Collectors of foreign coins have a rule about trying to figure out what side of a coin is the obverse and which side is the reverse. The side that identifies the country is considered the obverse.
Monarchies are the fly in the ointment. The side that depicts the ruler is considered the obverse no matter what else may appear on the coin.
This rule is not observed by U.S. collectors. Heads are heads. Too bad. It would be handy to use the foreign coin rule in the debate over the placement of ?In God We Trust? on the Presidential dollars.
If we followed the world coin rule about the obverse being the side that identifies the country, the Statue of Liberty side would be considered the obverse of the Presidential dollar. It appears to me from an aesthetic point of view that it is on that side that the motto would most logically fit in an inner concentric circle below ?United States of America.?
To illustrate my point, I put a doctored reverse design in this column for readers to examine. Through the magic of Photo Shop, the motto appears with the Statue of Liberty.
Putting this motto on the Statue of Liberty side would give the artists who are designing the Presidential side the maximum flexibility that orginally justified the placement of the date, mintmark and two mottoes on the edge.
Also, if you think about it, it could serve as precedent for U.S. coin issuance. There are a number of series where there is a common side and a rotating design side. Up to now, the common side always was considered the obverse.
For the state quarters, the obverse is George Washington, but by moving ?United States of America? to that side in 1999, the heads side can still be considered heads on the basis of the portrait.
The various Lewis and Clark Expedition designs appeared on the reverse of the Jefferson nickel in 2004-2005.
The proof platinum coinage has a reverse that changes annually.
So why not consider the changing side of the Presidential series to be the reverse, too?
This suggestion might have had a chance had it come up in the time before the coin was authorized and issued, but a year of habit and descriptions now clearly delineate the Presidential side as the obverse. Any attempt to put ?In God We Trust? on the reverse would elicit the same negative reaction as that directed to the matter of ?In God We Trust? on the edge.
It is too late to be either consistent or logical, but it makes for a fascinating historical question. I look forward to seeing the new Presidential designs when they are issued in 2009.