After years of trying to trying to downplay what many had considered
one of the United States' greatest coinage failures, the U.S. Treasury
Department on Oct. 21, 1997, did an about face. In testimony before
the House Banking Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary
Policy Nancy Killefer, assistant secretary for management and chief
financial officer of the Treasury Department, for the first time in
more than 17 years went on record encouraging production of a new
circulating small-sized dollar coin to replace the Anthony dollar.
The driving force in changing Treasury's attitude was the eminent
drawn-down of the government's stockpile of Anthony dollars, which
Killefer estimated would be depleted within 30 months. The threat of
depletion forced the question of what kind of dollar coin should be
produced. Since its introduction in 1979, the public had not generally
accepted the Anthony dollar and relatively few coins were drawn out of
government reserves in the early years. However, in 1994, demand for
Anthony dollars increased, due to an acceptance by several
metropolitan transit systems and the installation of 9,000 stamp
vending machines by the U.S. Postal Service that accepted Anthony
dollars and dispensed them as change for paper currency. Both Killefer
and Mint Director Philip Diehl, who also testified before the House
panel, advised against simply making more Anthony dollars. Instead
they supported legislation to mint a new, gold-colored coin with a
distinctive edge. Actual production of a new coin, Diehl said, would
require time for the Mint to research and test coin alloys and
suitability for use in commerce, as well as to gear up the production
facilities. He estimated the Mint needed approximately 30 months of
For more than a decade, the Dollar Coin Coalition – a lobbying group
supported by the vending machine and mining industries – had tried to
bring about circulation of the small-sized dollar coin by forcing
withdrawal of the $1 Federal Reserve note. Most government and private
studies, both in the United States and abroad, had determined that a
dollar coin would not gain full acceptance if a $1 note remained in circulation.
Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., chairman of the monetary policy
subcommittee and chief sponsor of the United States $1 Coin Act of
1997 (the subject of the Oct. 21 hearing), readily acknowledged that
withdrawing the paper dollar would greatly enhance the integration of
the dollar coin into general commerce, but he recognized that
political and social realities precluded the government from taking
action that the public would view as heavy-handed. By side-stepping
the issue of whether to withdraw the dollar note, Castle's legislation
encountered virtually no opposition. He later combined his dollar coin
proposal with legislation authorizing the 50 State quarters initiative
(PL105-124) and the multifaceted bill was signed into law by President
Clinton on Dec. 1, 1997.
The new law was specific: "The dollar coin shall be golden in
color, have a distinctive edge, have tactile and visual features that
make the denomination of the coin readily discernible, be minted and
fabricated in the United States, and have similar metallic,
anti-counterfeiting properties as United States coinage in circulation
on the date of enactment of the United States $1 Coin Act of
1997." It also stated forthrightly that "Nothing in this Act
or the amendments made by this Act shall be construed to evidence any
intention to eliminate or to limit the printing or circulation of
United States currency in the $1 denomination."
While that stipulation temporarily put to rest the debate regarding
coin versus paper dollar, controversy soon erupted over what designs
should be on the coin. Many voiced the opinion that since Anthony was
the only female honored on a circulating U.S. coin, she should be
replaced by a female.
Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin established the Dollar Coin
Advisory Committee to "consider design concepts for the obverse
side of the new $1 coin and recommend to the Secretary of the Treasury
a single such design concept."
Diehl chaired the committee as a nonvoting member and announced that
the obverse would depict a female figure, either an allegorical
representation or a historical figure. He noted that by law the
reverse of the coin would be required to depict an eagle. Other
members appointed to the committee by Rubin were Rep. Castle;
Constance Berry Newman, undersecretary of the Smithsonian Institution;
Peggy Cooper Cafritz, vice chair of the President's Committee on the
Arts and the Humanities; Arthur Houghton, president of the American
Numismatic Society; Hilario Candela, fellow and president of Spillis,
Candela and Partners Inc., architects, and member of the President's
Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; artist and sculptor Edward
Vega; Gail Shaffer, executive director of the Business and
Professional Women U.S.A.; and Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity College.
The committee invited the public to submit design ideas and on June
8, 1998, convened the first session of a two-day public meeting in
Philadelphia at which anyone could give a five-minute oral
presentation. After listening to hours of presentations advocating
nearly a dozen separate individuals, as well as themes of
"Liberty" and "Peace," and after hours of
sometimes lively discussion among the panelists the committee voted 6
to 1 to recommend that the obverse "depict Liberty as represented
by a Native-American woman inspired by Sacagawea."
COIN VALUES: See how much Sacagawea dollar coins are worth today
Sacagawea or the "Bird Woman," a Shoshone who lived most
of her life as a slave, was a native guide and interpreter for the
Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest from 1803 to 1806.
Committee members did not offer how their suggested depiction should
be accomplished other than to recommend that Native American artists
and historians be consulted on the design. The committee also voted to
recommend that the word "Peace" be included on the coin. The
decision was a compromise, voting to honor a woman of history for whom
there was no known likeness. Other finalists included Eleanor
Roosevelt and black aviation pioneer Bessie Coleman.
Castle, the lone dissenter, introduced legislation July 24 seeking
to override the panel's recommendation and to direct Rubin to select
the Statue of Liberty for the design of the new dollar coin. However,
his proposal failed to gain support and the Treasury went forward with
a design contest based on the recommended theme. Mint
sculptor-engravers as well as outside artists were invited to submit
design sketches and some 121 obverse and reverse designs were submitted.
Nov. 16 through 18 in Washington, D.C., Mint employees, coin
collectors, artists, historians and invited guests reviewed the
submitted designs, offered comments and indicated their preferences to
a Mint design selection committee. On Nov. 20, members of Congress,
noted historians and authors, Treasury Department and Federal Reserve
Board officials and others had their opportunity to comment about the
proposed designs. A Mint design selection panel – whose members Mint
officials declined to identify – narrowed the selection to six obverse
and five reverse designs, which were posted on the Mint's Web site.
The Mint design selection panel reconvened on Dec. 14 to narrow the
selection to three obverse and three reverse designs before submitting
them to the Commission of Fine Arts for review. The six designs,
complete with final design recommendations from the Mint, were
forwarded to Rubin in late December of 1998.
Five months later and to the beat of American Indian drums in a
special White House ceremony May 4, 1999, the selected obverse was
announced to be the work of Santa Fe, N.M., artist-sculptor Glenna
Goodacre, whose design features a representation of Sacagawea looking
back over her right shoulder, with her infant son, Jean Baptiste,
strapped to her back. The winning reverse design was the work of U.S.
Mint Sculptor-Engraver Thomas D. Rogers Sr. His design captures an
eagle in full flight, its wings sweeping across the reverse field, and
surrounded by 17 stars. The number of stars represents the states of
the Union at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The 17th
state, Ohio, was admitted in 1803. It would be the first time 17 stars
would be used on a circulating U.S. coin denomination. Both Goodacre
and Rogers attended the unveiling ceremony as did Goodacre's model for
Sacagawea, Randy L'Teton.
The alloy composition for the Sacagawea dollar was unveiled Oct. 6,
1999, in New York City. Although golden in color, it contains no gold.
Both the golden Sacagawea dollar and silver-colored Anthony dollars
are clad coins, sharing a three-layer composite construction, with a
pure copper core sandwiched between and metallurgically bonded to
outer layers of alloy material.
The alloy layers on each side of the pure copper core of the Anthony
dollar is copper-nickel, a material composed of 75 percent copper and
25 percent nickel, the same alloy that comprises the Jefferson 5-cent
coin. With the Sacagawea dollar, the alloy layers on each side of the
copper core are manganese bronze, a golden-colored alloy composed of
77 percent copper, 12 percent zinc, 7 percent manganese and 4 percent nickel.
Taking into account the pure copper core, the overall composition of
the Sacagawea dollar is 88.5 percent copper, 6 percent zinc, 3.5
percent manganese and 2 percent nickel. The overall composition of the
Anthony dollar is 87.5 percent copper and 12.5 percent nickel. The
alloy used in the Sacagawea dollar was developed to match the
electromagnetic signature of the Anthony dollar and thus did not
require any retrofitting to be accepted by existing vending and
transit authority machines.
Full-scale production of 2000 Sacagawea golden dollars began Nov.
18, 1999, at the Philadelphia Mint, moments after ceremonial first
strikes. Mint Director Diehl also announced a series of all-out
promotions to ensure the success of the Sacagawea dollars that would
put 100 Sacagawea dollars in the hands of members of the general
public even before the coins are placed in general circulation in
March. Diehl also announced the Mint would be working with two major
nationwide retailers who planned to use the Sacagawea dollars
extensively in their over-the-counter operations, including using the
sixth change slot in cash drawers for the new dollars instead of for
rolls of other denominations. He also announced a joint promotion with
General Mills that would place specially packaged Lincoln cents dated
2000 from the Philadelphia Mint in each of 10 million specially marked
Cheerios boxes and also include a single, specially packaged Sacagawea
dollar in every 2,000th box. At General Mills' insistence to further
"sweeten" the promotion, Diehl said every 2,500th box, in
addition to a 2000 Lincoln cent, would include a certificate than
could be redeemed for 100 Sacagawea dollars struck at the Philadelphia
Mint. The promotion was launched in January 2000 and put the coins
into the hands of the general public a full two months before the
scheduled circulation release.
Once placed in circulation, Diehl said an extensive four-month
public awareness blitz would be waged via print, radio and television
outlets to educate the public about using the new dollar coin.
Despite all of the Mint's efforts to entice use and circulation of
the Sacagawea dollar coin, two years after its release, few Americans
had ever encountered one in circulation. In 2002 the Mint curtailed
production of circulation-quality Sacagawea dollars and began
producing them only for collector products.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: