, by President George W. Bush. The act required that with the release of each Presidential dollar, the West Point Mint would strike a half-ounce .9999 fine gold $10 coin in Proof and Uncirculated versions bearing an obverse portrait of the corresponding First Spouse and a reverse reflecting that First Spouse’s contributions during her husband’s presidential administration.
In instances where a president had no spouse, the obverse design of the First Spouse coin would be Liberty from a classic U.S. coin issued during that president’s tenure, and the reverse of such a First Spouse, Liberty coin would bear a design reflecting some aspect of the corresponding president.
Five presidencies lacked a First Spouse for the president’s term in office, and for one of them, a person specified to be honored on the coin was detailed in the authorizing legislation.
Issues affected were the 2007 coin for Thomas Jefferson, the 2008 coins for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the 2010 coin for James Buchanan and the 2012 coin for Chester A. Arthur.
Jefferson’s wife, Martha, died in 1782, 19 years before he took the oath of office as the third president of the United States.
Jackson’s wife, Rachel, died Dec. 22, 1828, just days after his election but before his inauguration in 1829 as the seventh president.
Van Buren’s wife, Hannah, died in 1819, 13 years before he was elected as the eighth president.
Buchanan, the 15th president, was a lifelong bachelor.
Chester A. Arthur’s wife, Ellen, or “Nell,” died in 1880, 20 months before Vice President Arthur became the 21st president, following the assassination of President James A. Garfield.
The 2012 Alice Paul, First Spouse coin was issued to represent the Arthur administration. Paul is specified by name in the legislation as “a leading strategist in the suffrage movement, who was instrumental in gaining women the right to vote upon the adoption of the 19th amendment and thus the ability to participate in the election of future Presidents, and who was born on January 11, 1885, during the term of President Arthur.”
The reverse of the Paul coin was thus mandated to reflect the suffragist movement that led to the 1920 amendment, unlike the Jefferson, Jackson, Van Buren and Buchanan issues, which were required to represent the corresponding president’s life.
The obverse of the Jackson Liberty coin sports a modern rendition of John Reich’s Capped Bust Liberty design, as seen on the Capped Bust half dime (1829 to 1837), dime (1809 to 1837), quarter dollar (1815 to 1838) and half dollar (1807 to 1839).
The obverse of the Van Buren Liberty coin features a rendition of Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design.
The Seated Liberty design is a long-standing motif on American coins, appearing for the greater part of the 19th century on the half dime (1837 to 1873), dime (1837 to 1891), 20-cent coin (1875 to 1878) quarter dollar (1838 to 1891), half dollar (1839 to 1891) and dollar (1840 to 1873). It first appeared on the Gobrecht dollars in 1836.
The obverse of the Buchanan Liberty coin is a reproduction of the Coronet gold $2.50 quarter eagle obverse design by Gobrecht, produced from 1840 through 1907.
The Presidential $1 Coin Program, and subsequently the First Spouse program, was originally expected to end in 2016 with the Gerald Ford Presidential dollar and Betty Ford First Spouse coin.
Early in 2015, however, Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., intervened, interpreting the provisions of Public Law 109-145 to permit inclusion of a Presidential dollar honoring the 40th president, Ronald Reagan, with a companion First Spouse gold coin recognizing the then-surviving widow, Nancy Reagan.
U.S. Mint officials concurred, and began preliminary design work for the two coins. The final coin designs were approved by Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin in November 2015, having received Mrs. Reagan’s approval as well.
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