The McKinley gold dollar coin was authorized by congress on February 23, 1916. The Coin was intended to help defray the cost of construction of a memorial in Niles Ohio, Birthplace of President McKinley, who had been assassinated a decade or so earlier. The original proposal called for the minting of 100,000 silver dollars, but in the course of the debate, congress was reminded that one of the fundamental planks of McKinley’s platform in 1896 was the gold standard! Accordingly, the legislation was amended to require a gold dollar. Unfortunately, the ambitious and unreasonable total mintage of not more than 100,000 coins over the two year program was maintained. The promoters, not learning a lesson from the failure of the previous gold dollars to sell at $3 each, severely overestimating the potential market for a $1 coin selling at three times its face value when the average working wage was less than $15 a week!
The initial mintage of 1916 dated coins was 20,026 but many of these went unsold. In 1917 an addition 10,014 were minted. Eventually Texas coin dealer and promoter B. Max Mehl purchase about 7,000 of the 1916 issue and another 2,000 of the 1917 dated coins at a greatly reduced price. He distributed these himself over the next couple of years at up to $2.50 each. After the program some 10,000 coins were returned to the mint to be melted, Best estimates are that about 5,000 of each date were eventually returned (note that the mint did not record the dates), leaving the net mintages at approximately 15,000 coins dated 1916 and 5,000 coins dated 1917.
The design is the same in both years with only the date being changed. The coins were designed and engraved in house, with the Obverse design being done by Chief Engraver Charles Barber, and the reverse by George T. Morgan.
The obverse includes a portrait of the former president that appears much older and heavier than the portrait that was used on the 1903 dollar. In fact the facial features on the two coins look nothing alike! The only inscription on the obverse is a ring of text that reads from 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” along the upper edge of the coin, and “McKINLEY DOLLAR” along the lower edge. In both inscriptions the words are separated by dots.
The reverse design is a rendering of the proposed memorial building. Above the building arc two lines of text. Along the outer edge “ McKINLEY BIRTHPLACE”, and an inner line that reads “NILES OHIO”. Underneath the building, in a straight line is the date and below that arcing along the bottom edge the word “MEMORIAL”. The building itself runs off the edge of the coin on both the left and the right!