US Coins

Gold Sacagawea dollar possible in 2019

Calendar year 2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for numismatic products from the United States Mint, including the possibility of a Sacagawea gold dollar to mark the series’ 20th anniversary. 

Among other numismatic products under consideration are a jointly packaged product between the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing and a three-coin set uniting collector versions of silver bullion issues from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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The U.S. Mint has been conducting in-person focus groups with customers around the country to receive feedback on potential products. Coin World has learned about some of the potential products from individuals who participated in the focus meetings.

Gold Sacagawea

A 2019-W Sacagawea gold dollar would not be the first Sacagawea dollar struck in gold.

The Fort Knox Bullion Depository in Kentucky is still securing 12 Proof 2000-W Sacagawea gold dollars struck at the West Point Mint in June 1999 and placed as cargo aboard the space shuttle Columbia in July, six months before manganese-brass Sacagawea dollars were first released into general circulation.

The 12 gold coins were among 39 struck at the West Point Mint under then-questioned circumstances.

After their existence was revealed, some members of Congress questioned whether the Mint had legal authority to strike the Sacagawea dollar in gold.

Then U.S. Mint Director Philip N. Diehl indicated the bureau was permitted to strike the gold dollars under the wide authority to produce platinum and gold bullion coins granted under provisions of the 1996 Mint Reform Act.

The Mint was planning full production to strike the gold coins for collectors. The Proof 2000-W Sacagawea gold dollars were struck on the same 27-millimeter .9167 fine gold planchets used to produce American Eagle half-ounce gold $25 coins.

The Mint struck 39 coins, and deemed 18 to be of acceptable quality. The remaining 21 coins from that production were melted.

Six coins were held in Mint vaults while 12 others were reserved for shipment to Florida to be placed aboard the space shuttle.

One of the six coins from the Mint’s vault accompanied Diehl to Florida for symbolic presentation to NASA chief Roy Bridges. Diehl later reported that the presentation coin and the other five that were not sent to Florida were destroyed.

Conceiving the idea

The idea for creating the Proof Sacagawea gold dollars and placing them on the space shuttle commanded by astronaut Eileen Collins belongs to Diehl. Diehl developed a rapport with NASA officials in 1996 when a pair of two-coin 1996 Smithsonian Institution 150th Anniversary Proof sets were placed aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, sent Sept. 16 to 26 to retrieve mission specialist Shannon Lucid from the space station Mir. Lucid set a woman’s endurance record in space with 188 days, 5 hours.

One of those two 1996 sets is on display at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington and the other is displayed by NASA.

Regarding the 2000-W gold dollars, according to an agreement signed with NASA, once the 12 coins returned from space, they were to be sent to museums for displays and used in traveling exhibits. However, the coins have had limited public display.

Diehl had an even bigger goal in mind — to strike and sell Proof Sacagawea gold coins to collectors under the same provision of the law cited as authority to strike the special pieces sent into space. Diehl’s plans to sell the coins as a numismatic product were never acted upon after congress raised objections. Later Mint officials would issue a range of special gold coins under the same 1996 act, with few objections from Congress.

During the recent and ongoing focus groups, the idea of a Sacagawea gold dollar was suggested, in either a quarter-ounce or half-ounce version, without specified fineness of either .9167 fine, or 22 karats, or .9999 fine, 24 karats.

Other possibilities

Also under consideration is a numismatic product pairing a U.S. Mint silver Presidential medal with intaglio-engraved Presidential portraits from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing under a recently announced joint partnership between the two Treasury Department bureaus.

The U.S. Mint is also considering a product featuring three similar coins from three different nations.

The Canadian Maple Leaf and the Mexican Libertad, like the American Eagle silver dollar, are 1-ounce silver coins issued in bullion and numismatic versions.

As related to participants in the Mint’s focus groups, a three-coin silver set from three different countries could include coins with the same or completely different finishes.

The coins in the set, depending on the finish, would only be available in the set and not offered separately by the individual world mints.

Coin World has contacted U.S. Mint officials for additional information on the proposed products and will publish additional details as they become available. 

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