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How a Person Lands on a U.S. Coin

The only sure-fire way to land on the surface of a U.S. coin is to become President of the United States. Other routes are much less certain. Learn more about how some people (two of whom weren’t even American citizens) wound up on U.S. coins.

An Initial Hesitancy to Use Individuals on Coins

A silver half dollar from 1921 at Atlanta Gold and Coin in Atlanta, GA

After the Revolutionary War, Americans viewed King George III’s visage on England’s coins as a reflection of the oppression they had defeated and the freedom won. Because our founders wanted no hint of a monarchy in their new republic, Lady Liberty landed on one side of U.S. coins with an eagle on the other.

The First Person on a U.S. Coin

The first person to appear on a U.S. coin was the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, followed simultaneously by Queen Isabella of Spain. On Nov. 19, 1892, commemorative coins for each were issued for the World’s Columbian Exposition celebration of the 400th Anniversary of the discovery of the New World.

The U.S. Presidency Takes Center Stage

It wasn’t until 1909—the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth—that a president finally appeared on a U.S. coin. Originally intended to be a special commemorative coin, the Lincoln penny became so common that most of these coins are of limited interest to coin dealers today, unless they happen to be a low mintage or error coin. The same goes for the Jefferson nickel, Roosevelt dime, and Washington quarter.

Swiftly Honored in Death

On Jan. 30, 1946, less than a year after the conclusion of World War II and the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the dime was issued on what would have been FDR’s 64th birthday. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, the U.S. Treasury replaced Benjamin Franklin with JFK’s image on the 1964 half-dollar.

Admirable Women Added to Coins

Almost 100 years after Christopher Columbus appeared in our circulation, women were finally represented. Women appearing on circulating coins include the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted from 1979 to 1981 and 1999, and the portrait of Helen Keller on the Alabama state quarter in 2003.

Sheer Happenstance

The first person that was currently living to appear on a U.S. coin was Alabama governor Thomas E. Kilby in 1921. His commemorative half-dollar was issued for the Alabama Centennial. A reputable coin dealer or coin buyer can determine if uncommon coins such as the Alabama Centennial are worth significant value.

Atlanta Gold and Coin Buyers is a family owned and operated coin and bullion dealership that specializes in selling, buying, and appraising gold, silver, platinum, and old and rare coins. If you’d like to know more about the value of your current collection or are interested in adding to its prestige, then give us a call at (404) 236-9744 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment today.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis
Tony Davis is the owner of Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, a full service Atlanta based coin and bullion dealer specializing in buying, selling and appraising coins and coin collections of all types and sizes. Tony frequently writes on various economic and numismatic related topics affecting the coin and bullion markets and has been published on some of the industry’s leading websites, including Coin Week, the American Numismatic Association, Coin Collector, Coinflation, and Coin Auctions Help, just to name a few. Visit Atlanta Gold & Coin’s website at to obtain additional information on the products, services and educational resources offered by his company. Tony can be reached at or at 404-236-9744
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