Resource Center

Portraits & Designs

What portraits are shown on our circulating coins?

One-Cent coin: Abraham Lincoln
Nickel: Thomas Jefferson
Dime: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Quarter: George Washington
Half-Dollar: John F. Kennedy
Dollar: Sacagawea

What are mint marks?

Mint marks date from the days of ancient Greece and Rome. The practice was inaugurated in the United States by an Act of March 3, 1835, which established the first branch mints in this country. This Act provided that the Director of the United States Mint prescribe regulations for identifying the coins stamped at each institution, thus assuring central control of all coinage so that production from the different branches of the establishment should be exactly standard. The use of a mint mark on branch mint coins also ensured recognition of the Mint of issue when received in circulation or returned to the United States Mint. Thus responsibility for the coinage was established.

Read more about mint marks:
Philadelphia was the only Mint facility in operation before that time, and no coinage identification was needed. Even after the branch Mints were established, no Mint mark was used on coins produced at Philadelphia.

In 1942, however, a substitute alloy was used for producing five-cent coins. To more easily distinguish between the regular and substitute alloys, a Mint mark (the letter "P") was used for the first time on coins from the Philadelphia Mint. After the war, when a return to the regular alloy was made, the "P" Mint mark was discontinued. In July 1979, when the Susan B. Anthony one-dollar coin was introduced, the "P" Mint mark was placed on the one-dollar coins produced at the Philadelphia Mint. An "S" Mint mark was used on coins made at the San Francisco Mint until coinage operations were suspended there in 1955. Limited operations were resumed in 1965, but on a limited basis. Coins manufactured at the Denver Mint have always carried the "D" mint mark. The Coinage Act of 1965prohibited Mint marks on our coins for five years. This, along with a date freeze, eliminated distinguishing features on our coins dated 1965, 1966 and 1967. In addition, Special Mint Sets were produced at the San Francisco Mint for collectors during these years, but due to the restrictions on coin identification in force at that time, no Mint marks were used. This legislation also removed the "D" Mint mark from coins made at the Denver Mint. Congressional authorization once again permitted Mint marks on our coins in 1968, at which time they were permanently relocated from the reverse of the coins to the obverse side.

Mint marks are hand stamped at the Philadelphia Mint on coinage dies used by the branch Mint facilities. Because of its secondary position in any coin design, it has been the custom to make the Mint mark as inconspicuously as possible.

Can you explain the policy about the dates that are stamped on United States coins?

As required by law, all United States coins are currently dated with the year of their issuance or minting. In 1964, however, a coin shortage caused speculation in rolls and bags of 1964 coins. To prevent such speculation, Congress passed legislation declaring that the United States Mint could still use the 1964 date on coinage after the 1964 calendar year. So in 1965, all denominations of United States coins continued to be struck with the 1964 date. In 1965, Congress mandated that the United States Mint continue to use the 1964 date on all 90 percent silver coins. However, because clad coins (which were not 90 percent silver) were not as likely to spark speculation, they would be dated no earlier than 1965. This meant that all of the 90 percent silver coins (half-dollar, quarter-dollar, and 10-cent coins) that the United States Mint manufactured in 1964, 1965, and 1966 bore the date 1964. (The last of the 90 percent silver quarter-dollar coins was struck in January 1966, the last of the 10-cent coins in February 1966, and the last of the half-dollar coins in April 1966.) All of the clad coins actually manufactured in 1965 bear the 1965 date. The clad coins were struck with the 1965 date through July 31, 1966. (The first clad 10-cent coin was struck in December 1965, the first clad quarter-dollar coin in August 1965, and the first clad half-dollar coin in December 1965.) As one step toward catching up on normal coin dating, in December 1965, the 1964 date on five-cent coins and one-cent coins was changed to 1965. From December 1965 through July 31, 1966, all one-cent coins and five-cent coins were struck with the 1965 date. All denominations of United States coins minted from August 1 through December 31, 1966 carried the 1966 date. Normal dating procedures resumed on January 1, 1967, and continued through 1974. In 1973, to honor the upcoming United States Bicentennial, new legislation authorized design changes in the reverse designs of the one-dollar coins, the half-dollar coin and the quarter-dollar coin. A symbolic date (1776-1976) took the place of the usual single year designation. The only single-dated coins issued during 1975 and 1976 were the 10-cent coin, the five-cent coin, and the one-cent coin. On January 1, 1977, the Bicentennial designs were retired. The designs and dating procedures in use prior to the national celebration are now in force on all U.S. coins, including the 50 State Quarters and the Golden Dollar.

Why does the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the one-cent coin face to the right, but the portraits on all other coins face to the left?

Many people notice that the portraits on all of our other coins face to the left ... except for the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the one-cent coin. We have been unable to find any special significance to the direction in which the portrait faces. It appears that this is one of many discretionary factors left to the artist who prepared the design.

What can you tell me about my double-headed coin?

Your double-headed coin was probably altered after it left the United States Mint. It is very rare for the United States Mint to produced double-headed coins, because coins are struck on both sides simultaneously with two different dies of different physical dimensions. Most double headed coins found at trade shows are novelties produced from two coins.

Why are the values of United States coins shown in words and not numbers?

We do not have any information available about why the United States has followed the general custom of displaying coin values in words instead of numbers. The United States Mint used numerical descriptions of the value on our coins from time to time since the establishment of our coinage system in 1792. However, this has been the exception and not the rule.

What can you tell me about the words "E Pluribus Unum" on our coins?

"The motto "E Pluribus Unum" was first used on our coinage in 1795, when the reverse of the half-eagle ($5 gold) coin presented the main features of the Great Seal of the United States. “E Pluribus Unum” is inscribed on the Great Seal’s scroll. The motto was added to certain silver coins in 1798, and soon appeared on all of the coins made out of precious metals (gold and silver). In 1834, it was dropped from most of the gold coins to mark the change in the standard fineness of the coins. In 1837, it was dropped from the silver coins, marking the era of the Revised Mint Code. An Act of February 12, 1873 made the inscription a requirement of law upon the coins of the United States.

“E Pluribus Unum” does appear on all coins currently being manufactured. The motto means "Out of Many, One," and probably refers to the unity of the early States. Colonel Reed of Uxbridge, Massachusetts, is said to have been instrumental in having it placed on our coins.

Why did you use the letter "V" instead of the letter "U" on some of the coins?

We receive many inquiries asking why the letter "V" is used in the spelling of the word TRUST on certain coins. In medieval times, the letters "U" and "V" were used interchangeably. These letters were not given separate alphabetical listings in English dictionaries until about 1800. In recent times, many sculptors have used the "V" in place of "U" for artistic reasons, such as to represent the permanence and long-time significance of their work. Artists who design coins may choose to spell "TRUST" with a "V". All of the Peace Dollar coins have this characteristic. From 1921 through 1935, the United States Mint manufactured more than 190 million one-dollar coins of this type. You may also have noticed that the letter "V" is sometimes similarly used in wording on public buildings.

Why is the U.S. Mint producing the new Golden Dollar coin?

Required by the United States $1 Coin Act of 1997 (Public Law 104-124 , Sec. 4) the Golden Dollar coin replaced the Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin, which circulated since 1979. The government's supply of Susan B. Anthony Dollars was exhausted in early 2000.

How are the designs selected? May I submit design ideas (graphics) for the design of the 50 States Commemorative Coin Program?

State Quarter designs will be selected and approved by the process established by Secretary of the Treasury Robert E. Rubin on January 9, 1998, in accordance with Public Law 105-124. In this process, governors will be invited to submit coin designs that represent their states. Contact the office of your state governor about submitting design ideas. The designs will be reviewed by the Mint, the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee, and the Commission of Fine Arts, and candidates designs will be sent to the Secretary of the Treasury for final review and approval. The Secretary of the Treasury will select among candidate designs that will be forwarded to the state governor's office for final selection through a process determined by the governor. The Secretary of the Treasury will give the final approval to the selected design for each state.

What is the definition of mutilated coins? Is it illegal for people to use coins to make jewelry, souvenirs or other items?

"Those coins are classified either as not current or as mutilated. Coins that are chipped, fused, and not machine-countable are considered mutilated. The Mint redeems mutilated coins at the value of their metal content. Mutilated coins are only redeemable through the United States Mint at:

United States Mint
P.O. Box 400
Philadelphia, PA 19105
(215) 408-0203

Uncurrent coins are worn, but machine-countable, and their genuineness and denomination are still recognizable. Uncurrent coins are replaced with new coins of the same denomination by the Federal Reserve Banks, then forwarded to the Mint. All uncurrent or mutilated coins received by the Mint are melted, and the metal is shipped to a fabricator to be recycled in the manufacture of coinage strips.

Where can I find additional information on the making of the Golden Dollar coin?

Investigate the following resources:

  • United States One Dollar Coin Act of 1997 (December 1, 1997)
  • Federal Register Notice: The Establishment of the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee
  • U.S. Treasury Press Release: Treasury Establishes Dollar Coin Advisory Committee (May 19, 1998)
  • Federal Register Notice: Dollar Coin Advisory Committee: Notice of Meeting (May 22, 1998)
  • Dollar Coin Obverse Nominees (June 4, 1998).
  • Dollar Coin Design Recommended to Secretary Rubin (June 12, 1998)
  • U.S. Treasury Press Release: Image Representing Sacagawea to Appear on New Dollar Coin (July 29, 1998)

Is it illegal to damage or deface coins?

Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who “fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States.” This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Mint does not promote coloring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent. 

Last Updated: 12/5/2010 9:26 AM