It’s nearly President’s Day and what better way to celebrate than to read up on Presidential $1 Coins? It’s no secret that the U.S. government is an avid fan of coins. That’s what makes it such a perfect partner for serious coin traders. Seemingly every year the government mints new coins, a select few of which go on to achieve prized status among collectors. A few of these sought-after rarities were the products of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 (aka Public Law No: 109-145).
For those who haven’t heard of the act, Senator John Sununu (R-New Hampshire) introduced the bill which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 22, 2005. Thus was created the exciting Presidential $1 Coin Program. A little over a year later, the first of these beautiful golden specimens began rolling out of the U.S. Mint on January 1, 2007.
What happened to the Presidential $1 Coins?
One of the reasons for the introduction of the new $1 coin was to address the less-than-stellar popularity of the previous “Sacagawea golden dollar” coins. The original intent of the Presidential $1 Coin Program was to keep the public interested by producing a new coin every three months, each bearing the artistically rendered image of a past president on the obverse side. On the reverse was a striking designer of Lady Liberty, created by master sculptor and engraver Don Everhart.
Alas, by 2011, a massive 1.4 billion stockpile of surplus inventory was sitting, unloved, in Federal Reserve Bank vaults. This prompted Treasury Secretary Geithner to order that no further Presidential $1 Coins would be minted for public circulation. But the program didn’t die, it merely changed strategy. The U.S. Mint continued the run, producing them instead for private purchase by collectors. The first president represented on the private run was Chester Arthur, whose coin was released in Spring 2012. For that year, Arthur was followed by Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and…Grover Cleveland again (for his second term)!
The Mint’s run of collectable Presidential $1 Coins ended with President Ronald Reagan. However, President Trump signed into law a new act calling for the creation of a coin to honor George H. W. Bush, who passed on in 2018. The bill also authorizes a First Spouse bullion coin for former First Lady Barbara Bush, which is in keeping with the First Spouse Gold Coin program that ran in tandem with the Presidential $1 Coin program, but issued $10 gold coins instead.
Rare Presidential $1 Coins
Now that you’ve seen some of the history, let’s take a look at a few of the most valuable Presidential $1 Coins floating around out there! You might want to spend President’s Day rummaging through your old coins to see if one of these rare gems is hiding amongst the masses…
The Godless Dollars
Soon after the release of the first Washington Presidential $1 coins it was discovered that some were missing the incused (edge) inscriptions, which were supposed to say “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.” They were also missing the year and mint marks. Essentially, these coins just skipped the edge lettering process completely!
Professional Coin Grading Service (PGCS) eventually released a guesstimate that ~50,000 of the coins were minted with these omissions, which came to be nicknamed “Godless dollars.” It seems that only the coins minted in Philadelphia bore the flaw, while the Denver mint’s releases were error-free. “Godless dollars” have sold for as much as $600, but typically average $50 up to $150-ish. That said, Heritage Auctions sold one in 2016 for $17,625.00.
Buyers beware of fake coins which have had their inscriptions intentionally removed by scammers.
The Blank Washington Planchet
Ray and Mary Smith of Fort Collins, Colorado, got more than they bargained for when they purchased two rolls of new Washington Presidential $1 coins from their bank. In one of the rolls they found an oddity—instead of a coin with no edge lettering, they found a coin with no face! The coin’s planchet hadn’t been struck or burnished on the obverse or reverse sides at all.
PGCS actually predicted this error and had offered a $2,500 reward if an example were ever found. When the Smiths learned of the reward, they happily accepted the offer.
The Missing Clads
Other Washington Presidential dollars are missing clad layers. What’s a clad layer? When these coins were minted, they started off with a copper core which then had layers of other alloys bonded, or clad, over that core. In some cases, a layer wasn’t applied and the copper can still be seen. This gives the coin a reddish color instead of gold. This error can raise the coin’s value to over $260.
The John Adams plain edge, overlaps, and inverted run
After the Washington run, next came John Adams’ Presidential dollar series. Lo and behold, a few of these were also minted with plain edges, but in far less quantity. That, of course, makes them all the more valuable (around $150, but with some reaching auction prices as high as $141,000!).
But that wasn’t the only problem with this coin issue…
As if to make up for the missing letters on one batch, the Philadelphia mint accidentally passed another batch through the lettering machine twice, causing double lettering to occur. On some coins, the second set of letters overlap the first. On others, the second set of letters are upside down and stamped over the first. The peculiarity and scarcity of these coins raises their value into the $250 to $350 range.
Thomas Jefferson and other missing edge presidential coins
According to the NGC, every single one of the first 15 Presidential $1 coin runs featured coins bearing at least some missing edge errors. As mentioned above, the most common where from that first Washington run. William Henry Harrison, John Taylor, Martin Van Buren, and Millard Fillmore all also had numerous missing edge errors. The more common the error, the less it increases their value among collectors, but they still sell for more than face value.
Thomas Jefferson coins with missing edge lettering and a PCGS Grade of 68 can sell as high as $6,500. Meanwhile James Madison coins of the Grade 67, with the same defect, can fetch a respectable $4,000.
First Day Issue Lincolns
Per PCGS, a 2010 First Day of Issue Lincoln Presidential $1 coin sold for $6,440.00 the year after it was minted. This Denver-minted coin featuring America’s 16th president reportedly has an average sale price of $525.60, but keep in mind that a few big ticket sales can skew that average.
We hope our guide to the most valuable Presidential $1 coins helped stimulate your interest in this gorgeous golden series, made to honor 200 years’ worth of our nation’s past leaders.