By law, all coins minted by the U.S. mint must have the following inscriptions:
- In God We Trust
- United States of America
- E Pluribus Unum
- A designation of the value of the coin
The Presidential $1 Coin Program added the following inscriptions:
- The name of the President being commemorated
- The dates or years of the term of office of such President
- A number indicating the order of the period of service in which the President served
- The year of mintage
- The mint mark
In the case of the Presidential Dollar coins, the treasury department determined that the Statue of Liberty was sufficient in conveying this message and as such the Presidential Dollar coins are the only modern U.S. coins not bearing the inscription "Liberty".
That leaves nine different inscriptions that must appear on the coin while maintaining an obverse and reverse that are aesthetically pleasing. The solution was to place the year of minting, the mintmark, "E Pluribus Unum" and "In God We Trust" on the edge of the coin (note: it was also decided that the value of the coin would be represented by "$1", the first time that a number rather than a written value has been used to state the face value of a U.S. coin).
Since the process of inscribing on the edge of the coin had not been practiced since the 1907 Saint Gaudens Twenty Dollar gold piece, the US mint found itself to be lacking in both experience and equipment. Struggling to find a quick fix to this problem, new equipment was installed at the mints to produce this fascinating new aspect that had not been used for a century.
The first coin of this series was the United States' first president, George Washington. Only days after this coin was released, collectors came across coins with plain edges that had completely missed the edge-lettering process all together. Different names for this error started springing up including the plain or smooth edge Washington Dollar. With this coin missing the phrase "IN GOD WE TRUST," it soon picked up the nickname "Godless Dollar".
Due to the attention of the national media, the mint issued a statement announcing they had struck over 300 million Washington Dollars, and because of the new process, and high volume, the missing edge-lettering had been missed on an unknown number of coins from the Philadelphia mint. Experts estimate that around 200,000 Washington dollars may have been affected by this error.
These coins will be placed into ANAC's slabs, utilizing a gasket that holds the coins in a manner that makes the edge visible.