The Presidential $1 coin program was established by Congressional legislation in 2005. Beginning with the George Washington coin in January 2007, the US Mint produced four separate varieties each year, with each President honored in succession. The obverse design of the coins changes with each President, while the reverse design featuring the Statue of Liberty is consistent. Grover Cleveland, who served two separate terms as both the 22nd President and 24th President, is honored on two separate issues.
One notable feature of the Presidential coin’s design is edge lettering. Long ago, gold and silver coins were sometimes produced with inscriptions along their edges to discourage owners from shaving off small amounts of precious metal. They are the first circulating US coins to bear edge lettering since the $20 Saint-Gaudens gold eagle ceased production in 1933. The inscriptions along the Presidential dollar’s edge include “E Pluribus Unum,” the year of issue, and the mint mark. Before 2009, “In God We Trust” was also one of the inscriptions along the edge; this phrase was moved to the obverse starting with the William Henry Harrison coin.
A number of George Washington and John Adams coins have been discovered without edge lettering (dubbed “Godless dollars” by some collectors), or with doubled edge lettering (the latter caused by the coin passing through the edge lettering machine twice). These mint errors have attracted considerable interest from collectors. Some have attempted to pass off coins with “upside-down” edge lettering as rare or collectible issues, but the minting process produces coins with the edge lettering facing both ways, and neither variety is noticeably more common than the other.
The primary motivation for the Presidential dollar program was the failure of the Sacagawea dollar, which was never popular among the general public. It was thought that a series of coins similar to the popular State Quarter program would be more successful. Notably, the Sacagawea dollars have remained in production alongside the Presidential dollars and will stay in production after the Presidential $1 coin program ends. Ultimately, neither the Sacagawea dollars nor the Presidential dollars made inroads against the paper dollar bill in popularity. By 2011, more than one billion Presidential dollars had been stockpiled by the mint, and production figures were cut sharply starting with the Chester A. Arthur coin in 2012. This and subsequent coins were produced only for collectors.
The program ended in 2016 with the Ronald Reagan coin. The law specifies that a President must be deceased at least two years before becoming eligible to appear on a Presidential dollar, and so neither Reagan’s immediate predecessor Jimmy Carter nor any of his successors were eligible as of the program’s end. Production of coins honoring these Presidents would require separate legislation. As Reagan was the 40th President, there are thus 39 coins in the series.