Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

With the U. S. Mint now embarked upon a multi-year program honoring the first ladies of the nation, it’s interesting to note that the 1999 silver dollar in commemoration of Dolley Madison was the only previous coin to recognize a presidential spouse. It is also the only U. S. commemorative coin designed by a commercial firm, in this instance Tiffany & Company.

On October 20, 1996 Congress authorized the striking of up to 500,000 silver dollars marking the sesquicentennial of Dolley Madison’s death in 1999. Surcharges embedded within the sales price of each silver dollar went to The National Trust for Historic Preservation. This money was earmarked for the maintenance of Montpelier, the Madison’s 2700-acre estate in Virginia and its mansion house.

Dolley Madison was the wife of James Madison, president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. In addition to being first lady for the Madison Administration, she had previously served as official hostess at the White House under the widowed Thomas Jefferson while her husband was Jefferson’s vice-president. She gained lasting fame when the invading British Army torched the White House in 1814. Recognizing its irreplaceable value, she retrieved the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington before fleeing the executive mansion. She also secured several important documents from certain capture or destruction.

Artists from Tiffany & Company furnished the entire design for this coin, which was then modeled by U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engravers T. James Ferrell (obverse) and Thomas D. Rogers, Sr. (reverse). The obverse features a facing bust of Dolley Madison based on a painting by famed American artist Gilbert Stuart. She is surrounded by blossoms of Cape Jasmines, her favorite flower, and seen in the distance is the classically styled ice house at Montpelier. Dolley’s name and the date of coining appear beneath, while statutory mottoes complete this side.

The reverse features a perspective view of the portico at Montpelier. Trees surround the home on both sides, while the its name, the coin’s mintmark and Tiffany’s ‘T&Co.’ hallmark are beneath. The sculptor’s initials ‘TDR’ appear within the base of the willow trees at right, and statutory legends are used to frame these various elements.

The uncirculated and proof editions of this silver dollar were both struck at the Philadelphia Mint, and the coins were available for purchase for the entire year of 1999. As one of the most beautiful of the modern commemorative issues, it’s not surprising that these coins sold quite well when compared against contemporary offerings.