US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Sept. 17, 2018

In 2000, Mint officials struck a small number of Sacagawea dollars in gold and contemplated selling versions to collectors before Congress balked. In 2019, the Mint may try again.

Original images courtesy of U.S. Mint.

When the United States Mint struck a small number of 2000 Sacagawea dollars in gold and proposed striking variations for collector sales, a lot of people in the collecting community and in Congress were surprised and doubtful of the Mint’s authority to do that. After all, the law authorizing the Sacagawea dollar did not provide the Mint any authority to issue the coin in anything other than the standard base metal “golden” alloy.

We at Coin World took a pretty strong stance on the coins. In her Editorial in the March 27, 2000, issue of Coin World, editor Beth Deisher asked, “Why are U.S. Mint officials insistent upon striking 22-karat gold coins bearing the Sacagawea design?” She especially questioned their authority to do so.

She related that Mint officials, when queried by Coin World staff about their authority to strike the coins in gold, kept changing their answer.

As Beth recounted in her Editorial, “the Mint’s legal staff initially pointed to a provision of the Dollar Coin Act of 1997 permitting the clad coin to be produced and placed in Proof sets.” Skeptical on that point, we pushed back, leading the Mint to decline to respond further, citing the Mint staff’s legal opinion as an “internal working document,” Beth noted.

Then Congress got involved and the Mint’s cited authority was changed. Then Mint officials said “that the Mint is permitted to strike gold Sacagawea dollars under the wide authority to produce platinum and gold bullion coins granted in a section of the 1996 Mint Reform Act,” Beth wrote in 2000.

Facing pressure from Congress and a skeptical collector community, Mint officials backed off on the possibility of offering collectors a Sacagawea gold coin of some kind. 

However, nearly a decade later, the Mint dusted off that provision in the 1996 act and began issuing various gold coins without congressional approval, this time with little pushback from the collector community: the 2009 Ultra High Relief gold double eagle, a tribute to an experimental 1907 pattern created during the testing that resulted in the 1907 Saint-Gaudens double eagle; the various American Liberty gold coins since 2015; the 2016 gold versions of the Winged Liberty Head dime, Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar; and a planned 2019 Virtues of Liberty gold coin.

Few in the collector community today question the Mint’s interpretation of the 1996 act. With each new release, collectors and dealers line up to buy the new coins. It is interesting how much has changed since 2000.

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