THE HISTORY OF THE SACAGAWEA DOLLAR
In December 1997, the President signed into law the United States Dollar Coin Act of 1997, requiring the Treasury Department to place into circulation a new one dollar coin, similar in size to the Susan B. Anthony one dollar coin. The legislation required that the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with Congress, select the designs for the obverse and reverse of the new one dollar coin. The reverse of the coin was required by statute to depict an eagle; the design of the obverse was left to the discretion of the Secretary.
It took many individuals to help decide on the design for the new dollar coin. In April 1998, Secretary Robert E. Rubin created the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee (DCDAC) to consider design concepts for the obverse of the new dollar coin, and to recommend to the Secretary a single such design concept. The committee's membership included a member of Congress, a university president, the President of the American Numismatic Society, the Undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institute, a sculptor, and an architect. U.S. Mint Director Philip N. Diehl chaired the committee in a non-voting capacity.
What exactly was supposed to go on the coin? Secretary Rubin gave design parameters regarding the new coin to the committee. He asked that the design be of one or more women, that it not depict a living person, and that the design maintain a dignity befitting the Nation's coinage. In June 1998, the DCDAC met in Philadelphia and listened to 17 design concept presentations from members of the public. Many additional suggestions arrived via mail, phone calls to individual committee members, and e-mail messages to the U.S. Mint Web site. The next day, the committee deliberated in public session and considered six finalist design concepts selected from the dozens of suggestions.
On June 9, 1998, the committee recommended that the new dollar coin bear a design representing Sacagawea, the Native American woman whose presence was essential to the success of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This raised tremendous public interest, and some controversy surrounding the spelling of the young Shoshone woman's name. On July 9, 1998, Secretary Rubin accepted the Committee's recommendation and authorized the Mint to move forward with the actual design of both the obverse and the reverse of the new dollar coin. The decision to create a design inspired by Sacagawea reflects a long numismatic tradition of placing symbolic and allegorical images of women and Native Americans on U.S. coinage as a means of communicating our nation's history and values.
In August 1998, the Mint wrote to a variety of organizations and individuals requesting recommendations and information about artists who would be good candidates to submit coin designs for this project. The Mint specifically sought out artists with knowledge of Native American culture and history. After reviewing the responses, the Mint invited 23 artists, including Mint sculptors and engravers, to submit obverse and reverse designs for the new coin. The artists were requested to be sensitive to cultural authenticity and to specifically avoid creating a representation of a classical European face in Native American headdress. The artists were also requested to create reverse eagle designs that reflect peace and freedom, and, if submitting both obverse and reverse designs, to attempt to create complementary designs. The Mint received 121 designs.
In November and December, the Mint invited representatives of the Native American community, numismatists, artists, educators, historians, Members of Congress, US Mint and Treasury officers and employees, and other members of the public to review and
offer comment on all designs received. Using these comments as a guide, the Mint narrowed the field to six obverse and seven reverse designs.
From the final 13 designs, the field was narrowed down to seven designs (three obverse, four reverse). On Thursday, December 17, the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts recommended one obverse and one reverse to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
The final design was announced on May 4, 1999, at an historic White House event. At the same time, the event was broadcast live across the Internet via a simultaneous Webcast.
The obverse design, by Glenna Goodacre, depicts the young Shoshone woman, Sacagawea, portrayed in three-quarter profile. In the Shoshone verbal legend, Sacagawea is described as having large dark eyes, a feature included in this portrait relief. On her back, Sacagawea carries her infant son Jean Baptiste, who she carried and cared for on her entire 3,000-mile portion of the expedition with Lewis and Clark. Goodacre designed the obverse using a 22-year-old Shoshone college student as her model. Goodacre, who is best known for her sculpture honoring women at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site, told The Washington Post, "It's amazing to me to think that I'll have a small piece of sculpture in people's pockets for years."
The reverse design, by Thomas D. Rogers, Sr. presents a soaring American bald eagle, our nation's symbol, encircled by 17 stars - symbolizing the states of the union at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804.
The coin will be golden in color, not silver toned. It will also have a "distinctive edge," which means that it will not display the reeded edge as seen on the quarter or the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. However, it will be the same size as the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, which is 26.5 mm (1.043 inches) in diameter. The new coin will have similar metallic, anti-counterfeiting properties as current circulating U.S. coins.
Coins for general circulation will be minted at the Philadelphia and Denver Mint facilities. Proof coins will be minted at the San Francisco mint.
First-strike ceremonies for the Sacagawea Dollars were held on November 18, 1999 at the Philadelphia Mint.
Although the new Sacagawea Dollars were not slated for release until March 1, 2000, a single example from the Philadelphia MInt was reportedly found in a Mint-sewn bag of 1999 Connecticut Quarter Dollars early in December 1999 (when Coin World staffers attended the first strike ceremonies at Philadelphia, they noted that ". Connecticut State quarters were being struck on high-speed presses, counted and placed inside Mint bags and sewn shut, and palletized less than 25 feet away from where 2000 [dated] Sacagawea dollars were being struck on similar presses and placed into hoppers for counting and bagging"). This coin was offered on eBay by Jared Burbank of J&J Coins of Pueblo, Colorado but the sale was closed prematurely on December 22, 1999 at a high bid of $1,136. pending an investigation by the Secret Service. Coincidentally, the coin was certified by Independent Coin Grading and graded MS-65 on December 21, 1999. The holder label identifies the certification date, thus assuring that this coin will always be recognized as the first one to leave the Mint, unofficially or otherwise. As of February 21, 2000, J&J Coins' website indicated that the Secret Service had cleared the coin for sale and that bids were being accepted for it.
Sources and/or recommended reading:
Coin World, January 3, 2000, pages 1 and 3
Numismatic News, January 11, 2000
United States Mint website at http://www.usmint.gov