On the Money: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Coin Portraits

iStock/filo
iStock/filo

During America’s infancy, the government didn’t want to put President George Washington or any of the Founding Fathers on U.S. currency. Since government-issued coins had first appeared in the world, it was common for the faces of kings, queens and emperors to appear on them. The Founders had just gotten a constitutional republic up and running, and didn’t want the nasty habits of the old monarchies slipping in. Instead, the Mint adorned coins with an image that made a clear statement about the difference between the government the American colonists had rebelled against and the one they hoped to build: a portrait of the female personification of Liberty (and an American Eagle usually on the reverse).

Lincoln and Washington

It wasn't until 1909, the 133rd birthday of the nation and the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, that a president’s face would be featured on a coin. President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to reinvigorate the design of American coins with elements of classically influenced sculpture and art. He was particularly taken with a 1907 portrait plaque of Lincoln sculpted by Victor David Brenner. Lincoln’s birthday was well-timed, and the portrait was placed on what was planned to be a commemorative coin produced for only that year. That summer, 22 million new Lincoln cents were minted in Philadelphia and circulated. They were so popular with the public that the mint kept turning them out, even after the Lincoln centennial.

Twenty-three years later, George Washington finally got his day. In preparation for the bicentennial of Washington’s birth in 1932, the Treasury Department and the George Washington Bicentennial Commission were toying with the idea of a releasing a commemorative coin and medal featuring Washington’s likeness. They asked the public to submit design ideas. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon liked the work of New York sculptor John Flanagan, and his profile of the president was placed on the Washington quarter. Like the Lincoln penny, the quarter continued to be produced long after its intended run.

TJ, FDR, JFK and Ike

In 1938, the Treasury Department announced another public competition to solicit designs for a new coin. They wanted a new look for the five-cent coin, featuring a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on one side, and Monticello, Jefferson’s historic Virginia home, on the reverse. Three hundred and ninety designs were submitted, and the Treasury awarded the prize to German-American sculptor Felix Schlag, whose portrait was based on a bust by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The coin featuring Schlag’s work was released later that year.

Shortly after the end of World War II and the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the Treasury received numerous requests to honor the late president by putting his portrait on a coin. Roosevelt’s role in the formation of the March of Dimes made the question of which coin to place him on an easy one. On January 30, 1946, what would have been his 64th birthday, the dime bearing his portrait was released to the public.

Following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, the Treasury wasted no time; they honored the fallen president by swapping his image for the one of Benjamin Franklin on the half-dollar. President Lyndon Johnson issued an Executive Order directing the U.S. Mint to make the change. The new coins, bearing a portrait by Gilroy Roberts, began being minted in 1964.

In 1971, the Treasury made another presidential addition to circulating coins when they put Dwight Eisenhower on the first new one-dollar coin issued since the Coinage Act of 1965 ordered a five-year moratorium.

In 2007, it was announced that the rest of the presidents would get their turn on a coin when the mint began issuing $1 circulating coins—four per year—featuring the images of the presidents in the order that they served in office.

Why Is Lincoln Facing the Opposite Direction?

As noted above, Teddy Roosevelt chose Victor David Brenner’s portrait of Lincoln for the penny. That portrait is based on a bronze relief portrait plaque of Lincoln that Brenner had previously made. The plaque, in turn, was based on a photograph of Lincoln taken in February 1864 by Anthony Berger. Lincoln faced right in the photo, so he faces right on the plaque and also on the penny.

Why Are Only Dead Presidents on Coins?

The reason for putting only deceased presidents on circulating coins goes back to the earliest days of the nation, and follows the reasons those leaders had for not putting the president on coinage at all. While some factions in the young American government were especially enamored of George Washington and wanted his picture on money, the president declined when his portrait was requested for placement on the first U.S. Dollar. The precedent Washington set continued as a long, unwritten tradition until it was written into federal law that no living person can appear on U.S. coinage. Presidents must be dead for at least two years before they are eligible for inclusion in the Presidential Dollar series.

The prohibition on living persons only applies to circulating coins, though. Several people have had their images featured on U.S. commemorative coins during their lifetime. The list includes Alabama governor T.E. Kilby, who became the first living person to appear on a coin in 1921, when a commemorative half-dollar released for the Alabama Centennial.

President Calvin Coolidge became the first and only president to appear on a coin struck during his lifetime in 1926, when he appeared on the Sesquicentennial of American Independence half-dollar.

Senators Carter Glass and Joseph Robinson appeared, respectively, on the Lynchburg, Virginia, Sesquicentennial coin and the Robinson-Arkansas Centennial coin, both released in 1936. (Glass, who had served as Woodrow Wilson's Treasury Secretary, believed no living individual should appear even on non-circulating U.S. currency, and protested his appearance right up until his coin was released).

So ... All Dudes?

The female personification of Liberty was featured prominently on coins until presidential portraits began appearing in the 20th century. But women appear on modern circulating coins, too: the Sacagawea dollar coin has been minted since 2000, the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was minted from 1979 to 1981 and again in 1999, and Helen Keller appeared on the Alabama state quarter minted in 2003. Queen Isabella of Spain, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (in her lifetime), and Virginia Dare (the first child born in the Americas to English parents) have also been featured on commemorative coins.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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5 Easier Ways to Water Your Christmas Tree

Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

A decorated Christmas tree adds instant holiday cheer to any room—for a few days, at least. If you neglect to care for it, however, it doesn't take long for that tree to start dropping needles and dry up into a brittle, brown fire hazard. The key to keeping your tree looking healthy until the New Year is to water it every day. Of course, that comes with its own problems, like sap-covered clothing and sore knees. Here are some alternative methods for watering your Christmas tree that won't have you wishing for the end of the holiday season.

1. Rig a funnel and PVC pipe.

The worst part of watering a Christmas tree is crawling around on your hands and knees, but once you've set up this funnel rig, you can water it while standing up. As Eric Palonen demonstrates in the video above, all you need to do is stick a PVC pipe into the tree stand, attach a funnel to the other end with an elbow connector, and pour in the water.

2. Dig out a pool noodle.

Don't have a spare PVC pipe at home? A foam pool noodle works just as well as the receptacle for your funnel.

3. Disguise a DIY water dispenser as a present.

On Instructables, Rickyspears shares his step-by-step process for building a Christmas tree-watering rig. Using a bucket and plastic tube with brass fittings, you can create a water-siphoning system that automatically keeps your tree hydrated. And because a big bucket of water beneath the tree isn't the most festive sight, Rickyspears also tells you how to disguise it by hiding it in a box decorated with wrapping paper.

4. Use a wine bottle.

Still have some leftover wine bottles from Thanksgiving (or the weekend) lying around the house? Use one of them to water the base of your tree while keeping a safe distance between you and the sticky branches. (Though if you do get some sap on your hands, there are a few easy ways to get rid of it.)

5. Invest in an automated watering system.

DIY watering rigs are inexpensive, but if convenience is your main concern, it's hard to beat a product that was designed just for this purpose. The Christmas tree watering bag from Elf Logic senses when your tree needs water and replenishes it automatically. Plus, it hangs on a branch like an ornament, making it easy to tuck away.

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