The Sacagawea Dollar—also known as the “golden dollar”—is a one-dollar coin that was introduced in 2000 as part of the “United States $1 Coin Act of 1997.” One of the primary motivations behind this new coin was to replace the unpopular Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was often confused with the quarter due to their similar shape and color. To ensure that the Sacagawea Dollar was easily distinguishable from all other coins in circulation, it was designed with a wider border, a smoother edge, and most importantly, a much more distinct color. Composed of an alloy made of a copper core clad by manganese brass, the Sacagawea Dollar has a distinctive golden color. Minted from 2000 on, the Sacagawea Dollar has proven to have one of the most intricate design histories in American numismatics.
The design concept for the Sacagawea Dollar began with the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee (DCDAC). This committee consisted of a member of Congress, a university president, the president of the American Numismatic Society, the Under Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, a sculptor, and an architect, and was chaired by United States Mint Director Philip N. Diehl. In June 1998 the DCDAC began deliberations about the golden dollar coin, factoring public opinion into their decisions. They considered 17 concept presentations from members of the public, and consulted numerous emails, letters, faxes and phone calls submitted by American citizens. After taking account of all opinions and input, the committee settled on the image of Sacagawea for the new design.
Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian who assisted the historic Lewis and Clark expedition, acting as an interpreter and a guide, in their exploration of the Western United States. Between 1804 and 1806, she travelled thousands of miles, from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean.
The DCDAC chose a select group of artists to proceed to the next round. They gave the artists relatively few guidelines for the design of Sacagawea, merely asking that they be sensitive to cultural authenticity, and that the reverse eagle design symbolizes ideas of peace and freedom. Once the DCDAC received the artists’ submissions, the U.S. Mint invited members of the Native American community, numismatists, artists, educators, historians, members of Congress, Mint and Treasury officials, and many others to evaluate each final design. This helped the Mint narrow down the field to six obverse and seven reverse designs.
Taking advantage of the power of the Internet, the U.S. Mint published these final designs on their website, asking the public for its input. The response was overwhelming—more than 120,000 emails and 2,000 letters were received. In another effort to ensure the proper choice was made, the Mint held focus groups with representatives of both the public and numismatic community. The Mint even enlisted historians to explain the merits of each finalist’s design. These comprehensive efforts allowed the Mint to narrow the field once again to three obverse and four reverse designs that would be submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts, which would give its final recommendation to the Mint. On May 4, 1999, the U.S. Mint revealed the chosen designs.
Glenna Goodacre designed the winning obverse image, which features Sacagawea with her infant son, Jean Baptiste, bound to her back. She is depicted in a three-quarter profile, departing from numismatic tradition as she looks straight at the viewer. Goodacre used a Shoshone college student by the name of Randy’L He-dow Teton as her model.
Thomas D. Rogers designed the winning reverse image, which features an eagle in flight. The eagle is surrounded by 17 stars, representing each state in the Union at the time of the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition. This reverse design was used from 2000 to 2008. In 2009, the reverse design began changing annually, with each image depicting a new aspect of Native American culture.
The Sacagawea Dollars were released into circulation on January 27, 2000. Due to optimistic expectations for widespread circulations, the coins were struck in large numbers. When the coins did not prove popular with the public, the Mint had no choice but to drastically cut production. The coins were only struck for circulation for the first two years, and from 2002 until 2008 the coins were only produced in limited numbers for numismatic purposes. In 2009, the Sacagawea Dollar was officially renamed the Native American Dollar. From this point onwards, the coins were once again struck in quantities intended for circulation.
Never before in the history of American numismatics has the public played such a pivotal role in selecting a design concept for a coin. The story of the Sacagawea design is as unique as the story it commemorates, making the coin an ideal part of any collection.