Within two years of introduction in 2000, it was evident the Sacagawea dollar would suffer the same fate as its predecessor, the Anthony dollar. Given a choice, the public would choose the $1 note rather than a dollar coin.
Although studies suggested a dollar coin would save the government up to $500 million per year due to replacement costs (the coin would circulate up to 30 years and the paper equivalent would last between 14 and 18 months), practicality and habit still reigned. However, Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del, was determined to find a way to obtain greater circulation. He looked to the success of the 50 State quarter dollars program and began advocating a redesign of the dollar coin. His idea was bolstered by a national survey and study conducted by the Government Accountability Office that indicated many Americans who did not seek or who rejected the Sacagawea dollar for use in commerce would actively seek a dollar coin if an attractive, educational rotating design were to be struck on the coin.
In a bipartisan pact, Castle and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., introduced legislation Feb. 18, 2005, that sought to redesign the Sacagawea dollar coin beginning in 2007 to feature images of U.S. presidents on the obverse and the Statue of Liberty on the reverse. However, the Sacagawea dollar had its constituency in Congress and a compromise was forged that allowed the continued production of the Sacagawea dollar for collector sales. The compromise legislation was signed into law (PL 109-145) on Dec. 22, 2005, by President Bush. Castle noted: "Just like the State quarter program that has been so successful, the Presidential dollar coins bill is a win-win proposition. The Presidential coins will teach history while generating revenue for the U.S. Treasury. I am also very excited that New York's most famous resident and most powerful symbol, Lady Liberty, will grace the back of each coin."
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The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 authorized the production of Presidential dollars coins for circulation as well as the First Spouse bullion coin program, which also included bronze medals. The Presidential dollars, to be issued at the rate of four per year, were specified to retain the same golden color and alloy of the Sacagawea dollar. The obverse of each coin would feature the name and image of a U.S. president, as well as dates of the term of office and a number representing the order of service. The reverse would bear a likeness of the Statue of Liberty extending to the rim of the coin, along with the inscriptions of $1 and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The law also specified the movement of certain inscriptions and other statutory requirements to the edges of the Presidential dollars: E PLURIBUS UNUM, IN GOD WE TRUST, and the year of issue. Mint officials elected to also place the Mint mark on the edge. The reasoning behind moving these design elements to the edge was to allow larger and more dramatic artwork on the coins reminiscent of the so-called "Golden Age of Coinage" in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century.
In reaction to error Presidential dollars produced during the first year of issue without any inscriptions on the edge, amendments embedded in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007 directed the U.S. Mint to move the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on Presidential dollars from the edge to the coins' obverse or reverse "as soon as practical." Because the 2008 designs were already in production by the time the legislation was signed into law, the change became effective in 2009. The motto was moved to the obverse on the left under the portrait of the president.
Presidential dollars are to be issued in the order of service, beginning with George Washington. However, the authorizing law prohibits a coin being issued honoring a living former or current president, or of any deceased former president during the two-year period following the date of the death of that president. That mandate would indicate a program extending through at least 2014. It prescribes that only one design shall be issued for a period of service for any president, no matter how many consecutive terms of office the president served. However, if a president served during two or more nonconsecutive periods of service, a coin shall be issued for each such nonconsecutive period of service.
The authorizing law also specified that the director of the U.S. Mint should take all reasonable steps to ensure the circulation and public acceptance of the Presidential dollar coins, including periodic reports to Congress on the efforts and progress of the program. It also set forth provisions for the continued striking of Sacagawea dollars on a percentage basis of the number of Presidential coins struck. Upon the termination of the Presidential dollar coin program, the law specified that production of dollar coins would revert to the Sacagawea design.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: