Coin Emblems and Inscriptions

Since its creation, the US Mint has grown into a large enterprise with more than $1 billion in annual revenues and 2,200 employees. It is by far the world's largest manufacturer of coins and medals, producing around 15 billion coins every year. With the exception of commemorative coins and the Susan B. Anthony dollar, all US coins currently minted portray past famous US Presidents. The presidents that appear on the obverse (front) side of the circulating coins were all selected by Congress in recognition of their service to the country. However, they were chosen under slightly different circumstances.

  • Designed by Victor Brenner, the Lincoln cent was issued in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth
  • The portrait of George Washington by John Flanagan, which appears on quarters minted from 1932 to today, was selected to commemorate the 200th anniversary of our first president's birth
  • Felix Schlag's portrait of Thomas Jefferson, which began to appear on the obverse side of the nickel in 1938, was chosen in a design competition among some 390 artists
  • The death of Franklin Roosevelt prompted many requests to the Treasury Department to honor the late president by placing his portrait on a coin. Less than one year after his death, the dime bearing John R. Sinnock's portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt was released to the public on FDR's birthday, January 30, 1946
  • The assassination of President John F. Kennedy generated such an outpouring of public sentiment that President Lyndon Johnson sent legislation to Congress to authorize the Treasury Department new 50-cent pieces. Bearing the portrait designed by Gilroy Roberts, the first Kennedy half-dollars were minted on February 11, 1964
  • Calvin Coolidge was the first President to have his portrait appear on a coin struck during his lifetime

Portrait orientation

Penny and Sacajawea dollar are the only coins currently minted in the United States with profiles that face to the right. All other US coins - the half dollar, quarter, dime, and nickel - feature profiles that face to the left. Many rumors circulate the internet concerning this difference, some of which can be characterized as imaginative or plain funny. One popular belief is that Lincoln faces to the right because he was a Republican. Another theory is that he faces the opposite way of the other presidents, because he was assassinated, something which is just not true as Kennedy's portrait on the half dollar faces to the left. Last but not least, a theory postulates that the other presidents are turning their back on Lincoln because he freed the slaves!

The likeness of President Lincoln on the penny is an adaption of a plaque executed by Victor David Brenner, an outstanding portraitist and sculptor. President Theodore Roosevelt was so impressed with Mr. Brenner's design of a Lincoln plaque that he recommended to the Secretary of the Treasury that the design be placed on a coin to be issued in the Lincoln Centennial Year, 1909. The direction that Lincoln faces on the cent was not mandated -- this was simply the choice of the designer.

In God We Trust

In 1792, Congress required that all American coins show on one side "an impression emblematic of Liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty, and the year of coinage". This requirement has been followed since and the phrase "In God We Trust", which was first used on US coins in 1864, is the motto that appears on all US coins today. From Treasury Department records it appears that the first suggestion that God be recognized on US coinage can be traced to a letter addressed to the Secretary of Treasury from a minister in 1861. An Act of Congress, approved on April 11, 1864, authorized the coinage of two-cent coins upon which the motto first appeared. The motto was omitted from the new gold coins issued in 1907, causing a storm of public criticism. As a result, legislation passed in May 1908 made "In God We Trust" mandatory on all coins on which it had previously appeared. Legislation approved July 11, 1955, made the appearance of "In God We Trust" mandatory on all coins and paper currency of the United States. By Act of July 30, 1956, "In God We Trust" became the national motto of the United States. Several years ago, the appearance of "In God We Trust" on US money was challenged in the federal courts. The challenge was rejected by the lower federal courts, and the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review the case.

Commemorative coins

Various commemorative coins have been issued from time to time in various denominations to honor a particular noteworthy person, place or event. The first such coin was issued in 1892 to commemorate the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These coins are usually made in limited quantities, sell at a premium and -since they are legislated by the US Mint- are legal tender but rarely circulate as normal coinage.

  • Sacagewea and Susan B. Anthony are the only women honored on a circulating coin, both on a dollar coin
  • George Washington first appeared on a commemorative dollar, with the Marquis de Lafayette, in 1899
  • In 1893, Queen Isabella of Spain became the first woman to be featured on a US commemorative coin
  • The first coin to feature an African-American was the Booker T. Washington Memorial Half Dollar

In 1999, the design of the US quarter changed as part of the new "Statehood Programme". Reverses of circulating quarters were replaced with designs representative of each of the fifty states. Each year from 1999 through 2008, five different quarters, commemorating five states will be issued in the order in which the states ratified the Constitution or were admitted to the Union. These "State Quarters" are intended for general circulation but special silver proof coins will also be sold to collectors.