Presidents on Coins: A Brief Guide and Synopsis

Seeing the faces of former United States presidents on coins (and paper money) is something we’re all accustomed to. Your wallet or coin jar probably features at least one Abraham Lincoln penny, Thomas Jefferson nickel, Franklin Roosevelt dime, and George Washington quarter. You may even have a John F. Kennedy half-dollar or two.

The United States Mint began circulating coins featuring designs of US presidents in 1909, and many examples remain popular with collectors today. Let’s review a brief history of how past presidents came to adorn US coins as well as the most coveted coins in today’s collector market.

The History of Presidents on Coins

President Abraham Lincoln became the first president to be featured on United States coins in 1909 when President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned a new one-cent coin design from sculptor Victor David Brenner to honor the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Brenner, a member of the American Numismatic Association, had previously impressed Roosevelt with a plaque of Lincoln he sculpted in 1907. Forty-four years after Lincoln’s assassination, sentiment toward the Civil War president overruled the previously negative view of adding presidential portraits to the country’s coins, and the Lincoln cent was born.

In 1932, the tradition of putting presidents on coins continued with the addition of a George Washington portrait to the US quarter-dollar coin. The George Washington Bicentennial Commission and the Treasury Department hosted a public contest for portraits of the first president and hero of the Revolutionary War. They chose a Washington quarter design submitted by sculptor John Flanagan, which you can still find on the obverse side of this circulating coin.

Six years later, in 1938, Thomas Jefferson’s portrait graced the obverse side of the first Jefferson nickel. The Treasury Department hosted another design contest to determine the image of Thomas Jefferson to add to the five-cent coin. Felix Schlag sculpted the winning design.

By the early 1940s, Americans were still using Walking Liberty half-dollars and Liberty-themed ten-cent coins (often called Mercury dimes). You can still find a Mercury dime or Walking Liberty half-dollar today, but both designs were replaced with new circulating coinage after World War II.

The Treasury Department added a portrait of recently passed Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the dime in 1946, and founding father Benjamin Franklin graced the United States half-dollar coin from 1948 until the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. After the passing of JFK, President Lyndon Johnson demanded the half-dollar portrait replacement via executive order.

1971 saw the introduction of the Eisenhower dollar, and many more presidential coins have joined the collection since 2005, when George W. Bush implemented the continued minting of presidential dollar coins through the Presidential $1 Coin Program. Since the beginning of this program, many former United States presidents have graced limited dollar coin mintings, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and many more. All of these pieces feature the same reverse design, a depiction of Lady Liberty by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.

Most Popular Presidential Coins

pile of us gold presidential coins featuring george washington

Today, many people collect common and rare presidential coins, especially versions with minting errors that increase their value. Even a five-cent Thomas Jefferson nickel or ten-cent coin may prove extremely valuable with a specific mistake and minting year. For example, Denver-minted Lincoln cents made of bronze from 1943 can sell for more than $1 million.

Collectors interested in presidential coins collect a variety of pieces, including (but not limited to) the following:

Presidential Dollar Coins

President Bush’s Presidential $1 Coin Program saw the addition of many presidents on coins, and the most valuable and popular versions often feature minting errors. Some may refer to a presidential one-dollar coin as a “golden dollar,” but these coins consist mostly of copper with zinc, nickel, and manganese.

Here’s a list of seven popular presidential United States dollar coins:

  1. 2007-S Washington Proof: Coinage proofs often boast more significant popularity with collectors due to their rarity. The current value of a 2007-S Washington Proof ranges from around $15 to $350, depending on the coin’s minting quality and condition. Coins with sharp strikes and minor wear boast higher values than coins of lower quality.
  2. 2007 Washington without edge lettering: Errors during minting sometimes result in the lack of edge lettering on presidential coins. A 2007 Washington one-dollar coin with no edge lettering is rare and can sell for about $17,500 with a high grade.
  3. 2007-S John Adams Proof: The San Francisco Mint struck 3,965,989 of these flawless presidential coin proofs. They value anywhere between a few dollars to $100,000 for a high-grade coin.
  4. 2007 John Adams without edge lettering: The Philadelphia mint released more than 112 million John Adams dollar coins, some of which feature the edge lettering mistake. High-quality versions of these coins that lack the edge lettering can sell for as high as $140,000.
  5. 2008-S Monroe Proof: Struck by the San Francisco mint in 2008, about three million such coins exist. Collectors purchase and sell them for anywhere between $4 and $250, depending on the coin’s condition.
  6. 2008-S Van Buren Proof: The San Francisco Mint released about three million Van Buren Proofs in 2008. Prices for these presidential dollar coins range from a few dollars to $6,000.
  7. 2008 J. Q. Adams Proof: These proofs feature a highly detailed portrait of John Quincy Adams. Also minted in San Francisco, these dollar coins range in value from $4 to $160.

You may collect presidential dollar coins to hang on to pieces of American history or watch their values increase with time.

Presidential Dollar Rolls

us mint presidential dollar rolls

Many collectors seek unopened BU (brilliant uncirculated condition) rolls of presidential dollar coins. These rolls, minted between 2007 and 2016 at the Philadelphia Mint and Denver Mint, contain 25 coins each. Still quite common, these coins will increase in rarity and value over time, especially if left unopened and in great condition.

Presidential Half-dollars

Two valuable half-dollar examples you may consider collecting include:

  1. Silver Franklin Half-dollar: Benjamin Franklin, one of the US founding fathers, was the first non-president to grace the obverse of a regular issue circulating coin. The United States Mint only struck them between 1948 and 1963, making them relatively rare in the collector’s market.
  2. Silver 1964 Kennedy Half-dollar: 1964 was the first year the US added former president JFK to the half-dollar coin. The value of the first Kennedy half-dollars continues to rise as they become increasingly rare, especially for BU versions. One 1964 Kennedy half-dollar may sell for thousands of dollars in pristine condition.

These silver coins are just a couple of examples of valuable American coins. Non-presidential 50-cent pieces minted in the 1800s may provide even more value.

Where Can You Buy Presidential Coins?

young couple buying presidential coins online

Collectors have several options for purchasing valuable coins. The United States Mint often sells rolls of new coins to collectors, as do banks and other financial institutions. During the Presidential $1 Coin Program, collectors could purchase 25-coin rolls or 250-coin bags from the mint or a bank.

Secondary markets like eBay also make great options for finding rare and valuable coins. Before you purchase a new coin from a third-party seller, do your research to ensure you don’t overpay. The US has been adding presidents to coins for more than a century, and highly circulated pieces may lack quality.

Buying Presidential Half-dollar Coins From Oxford Gold Group

Your third option for purchasing valuable presidential coins is Oxford Gold Group. We make it easy to invest in precious metals, including silver coins featuring US presidents.

If you purchase coins from us, we’ll ship them right to your door through an insured courier. We can also help you roll over your retirement investments into precious metals. Contact us online or call (833) 600-GOLD to learn more.

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