History claims that it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” While we might consider this a rather antiquated expression today, there is an incredible irony in Mrs. Roosevelt making such a statement, since she proved herself to be a truly great woman and ended up on one of the $10 gold pieces that honor the first spouses of the presidents of the United States. Plenty of collectors are only vaguely aware that as the U.S. Mint rolled out the Presidential dollar series a parallel series went along with it, the First Spouse gold pieces. This under-collected series is definitely beyond the mainstream and is one we’ll take a look at here.
In 2006 and 2007, the United States Mint spent tens of millions of dollars in advertising trying to get each of us to spend just one – one dollar coin that is. The Washington dollar came out of the gate in 2007, to the tune of 176 million from Philadelphia, another 163 million from Denver and almost 4 million from San Francisco, the last being all proofs. But at the same time, the Mint at West Point produced 17,661 half-ounce gold pieces with what is called a burnished finish – uncirculated, really – each with the nominal value of $10, each sporting the image of Martha Washington. They pounded out a further 19,167 of this new gold piece with a proof finish. That year also saw similar mintages for gold pieces honoring Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and an image of Lady Liberty since Thomas Jefferson had no wife during his tenure in the nation’s top job. If we want to be precise and add all the Mint totals together, we get to 141,040 coins. This number is noteworthy, since it is far lower than key date coins such as the 1916-D Mercury dime, or the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent.
We’ve spewed out this many numbers this quickly to prove a couple of points. First, these First Spouse gold pieces have never been produced in large amounts. Those of us who were collecting seriously back in 2007 probably remember the grousing that went on at the thought of trying to collect four 1/2-ounce gold pieces, or at least of the perceived cost behind it. There was even some criticism of the idea that bachelor or widowed presidents would simply have a recycled version of Liberty on their corresponding 1/2-ounce piece, the idea being that there could have been some better image to use.
Well, time has been good to the people who did invest in the First Spouse coins back at the outset. Gold cost about $700 an ounce then, which means these have certainly gone up in value. Curiously, even though gold has risen substantially on the world’s markets, the value of these $10 pieces hasn’t risen too much higher than the metal value. For example, with gold hovering about the $1,800-per-ounce mark, each of the First Spouse pieces contains $900 of the precious metal. Yet right now each of these coins rings in at about $1,100, perhaps a couple of hundred more as proofs in the rare PF-70 grade. That’s quite a bargain, if anyone is actually collecting them, that is.
As with some other U.S. coin series that were met with a collective yawn, the production run of First Spouse coins simply plummeted the following year. In 2008, it was the turn of Elizabeth Monroe and Louisa Adams to grace the obverse of these $10 pieces, as well as two images of Liberty. Andrew Jackson’s wife, Rachel, passed away between the time he won the office and his inauguration, and thus was never First Lady. Martin van Buren’s wife, Hannah, had passed of tuberculosis when she was only 35. He served as a bachelor president, having never remarried.
The highest run of any of the First Spouse gold pieces of 2008 was the proof version of Jackson’s “Liberty” image, with only 7,684 pieces. The lowest is the van Buren piece in a burnished or uncirculated finish, with just 3,826 coins. Clearly, even from their second year of issue, these $10 gold eagles were not flying high.
We can be forgiven for thinking that any and all of the 2008 First Spouse coins are hideously, screamingly expensive. After all, any piece that is considered a key coin in some U.S. series that had a mintage that low will probably be coupled with an astonishingly high price today. So it’s a wonderful surprise to find that, with the uncirculated finish, each of these four pieces costs from $1,100 to $1,300. Those values are not typos. These extremely rare gold pieces have essentially no mark-up when it comes to prices. The reason why? There may be more than one, but the obvious answer is that almost no one is collecting them. This series is snoozing longer and harder than Rip van Winkle.
Since we began with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, it’s probably fitting that we take a peek at the year in which her eagle was issued, as well. It was 2014 that saw Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, Lou Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt honored, and in even smaller numbers than those of 2008. Mrs. Roosevelt’s $10 gold pieces saw only 1,886 uncirculated and 2,377 proofs produced. And the price tag for either of these rare beauties? How about $1,100 once again? Really, it seems that these coins are just plain undervalued.
The year 2020 saw the last hurrah for this under-appreciated series, with an eagle honoring Barbara Bush. Prior to that, the final year had been 2016. There are certainly a lot of gold pieces within the series, and they can be had in grades like MS-70 or PF-70, but it’s hard to find one that is less appreciated and farther from the mainstream. υ