When the Sacagawea Dollar was released in the year 2000, it created
excitement in the American public. It was a new one dollar coin that was
different from any other U.S. coin ever produced. It was golden in color.
This was a first for the American public, and there was a rush to acquire this
new golden coin. Many collectors just love them, but as a circulating coin
it has been a failure. Let's examine this coin. It is a beautiful
coin, well designed, artistic and well thought out. What is it that has
made this a flop?
In the late Walter Breen's book, the Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and
Colonial Coins, he suggests 5 reasons for the failure of the dollar coin in
the U.S. economy. They all make perfect sense, and I will paraphrase these
points and add a brief comment to each. The first reason is that the
general public in the United States has never willingly circulated the silver
dollar. Up until recently a dollar was considered a fair amount of money.
Think about it, it wasn't until 1968 that the minimum wage in this country went
up to $1.65 per hour. The dollar coins were used mostly for commercial
trade between banks, not for everyday transactions. The second point is
that since the $1 note was introduced in 1862, the public preferred using paper
over the coin. The public preferred to hoard the silver coins long ago and
spend the paper (Gresham's Law). Another reason is weight. You can
carry $25 in one dollar bills in your pocket easily, but with the old silver
dollars that is more than 1-1/2 pounds, and even with the Sacagawea Dollars that
is still almost 1/2 pound. The third is that there has just been little
interest in the more recent dollar coins. Even the Eisenhower Dollars
played almost no roll in the U.S. economy. The fourth point made was that
the Casinos in Nevada replaced the dollar coins with $1 chips or tokens in 1965,
and the chips or tokens were redeemable in paper money. That eliminated a
large source for placing the dollar coins into circulation. The fifth
reason listed is the concept that by eliminating the dollar coin, this country
could save millions of dollars in production costs. Everybody understands
that it would actually save this country more money to eliminate the $1 note and
produce a coin instead, but the $1 note has become an international symbol
representing status and stability, so we are stuck with the note, and the dollar
coin is useless.
In doing a little research on the internet, I wanted to gain a little
knowledge on just what went into the authorization and planning of the Sacagawea
Dollar. The U.S. Mint website provided some of the information (www.usmint.gov).
It says that the Sacagawea Dollar was provided for under the United States
Dollar Coin Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-124). It says this law
requires the Treasury Department to place into circulation a new dollar
coin. The law also states the coin will be golden in color; the same
diameter as the Susan B. Anthony dollar; the coin will have both visual and
tactile features so it cannot be confused with a quarter; and, have
anti-counterfeiting features just as other U.S. coinage utilizes. The law
provides for the designs to be chosen by the Treasury Secretary with Congress
consulting, and the reverse design must be an eagle as required under statute.
The only other requirement under this law is that it requires the new dollar to
go into circulation only after the supply of Susan B. Anthony dollar coins
is depleted. As President Clinton once said, that
depends on what the definition of is, is. One might want to ask for an
explanation, and it might be worded something like this. The mint produced
roughly 866,000,000 Susan B. Anthony dollars between 1979 through 1981, and in
1987 there were an estimated 800 million SBA dollars left in the treasury and
bank vaults. That means the usage of those dollars were around 8.2
million/year. With that in mind, between 1987 and 1999, the mint was able
to dispose of more than 66.6 million coins/year. In addition to that, the
U.S. Mint produced an additional 41.3 plus million SBA dollars in 1999. If
the law stated the supply of Susan B. Anthony dollars needed to be depleted
before the Sacagawea Dollar could be produced, how was that done, and how was
the word depleted defined?
With the passage of the bill, and its signing by the President, Treasury
Secretary Robert E. Rubin decided the design on the obverse of this new dollar
should consist of one or more women and the design could not be of any woman
currently living. In May of 1998, Secretary Rubin announced a nine member
committee to make the recommendation for the obverse design of the new dollar.
This committee was call the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee (DCDAC).
The names of the committee members are available on the U.S. Mint website.
Public meetings were held on proposed concepts and designs, and on June 9th,
1998, the DCDAC announced the image on the new dollar would be Sacagawea.
Over the next few month the DCDAC received a lot of input from artist,
educators, historians, numismatists and the Native American community, just to
name a few. The U.S. Mint then writes on their website, "In addition to
soliciting input from the specialists listed above, the Mint tapped in on the
World Wide Web's power. It published the finalists designs on its Web site
and received a never-imagined response: Over 120,000 emails and 2,000 letters
and faxes." That's not what I would call a huge response. That would
be equal to the response of any one of the following cities: Cedar
Rapids, IA or El Monte, CA or McAllen, TX or Stamford, CT or maybe Tucson, AZ in
1950 or New York City in 1810. It doesn't sound like the mint went for the
The obverse design chosen depicts a young Sacagawea carrying her baby Jean
Baptiste (Pomp) on her back. Sacagawea was a young Shoshone Native
American credited as acting as a guide and an interpreter on the Louis and Clark
expedition. The design was created by Glenna Goodacre, an American artist
with an impressive list of credentials. The American Eagle design on the
reverse of the coin was conceived and designed by Rev. Thomas D. Rogers, Sr.
There was a lot of media coverage and educational information released about
this new Sacagawea Dollar. Wal-mart, Safeway and Sam's Club stores among
others vowed to assist in getting these coins into circulation, and in January
2000 the first coins were released. The Philadelphia mint manufactured
767,140,000, and the Denver mint manufactured 518,916,000 for circulation, and
the San Francisco Mint made 3,082,483 Proof coins that first year. The
second year production was 62,468,000, 70,939,500 and 2,294,043 respectively.
The mintages changed dramatically in 2002. The Treasury Department
Inspector general estimated there were enough Sacagawea Golden Dollars on hand
to meet the country's needs for the next 3.6 years, and halted production of the
dollars on March 31st, 2002. The production by the Philadelphia, Denver,
and San Francisco mints equaled 3,865,610, 3,732,000 and 2,319,766 in that
order. None of the minted coins of Sacagawea Golden Dollars were released
for circulation for the years 2002, 2003, 2004, or 2005, but all coins were to
be sold for premiums from the mint in Mint Sets, bags, or rolls. There are
no immediate plans to again release the Golden Dollars for circulation. In
2003, both the Philadelphia and Denver mints each minted 3,080,000 dollars, and
in 2004 they each struck 2,660,000. So far this year, 2005, the two mints
have produced in excess of 2.5 million coins each. The number of proof
Sacagawea Dollars minted by the San Francisco mint from 2003 to present are not
available at this time.
I happened to see on a coin forum the other day, two ladies discussing the
fact that they couldn't find the Sacagawea Dollars in circulation any more.
One told the other she thought they must be rare, and therefore, a good
investment. The other agreed. My personal opinion is this:
Collect coins because you like them; because they are beautiful; because of the
historical significance; and, because it is fun. If a coin happens to go
up in value....Great! If it doesn't, then you still have a beautiful
collection. I'm not saying that coins cannot be a good investment, but it
is like buying stocks and bonds...you better know what you are doing, or find
someone (a professional you trust) who knows the industry.