WASHINGTON — Hoping to encourage the use of a much-criticized form of currency, the U.S. Mint on Monday unveiled a series of $1 coins honoring U.S. presidents.
The first coin, with the same iconic portrait of George Washington that appears on the dollar bill, will enter circulation early next year. Subsequent coins, commemorating the presidents in the order they served, will be released every three months; Washington will be followed in 2007 by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The new series is modeled on the Mint's successful series of quarters, introduced in 1999, featuring each of the 50 states in the order they joined the union. Five are introduced each year.
"The new presidential $1 coins are an educational way to learn about former presidents," Edmund C. Moy, the director of the U.S. Mint, said Monday. "We hope students will take to them as they did with the state coins."
Presidents who served two consecutive terms will get a single coin, but Grover Cleveland will be honored twice because his terms were separated by Benjamin Harrison's administration.
The schedule for release of the coins goes to 2016, when the Richard M. Nixon coin will be introduced. By law, presidents cannot be honored in such a way until after their deaths.
The new coin, with a president's portrait and years in office on the front and the Statue of Liberty on the back, is similar in size and appearance to the Sacagawea "golden dollar," issued in 2000. One difference is the placement of the inscriptions "In God We Trust," "E Pluribus Unum" and the year of issue -- on the coin's outer rim, instead of on its flat surface.
Mint officials expect the presidential coins to be far more successful than the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin of 1979, which consumers soundly rejected because of its resemblance to a quarter. The Sacagawea coin, with its golden color and larger size, was designed to meet that objection -- but even it was not widely accepted, in part because vending machines and parking meters were not set up to handle them.
That's changing, Moy said Monday, noting New York City's announcement last week that parking meters there are being converted to accept dollar coins.
The introduction of the new coin does not mean that the government is eliminating the $1 bill, Mint officials said. The 1997 law that created the Sacagawea dollar calls for dollar coins to circulate in concert with paper currency of the same denomination.
"We see this as offering consumers choice," said Becky Bailey of the Mint's public affairs office. "In some situations the dollar bill works better, and in some situations coins work better. With these coins, it's just a wonderful history lesson."