First Spouse Coins

Posted on 7/1/2007

Behind every great man is a great woman, and coins are no exception. Jay Turner reviews the recently released First Spouse coin series.

This has been a very special month for modern coins. If anything, it has proven that they are more popular and collectable then ever before. With the scheduled release and subsequent sale of the First Spouse coins, a new series has begun with more popularity and frenzy than previous issues.

The presidential coin act of 2005 provided legislation that would require a coin series to honor and commemorate the spouse of each American president. This is the first series struck exclusively in gold with a changing design and the first series to offer medals with similar designs from the United States Mint at the same time. It is also just the second time the United States has struck coins in .9999 fine gold and the first time it was not a buffalo design.

The first four First Spouse coins, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty and Dolley Madison, were to be released as a set with the maximum mintage of 40,000 for both uncirculated and proof issues; the sets were a very attractive proposition. With the mint’s subscription program offering the opportunity to lock in the purchase of sets before their release, the sets were either sold out or close to it weeks before they were scheduled to be sold. As a result, the mint canceled all subscriptions and the subscription program for First Spouse coinage.

Since the coins would ideally be released with their counterpart dollar husbands, the Martha Washington and Abigail Adams were to be sold at the same time since the dollar coins had already been released. With the announced limitations of 40,000 of each design for both uncirculated and proof, the coins still sought favor with many collectors and profiteers. All four coins, the Martha Washington and Abigail Adams went on sale at noon eastern time and sold out in less then three hours, with a maximum limit of five of each coin per household. That is over 8,000 orders in three hours.

Martha Washington is not new to United States coinage, as her image has been used in test patterns since the 1960s. This, however, was the first official United States coin issued to commemorate her. George Washington was not her first husband, but he is the reason why she is known and commemorated. Martha’s marriage to Daniel Parke Custis ended with his death in 1757 and she married George Washington in 1759. When George Washington left to fight the British in the Revolutionary war, Martha followed him into battle. She spent the harsh winter with her husband and the American Army at Valley Forge and helped keep up morale with the troops.

When her husband was elected the first President of the United States, she was opposed to his service. Regardless, she acted tastefully and set the bar for first ladies to follow. After George Washington’s life of public service ended in 1797, he and Martha returned to Mount Vernon. When George Washington died in 1799, Martha burned all of their letters to protect their privacy. She died in 1802 and was laid to rest with her husband at Mount Vernon.

The minting of the Abigail Adams first spouse coin marks the first time she would be commemorated or imaged on a coin. Abigail Adams, in comparison to other women of the time period, was considered educated. She knew how to read and write and through this passion, she met her husband John Adams. She had six children with him, including future president John Quincy Adams. Like Martha Washington, she was an eyewitness to the Revolutionary War, witnessing the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charleston. After the revolutionary war, her husband took on the difficult role as the first United States Minister to Great Britain. In 1788, they returned to the United States where her husband became the first Vice President. After George Washington’s second presidential term ended, John Adams was elected President. Abigail Adams became the second first lady. This position was not an easy one for her, especially in her ailing health and the development of the White House. However, she fulfilled her duties gracefully. Her husband served only one term as President before he lost reelection, after which she retired to their estate in Quincy. She died in 1818, years before her husband.

Unlike Martha Washington, who burned all of their letters, Abigail was a frequent writer and as such, we know her today as a witness to history and for her role and opinions in politics at the time. She is best known for “Remember the Ladies,” a term included on the first spouse coin. This is in reference to a letter sent to her husband in 1776 while he was at the Continental Congress, in which she asks him to remember the ladies in the new laws of the land. This suggestion to consider the representation of women was decades before its time. Because of her writings and influence, she is considered a revolutionary in many respects but especially in woman’s rights.

With the release and sell-out of the two First Spouse coins, the anticipation for the series is great. The series is off to a running start, but one wonders if the level of success will be sustained. Martha Washington seems obvious for popularity as well as Adams, Jefferson’s Liberty, and Dolley Madison. Yet when Anna Harrison and Abigail Fillmore are out, will the series remain as popular and collected? Like all coinage, only time will tell how popular a series is and how worthy of commemoration a person is to the general public. However, this month, there is no question that the First Spouse coins are popular with collectors.