New Presidential Dollars: 'Godless' Coins or History Lessons?

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:23pm EDT

( - The new one-dollar presidential coins have elicited a wide variety of reactions, with some experts criticizing them as "godless" and the legislators who promoted the new design praising them as "a great opportunity for educating both children and adults about the history of our country."

"I thought it was a slick move by the government to take it step-by-step but eventually not have 'In God We Trust' on the front or back of any coin," Troy Thoreson, president of Thoreson Numismatics in Los Banos, Calif., told Cybercast News Service on Thursday.

"When this story first started to develop from the U.S. Mint, I could see the writing on the wall," said Thoreson, whose primary expertise is in dealing with modern coins.

Not only would this be the first time since 1866 that the national motto would not appear on the front or back of American dollar coins, but there would also be some "godless coins" since a number of them would accidentally go through the stamping process without having "In God We Trust" imprinted on them, he noted.

"I find it a little hard to believe that when they were trying to figure out the front or the back of the new presidential dollar coins, somebody didn't bring up the fact that it was going to be odd to have 'In God We Trust' on the edge," Thoreson said.

On Feb. 15, the U.S. Mint began producing the new coins "in commemoration of each of the nation's past presidents and their spouses, respectively, to improve circulation of the $1 coin, to create a new bullion coin and for other purposes" according to the Presidential $1 Act of 2005.

"In order to revitalize the design of United States coinage," the law states, "it is appropriate to move many of the mottos and emblems, the inscription of the year, and the so-called 'mint marks' that currently appear on the faces of each circulating coin to the edge of the coin, which would allow larger and more dramatic artwork."

U.S. Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) sponsored the bill in the House to create a new coin with "a regularly changing design, featuring the presidents of the United States in the order in which they served, with a new design every three months" on the front, and an image of the Statue of Liberty on the back.

"This legislation was born out of the success of the 50-state quarter program, which has made over $5 billion for the federal government," Castle said when introducing the bill on Feb. 17, 2005. "I believe this program is a great opportunity for educating both children and adults about the history of our country," he added.

"On one side, this will give a jump start to a coin program and bring billions to our treasury," Maloney noted. "On the flip side, it will teach history to students and collectors. Heads or tails, it's a win-win proposition."

The measure was approved on April 28, 2005, by a vote of 422 to six.

Nearly three weeks later, a similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It was passed by unanimous consent on Nov. 18, and President Bush signed the measure on Dec. 22 of that year.

The law marks the third time Congress has attempted to supplement paper bills with coin dollars, which usually last longer in circulation. The Susan B. Anthony coin was authorized in 1979, and the Sacagawea dollar, which was first minted in 2000, depicts a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Neither coin has gained broad acceptance by the American public.

As Cybercast News Service reported earlier, the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm, is urging Americans to avoid using the presidential dollar coins altogether.

"It is astounding that Congress has effectively done what atheist litigants have been unsuccessfully trying to do for years - erase all reference to God from our money," said Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Law Center.

However, Douglas Mudd, curator of exhibitions for the American Numismatic Association, told Cybercast News Service on Thursday that "many countries use edge lettering as part of how they produce their coins," which "has been going on since the 17th century."

In fact, the practice isn't unprecedented in the U.S. either, "but it's born again because we haven't used edge lettering since 1932," Mudd noted.

Transferring text from the front or back of a coin to its edge "might be perceived [in America] as a diminishing of its stature because we're not used to edge lettering, but is it technically?" he asked. "It shouldn't be."

Thoreson disagreed. "It's like being the head coach and then being moved to the sidelines," he remarked.

Thoreson offered a suggestion to those who decide to boycott the new coins - boycott the earlier dollar coins too.

"If the U.S. populace really wants to make a statement here - because these coins have little or no numismatic value - what they should do is find any 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollars or any 2000 Sacagawea dollars they have laying around," Thoreson said.

"Take them to your bank and turn those in as a protest about not having 'In God We Trust' on the front or the back of the new coins," he said. "That will drive the government crazy, because the banks are going to send them right back to the Federal Reserve, which is trying to get rid of them.

"And if you're a collector, you just need three of these coins: one with the inscription printed properly, one with the inscription accidentally printed upside-down and one of those that have no inscription at all," Thoreson added. "Get your one example of each and take the rest back down to the bank."

See Earlier Story:
'In God We Trust:' Our Money's Message for 141 Years (Nov. 16, 2005)

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