US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for May 8, 2023: Edge inscriptions

The lack of a date, Mint mark and standard inscriptions on the obverse of the American Innovation dollars makes the design look unfinished. Should those elements be moved from the edge to more traditional places on the obverse?

Original images courtesy of the United States Mint.

Howard Klein’s Letter to the Editor, which leads the column in the May 22 issue of Coin World, raises an important issue — that sometimes, a design feature that worked on one coinage series does not necessarily work on other series, such as edge inscriptions.

Some of the earliest of U.S. coins had edge inscriptions as security devices — the first copper large cents and the silver dollar and half dollar. Like edge reeding, edge inscriptions discouraged the shaving of small slivers of precious metals, a crime that could generate profits for practitioners. These edge inscriptions were added at a stage separate from the striking of the obverse and reverse faces. New technology introduced at the Mint in the 1830s, especially the introduction of the close collar, permitted the formation of a reeded edge at the moment of striking, prompting abandonment of the last edge inscription still in use. Not until 1907, with the introduction of a new gold eagle and gold double eagle, would the edges of U.S. coins bear something other than reeding or a plain surface.

In 1992, in reaction to collector interest, the Mint issued a special commemorative silver dollar celebrating baseball at the Summer Olympics bearing an edge inscription.

The introduction of new circulating commemorative coins — starting with the State quarter dollars of 1999 — led to discussions about cluttered coin designs. The Mint had to move statutory inscriptions around on the quarters, including moving UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and QUARTER DOLLAR from the reverse to the obverse. The result was a text-heavy obverse design.

When debate began on developing a Presidential dollar series, discussions included placement of standard inscriptions, in addition to new inscriptions identifying the president and his term of office. Officials decided to move the date, Mint mark and the two national mottoes to the edge. With the obverse bearing the depicted president’s term of office, the lack of a date did not seem odd. The edge legends worked (well, except for the people angry about the moving of IN GOD WE TRUST to the edge).

However, subsequent dollar coin issues — the Native American series of 2009 to date and the American Innovation series of 2018 to date — also retained the use of edge inscriptions, to the detriment of the coins’ appearances.

The stark portrayals of Sacagawea on the Native American dollars and the Statue of Liberty on the American Innovation dollars do not work. Without a date, Mint mark or motto E PLURIBUS UNUM, the obverses look unfinished, like cheap medals. Both series would look better with the standard inscriptions moved from the edges to the obverses.

Community Comments