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The nation's First Ladies are honored on a series of one-half ounce 24 karat gold coins. The First Spouse Gold Coins represent the United States Mint's first has featured women on a consecutive series of coins. The first three releases featuring Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Thomas Jefferson's Liberty achieved rapid sell-outs of their entire authorized mintages. Despite this early popularity, interest in the series would eventually wane, reducing maximum mintage levels. As collectors purchased fewer coins, specific issues concluded sales at extremely low levels, creating some of the lowest mintage gold coins in history. The final releases of the series featuring better known, modern First Ladies have served to bring renewed attention to the coins. The release honoring Jacqueline Kennedy recorded the highest sales figures in several years.
The program was authorized under Public Law 109-145, "The Presidential $1 Coin Act." In addition to authorizing the Presidential Dollars series, which features the former presidents in the order served, the law also provided the issuance of gold coins featuring the presidents' spouses. The order of release for the First Spouse coins follows the circulating dollar series, with some modifications. For presidents who served in office with a first and second wife, two gold coins are issued for the presidency. For presidents who served in office without a spouse, a depiction of Liberty is presented on the obverse of the coin in four instances, with Suffragist Alice Paul depicted for the final instance. First Spouse Gold Coins each contain one half ounce of .9999 fine gold. The coins are considered numismatic items and have a nominal face value of $10. The gold used to mint the coins must be obtained from newly mined domestic sources.
The obverse of each First Spouse coin features a portrait of the spouse being honored. Inscriptions include the spouse's name, the years served, the order of the presidency, date and mintmark, the motto "In God We Trust," and "Liberty." The reverse design of each coin contains images emblematic of the spouse being honored. So far, some of the reverse designs have included memorable scenes from the spouse's life or images representative of their major contributions, themes, or accomplishments. The required inscriptions on the reverse include "United States of America," "E Pluribus Unum," the denomination, and the weight and purity of the gold content.
The First Spouse Gold Coins have typically been issued following the circulation release date of the corresponding Presidential Dollar. During the series, there have been a few years where production problems and other issues delayed the release of the coins. These instances have compressed the release schedule and impacted the overall availability period for certain releases. At the onset of the series, the coins were offered at fixed prices based on the market price of gold when the coins were first released. Later in the series, when gold prices became more volatile, the US Mint adopted a flexible pricing policy, which allowed adjustments to prices as frequently as weekly based on the average market price of gold. For the first three years of the series, the US Mint established maximum authorized mintages of 40,000 coins for each design. Although the first three releases attained the maximum mintage, subsequent releases did not, prompting the maximum mintage to be lowered starting in 2010. In subsequent years, the mintage level was reduced further until reaching the low of 10,000 pieces established for many of the later releases of the series. Certain issues have had higher maximum mintage levels established in anticipation of greater public demand.