Death of former President Gerald R. Ford on Dec. 27 at age 93 has one immediate numismatic effect: it guarantees that his portrait will appear in the Presidential dollar coin series that has a February 2007 starting point and an as yet unspecified termination date.
The common reverseof all presidential coins, pictured at the left, will feature an image of the Statue of Liberty.
The largest and most expansive continuity program in American history, the Presidential Dollar Coin Act was signed into law by President Bush on Dec. 22, 2005. By the time it?s all over, there could be as many as 176 different Presidential coin types to collect if you include the new Presidential dollars from the Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point mints, including at least one proof version. Add in the First Spouse gold bullion coins and something like 216 new coins were authorized in one fell swoop.
When it was signed, Ford was not a shoo-in to be included, even at age 92. Potentially involved are the portraits of all former presidents, some presidents not yet elected (but who are statistically likely to die before the program is concluded), as well as many spouses.
Since there are currently 43 Presidents, and since no incumbent would be portrayed under the law until at least two years after his death, the program that starts in 2007 goes on until at least until the year 2018 at the rate of four Presidential coins per year. President Ford would appear on the 38th coin.
Thomas Jefferson, a widower, and James Buchanan, a bachelor President, will have no spousal representative; one President (to date) would have two coin designs, as Grover Cleveland served non-sequential terms, two Presidents would have two spouse coins as they remarried while in office (Tyler and Wilson) and several would have no spouse coins, as they were not married while in office.
Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur died in 1880, a year before her husband succeeded to office on the assassination of James A. Garfield. Rachael Jackson died in 1828, after her husband?s election but before he took office on March 4, 1829. Letitia Tyler died in 1842; President Tyler remarried, to Julia Gardiner, in 1844. Woodrow Wilson?s first wife, Ellen, died while he was in office in 1914; Edith Galt Wilson married the President in 1915.
For all of those not married during their tenure, except Chester A. Arthur, the coin would feature on the face the image of Liberty as represented by a circulating coin of the period; in the case of President Arthur, the image on the face would be that of Alice Paul, a suffragette strategist born during his term.
The law provides that all presidents starting with George Washington shall be honored, but that ?No coin issued... may bear the image of a living former or current President, or of any deceased former President during the two-year period following the date of the death of that president.?
Former President Ford?s turn will come in 2017. Congress always has the power to change the laws and the qualifications. But the incumbent President would then be required to sign the bill into law, and history.