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Celebrating the presidents,
one dollar at a time

GREG DERR photos/The Patriot Ledger
The John Adams $1 coin was released by the U.S. Mint this week, part of the Presidential $1 Coin program. The Mint will issue four Presidential $1 coins per year, in the order that the presidents served.


The Patriot Ledger

First-graders will identify the president and the responsibilities of the job. Second- and third-graders will define democracy and go over the presidents’ great achievements.
Fourth-graders and sixth-graders will talk about the branches of government, the ups and downs of one particular administration, and some historical events that illustrate the system of checks and balances.

Junior-high kids will talk about foreign policy. Freshmen and sophomores will discuss geography’s effect on presidential elections, and juniors and seniors will define liberty and back up their interpretation of the word with a multimedia presentation.

All these educational endeavors inspired by a single coin? Absolutely.

“I would bet you that many people even in Quincy, Massachusetts, couldn’t even tell you the years that he served. The coin is the starting point. It does give you really basic information that hopefully will spark some interest.”

— Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World Magazine
The U.S. Mint, which this week released a $1 John Adams coin as part of a larger series commemorating the presidents, is encouraging teachers to use the new pocket change as a springboard to teach about our nation’s leaders.

Coins, which have been propelled in popularity by the Mint’s 8-year-old 50 State Quarters Program, have become mainstream collectibles for young and old, and have proven themselves an effective means of teaching children about history, geography and trade.

The presidential $1 coins are expected to further the trend, giving the public pocket-sized flash cards showing the presidents’ faces, terms of office, and order in which they served. That is bare-bones information, no doubt, but it is information that many Americans probably could not recite off-hand - at least for presidents not named Washington, Jefferson or Lincoln.

And yes, that even applies here, the hallowed ground of all things Adams.

“I would bet you that many people even in Quincy, Massachusetts, couldn’t even tell you the years that he served,” said Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World Magazine. “The coin is the starting point. It does give you really basic information that hopefully will spark some interest.”

The state quarters were a catchy and highly marketable idea: only a few were released every year, and each carried the icons of the place it represented: Illinois had Lincoln, a farm, and the Chicago skyline, Massachusetts had its minuteman, and Florida had a space shuttle and Spanish galleon.

The quarters could be collected, get-‘em-all-cereal-prize style. They could be placed in special map-shaped holders - instant geography lesson.

Parents socked them away for themselves and for their children. A phenomenon was born.

“It’s our most popular program ever ...more popular than we predicted,” Mint spokesman Michael White said. “They’re collecting them for their kids, collecting them for their unborn kids. It’s turned coins from that specialized collectable to something that stacks up against their other collectibles. Now you have kids looking for the coins.”

The new $1 coins are simpler in design; heads is a portrait of the president and the information about him, tails an engraving of the Statue of Liberty.

The 2007 releases might not prove terribly educational; lots of Americans know that Washington was first, Adams second, Jefferson third and Madison fourth, and it doesn’t take a scholar to make a reasonable guess at the years they served.

But come 2010, we get into Millard Fillmore territory, where most of us no doubt could use a reminder that he was the 13th president and served from 1850 to 1853.

Deisher supposes that people will see the coin, see his face, then maybe even go find out something about him - perhaps that he was never elected president in his own right but instead succeeded from the office of Vice President after Zachary Taylor died of gastroenteritis. The presidential line of succession is full of such stories.

Teachers and numismatists - the fancy word for coin collectors - have been working together to use coins in the classroom; Deisher says collectors even hold seminars to explain the coin’s value in teaching about culture and history and, for older students of chemistry, metallurgy.

The nice thing about coins, she said, is that they’re around all the time.

“This is something tangible that kids see every day. It is a way of not only teaching mathematics and geography, but you can help history come alive,” she said.

John Zaremba may be reached at jzaremba@ledger.com.

John Adams dollars fall off the production line and into a collection bin.