The first President of the United States, George Washington, is a prominent figure in American history. His portrait has graced the one dollar coin since the coin was first minted in the late 18th century.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The George Washington one dollar coin was first minted in 1789 when he took office as the first president. It featured his portrait on the front and an eagle on the back.
The coin’s design changed slightly in 1792 and 1797, but kept Washington’s iconic profile. The dollar coin was made of silver through its early days but switched to copper in 1797 due to silver shortages.
In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the origins and evolutions of the George Washington dollar coin from 1789, when he first took office, through 1797. We will examine the reasons the coin was created, its mandated design elements, the transition from silver to copper composition, and differences between each major design used during Washington’s presidency.
The Origin of the George Washington One Dollar Coin
The George Washington One Dollar Coin holds a special place in American history. It symbolizes the birth of official U.S. coinage and represents the establishment of the monetary system that we know today.
Let’s take a journey back to the late 18th century to learn about the fascinating origin of this iconic coin.
The Establishment of Official U.S. Coinage
In the early days of the United States, there was no official currency in circulation. People used a variety of foreign coins, such as Spanish dollars and British pounds, for trade. However, this system was inefficient and cumbersome.
To address this issue, the U.S. government took steps to establish its own coinage.
In 1789, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of the United States Mint, which would be responsible for producing the country’s coins. The first mint facility was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it played a crucial role in shaping the future of American currency.
The Mint Act of 1792
In 1792, the U.S. Congress passed the Mint Act, a landmark legislation that laid the foundation for the American monetary system. This act not only established the U.S. dollar as the official currency but also defined the specifications for various coins, including the one-dollar coin.
The Mint Act specified that the one-dollar coin would feature an image of the President on one side and an eagle on the other. It was decided that the first President of the United States, George Washington, would be featured on the inaugural one-dollar coin.
This decision was a nod to Washington’s instrumental role in shaping the nation and his status as a revered figure.
The George Washington One Dollar Coin was minted from 1789 to 1797, during the presidency of George Washington. It became an important symbol of national pride and a tangible representation of the young country’s identity.
For more information on the history of the George Washington One Dollar Coin, you can visit the official website of the United States Mint at www.usmint.gov.
The Original Heraldic Eagle Design of 1789
The George Washington One Dollar Coin, also known as the “Peace Dollar,” has a rich history that dates back to 1789. During this time, the United States was in the process of establishing its own identity and currency system.
One of the most iconic designs of the early dollar coins was the heraldic eagle.
The Main Design Elements
The heraldic eagle design featured on the George Washington One Dollar Coin was inspired by the Great Seal of the United States. The main elements of this design included an eagle with outstretched wings, a shield on its chest, and a banner in its beak with the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one).
Additionally, the eagle was depicted holding a bundle of arrows in one talon, symbolizing the nation’s readiness to defend itself, and an olive branch in the other talon, representing peace. These design elements were carefully chosen to represent the ideals and values of the newly-formed United States.
Why the Heraldic Eagle Was Chosen
The heraldic eagle was chosen as the design for the George Washington One Dollar Coin for several reasons. Firstly, it was a symbol of American patriotism and strength. The eagle has long been associated with freedom and power, making it a fitting choice for a coin that represents the nation’s currency.
Furthermore, the heraldic eagle design was steeped in tradition and symbolism. It harkened back to the coat of arms used by European monarchs, symbolizing the United States’ desire to establish itself as a legitimate and respected nation on the global stage.
The design also had a practical purpose. The eagle’s outstretched wings allowed for a larger surface area, making it easier to mint the intricate details of the design onto the coin. This ensured that the heraldic eagle design could be accurately reproduced and easily recognized by the public.
The Draped Bust Design of 1795
Transition to the Draped Bust
The year 1795 marked an important transition in the design of the George Washington One Dollar Coin. Prior to this year, the coin featured the Flowing Hair design, which was the first design used for the dollar coin.
However, due to various reasons, including the complexity of the design and difficulties in producing the coins, it was decided to introduce a new design.
The new design, known as the Draped Bust design, was created by the prominent American engraver Robert Scot. The transition from the Flowing Hair design to the Draped Bust design brought about significant changes in the appearance of the coin, making it more aesthetically pleasing and easier to produce.
Design Changes and Elements
One of the notable changes in the Draped Bust design was the depiction of George Washington. In the Flowing Hair design, Washington was portrayed with flowing hair, whereas in the Draped Bust design, he was depicted with a more refined and elegant appearance, with his hair tied back and draped with a ribbon.
In addition to the changes in Washington’s depiction, the Draped Bust design also featured a different arrangement of the stars on the obverse side of the coin. In the Flowing Hair design, the stars were placed in a circular pattern, while in the Draped Bust design, they were arranged in an arc above Washington’s head.
Furthermore, the reverse side of the coin underwent changes as well. The Draped Bust design introduced an eagle with outstretched wings, holding a wreath and a shield. This design symbolized the strength and unity of the newly formed United States of America.
The Draped Bust design remained in use for the George Washington One Dollar Coin until 1797, when it was replaced by the Heraldic Eagle design. However, the Draped Bust design holds a special place in the history of the coin, as it represents an important phase in its evolution and showcases the artistic talent of Robert Scot.
The Draped Bust Design of 1797
The Draped Bust design of 1797 was a significant milestone in the history of the George Washington One Dollar coin. This design, which featured a profile of George Washington on the obverse, was introduced to replace the Flowing Hair design that had been in circulation since 1789.
The Draped Bust design was used until 1804, making it an important part of the early history of the one-dollar coin.
Modifying the Portrait
One of the notable aspects of the Draped Bust design of 1797 was the modification made to the portrait of George Washington. The initial portrait on the Flowing Hair design was criticized for its lack of resemblance to the first president of the United States.
To address this issue, the Draped Bust design featured a more accurate and detailed portrayal of Washington. The artist responsible for this modification was Gilbert Stuart, a renowned portraitist of his time.
Fun Fact: Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington, known as the “Athenaeum Portrait,” is considered one of the most iconic representations of the first president. It has been featured on various U.S. currency and postage stamps over the years.
In addition to modifying the portrait of George Washington, the Draped Bust design of 1797 also introduced the word “Liberty” above the portrait. This addition was significant as it emphasized the ideals of freedom and independence that Washington and the newly formed United States stood for.
The inclusion of “Liberty” on the coin reflected the values and aspirations of the nation during that period.
Interesting Fact: The Draped Bust design with the word “Liberty” above George Washington’s portrait continued to be used on the one-dollar coin until 1804. It was then replaced by the Capped Bust design, which featured a different representation of Liberty.
For more information on the history of the George Washington One Dollar coin, visit the official website of the United States Mint.
The Shift from Silver to Copper Planchets
During the early years of the United States Mint, the George Washington One Dollar Coin underwent a significant change in its composition. This shift from silver to copper planchets played a crucial role in shaping the coin’s history from 1789 to 1797.
Coinage Act of 1792 Requirements
The Coinage Act of 1792, passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Washington, outlined the requirements for the country’s currency. According to this act, the dollar coin was supposed to be made of silver and have a diameter of 39-40 millimeters.
However, due to various factors, the availability of silver became scarce, leading to the need for an alternative material.
Causes of Silver Shortages
There were several reasons behind the silver shortages during this period. One significant factor was the high demand for silver in Europe, where it was being used for various industrial purposes. Additionally, the growth of the American economy and the expansion of trade led to an increased need for silver coins, further straining the available supply.
Furthermore, the cost of extracting and refining silver was rising, making it less economically viable to produce silver coins. This prompted the Mint to explore alternative options for creating the George Washington One Dollar Coin.
The Switch to Copper in 1797
In 1797, the United States Mint made the decision to switch from silver planchets to copper planchets for the George Washington One Dollar Coin. This move was primarily driven by the need to address the silver shortages and ensure a steady supply of currency.
The new copper planchets were more readily available and less expensive to produce than silver. However, the switch to copper did come with a downside – the coins were significantly larger and heavier than their silver counterparts.
The diameter of the copper coin increased to 41-42 millimeters, and its weight increased to 264 grains.
Despite the change in composition, the George Washington One Dollar Coin remained an integral part of the young nation’s currency. It represented the economic challenges faced by the United States during its formative years and the innovative solutions implemented by the Mint to ensure a stable monetary system.
George Washington remains one of the most iconic presidents and figures in all of American history. As the nation’s first president, it was only fitting that his image grace the new country’s currency.
The George Washington one dollar coin went through several design shifts during Washington’s presidency, but each version maintained his forward-facing portrait as the focal point.
From the original heraldic eagle design to the addition of ‘Liberty’ in 1797, the dollar coin evolved to reflect the young nation’s values. The coin transitioned from pure silver to copper in its early days due to financial constraints, foreshadowing debates over currency standards that would persist for centuries.
Through numismatic history, George Washington’s legacy lives on in tangible form, remembered each time a one dollar coin changes hands.