The following is re-posted from the “Bowers on Collecting” column on Coin Update
This week I continue and conclude my discussion of Sacagawea dollars. In 2000 they were released to the general public amid much publicity. Collectors loved them, but citizens ignored them. Vending machines would not accept them, most stores did not have a cash register space for dollar coins, and the Treasury Department’s hope that the sturdy coin with a life expectancy of 20 years or more would replace the paper dollar never came to be.
That the spotting and staining of coins due to Mint coinage and rinsing added to their “Antique” appeal, as the Treasury suggested, was certainly novel. Come to think of it, this explanation is nicer than the “environmental damage” label used by certification services! That said, the fact remained that many dollars became ugly after a small amount of handling. In time, processes were refined, and problems diminished.
Continuing the story:
Sculptor-artist Glenna Goodacre received her $5,000 payment for designing the obverse in the form of as many Sacagawea dollars, but with a specially burnished and treated surface—unexpected by her and unannounced in advance. These proved to be a bonanza.
This special surface was created when the Mint realized that if the coins given to Goodacre were publicized and sold—as they surely would be as she did not need 5,000 of them personally—it would be very embarrassing if they became stained and spotted, as likely would be the case. Accordingly, a special burnished finish, very distinctive in appearance, was applied to most of them. These coins were put up in cloth bags, resulting in some bagmarks, but not extensive.
These were delivered to her Santa Fe, New Mexico, studio by Mint Director Philip Diehl accompanied by two Mint police officers. A special ceremony was held there on April 5, 2000.
Seeking to preserve them from handling, the artist had the Independent Coin Graders (ICG) encapsulate them without adding grades, beginning on August 8. Many were later broken out of their holders and sent to PCGS or NGC, where they nearly all earned high grades. Goodacre signed some of the holders. She kept 2,000 coins for herself. Nearly all of the others were sold for $200 each. While writing this article, I checked the Internet, and a fair number of these are offered from about $500 to $1,000. The ICG coins are not graded, as noted. The PCGS and NGC coins have numerical grades, satisfying those who cannot live without numbers. I enjoy the Goodacre coin I have in my collection, acquired from Jeff Garrett.
A Spanish angel (with apologies to Willie Nelson) appeared on the horizon to save the day for circulating Sacagawea dollars—in the form of the country of Ecuador, the popular Spanish-speaking country with close ties to the United States. In 2000 they became legal tender there! Subsequently, hundreds of millions of Sacagawea dollars, unwanted at home, were shipped there. Some recipients thought that the coins were specially designed for them, given the appearance of Sacagawea’s child, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.
Sacagawea dollars continued to be minted—in quantity at the Denver and Philadelphia mints, plus Proofs in San Francisco. Each year I added new issues to my collection.
Surprise! In 2009 the Sacagawea dollar was discontinued.
Not really, but the Treasury changed the name to the Native American dollar. Sacagawea remained on the obverse as nice as ever, but the reverse was changed to that each year there would be a motif relating to Native American culture.
To be logical, the original Sacagawea dollars of 2000 onward should have been called Flying Eagle dollars, for the reverse. There was one thing that was and is terrible from a numismatic viewpoint: Completely hidden from view when in an album or certified holder, the date and mint mark are on the edge.
Message to the Mint: Change this back to normal practice—put dates and mint marks back on the obverse. After all, coin collectors buy hundreds of millions of dollars of your coins each year.
Full disclosure: I love the Mint dearly, have testified in Congress on behalf of the Mint and the Treasury Department, and at the Mint’s 200th anniversary held in Philadelphia, I was the keynote speaker. I have also advised a number of Mint directors over the years. Please view my message as being constructive and earning your thanks from the numismatic community.
To see all of the Sacagawea and Native American dollars and learn their mintages and prices, not to overlook some new issues (such as West Point Mint strikings), see the latest Guide Book of United States Coins.
Next week: A different subject.