This week I continue my comments on Sacagawea “golden dollars,” drawing from studies I made for a Whitman Publishing book, A Guide Book of Modern United States Dollar Coins 1971 to Date: A Complete History and Price Guide, a copy of which would be just right for your library. To that, I’ve added more thoughts and opinions.
First made with the date of 2000, they are still being made today, in my opinion. I say opinion, as while Sacagawea continues on the obverse, the reverse has been changed from an eagle in flight to various scenes in Native American history. Hence, the Mint now calls them Native American dollars, which I find to be strange. On the other hand, we have the Buffalo nickels of 1913 to 1938 on which the Indian Head obverse is not used by numismatists, and the viviparous quadruped on the reverse is a bison. A buffalo is a slightly different animal from a zoological perspective.
Back to Sacagawea dollars. Last week I closed with this:
If you are a specialist in Sacagaweas you probably know these two pieces of trivia:
- There is a rarity in the series due to General Mills and boxes of Cheerios cereal!
- Sacagawea dollars by the millions are in everyday circulation as you read these words in 2018, but not in the United States!
Now I will start at the beginning and will lead up to the Cheerios incident:
The Treasury Department hoped that the Eisenhower dollars minted from 1971 to 1978 would replace the paper dollar in commerce, last many years longer, and save money. That did not happen. Hardly anyone ever used an Ike dollar to buy a hamburger or a magazine. When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The result was the smaller-diameter Susan B. Anthony dollar launched in 1981. Expectations were high. The new coins were small and easy to use. Wrong! They were also a flop. It didn’t help that coin devices in vending machines would not accept them, not to overlook that they were easily confused with quarters. I don’t recall ever seeing one in pocket change. “Susies” were made in 1979, 1980, and 1981, after which there was a gap. By strange reasoning it was thought the new millennium, Y2K as it was called, would disrupt the monetary system and that more coins were needed. Again, wrong!
In 1997 several bills were introduced in Congress to mint more small-diameter dollars, now without a reeded edge and of golden color so as not to be confused with the quarter. Such a coin would last in circulation for up to 20 years or even more. As in prior times, not everyone agreed. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, another branch of the Treasury Department, feared mass layoffs of staff if dollars were no longer required. Representative Thomas M. Davis said that in any event the public preferred dollar bills (which certainly had been the case during the SBA era) and, in any event, should not be told what type of money to use. Further, the American currency system was antiquated, and many universities, businesses, and people were switching to credit cards and other systems.
Amidst all of this, legislation for a new coin was passed. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, by virtue of his office, had the final say in the design of the new coin. He appointed a Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee with nine members charged to follow his instructions that it should show one or more women and not a living person. Only one member was a numismatist.
Suggestions varied widely, from abstractions such as “Liberty” and “Peace,” to individuals in history such as Eleanor Roosevelt, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, African-American aviatrix Bessie Coleman, and, of course, Liberty Enlightening the World (the Statue of Liberty).
On June 9, 1998, the committee, having reviewed the submissions, selected Sacagawea, the Shoshone interpreter (not guide, as popularly thought) for the Corps of Discovery, popularly commonly known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, westward of the upper reaches of the Missouri River.
Michael Castle, who had a powerful influence in the House of Representatives and was also well known to the numismatic community, protested the choice and reiterated that the Statue of Liberty would be ideal as it was a popular and recognizable design and would facilitate the coin’s use. At Castle’s suggestion, the General Accountability Office conducted a poll of citizens. The Statue of Liberty was preferred by 65%, Sacagawea by 27%, 5% said that either was acceptable, and the rest liked neither or had no opinion. This effort came to naught, for Secretary Rubin chose Sacagawea. This was a poster example of an often-repeated scenario in American coinage history: polls, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, numismatic groups, and others often favor or recommend designs, such sometimes being dismissed by the secretary of the Treasury. In this instance, however, after the coin became a reality nearly all in the numismatic community admired it greatly.
Invitations were sent to 23 artists to submit their interpretation of a design featuring Sacagawea on the obverse and on the reverse an eagle representing peace and freedom, their work to arrive on or before October 28, 1998. Sacagawea was to have the appearance of a Native American, not simply a generic woman. In November and December 1998 the Mint invited comments from government officials, numismatists, Native Americans, and others to review the designs submitted. This resulted in six obverse and seven reverse designs being named as semi-finalists. The creators of these were to receive $1,000 each, Mint employees excepted, and the designers for the final coin $5,000 each.
After opinions from citizens were studied, in combination with those of artists and government officials, the designs were submitted to the Commission of Fine Arts. Chosen on December 17, 1998, was a representation of Sacagawea with her infant son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, as submitted by talented sculptor Glenna Goodacre, who had a studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The reverse chosen was the work of Mint sculptor-engraver Thomas D. Rogers Sr., depicting a soaring eagle. To the satisfaction of almost everyone, the secretary of the Treasury agreed with the Commission’s decision.
As there are no contemporary portraits or other illustrations of Sacagawea, Goodacre had gone to the nearby American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe to see if she could find an appropriate model. She settled on chose Randy’L He-dow Teton, daughter of a museum employee and a student at the University of New Mexico. Born in 1976, she is a Shoshone-Bannock-Cree from the Lincoln Creek District within the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho. This brought her a degree of fame, and she was featured at several numismatic events, the first-ever appearance of a living model for circulating coinage to appear at such gatherings.
Trivia: As to living people on non-circulating coinage, President Calvin Coolidge, Senator Carter Glass, and Kennedy relative Eunice Shriver each appeared on commemorative coins during their lifetimes. In the early 1860s while in the White House, President Abraham Lincoln was pictured on federal paper money.
The design made its debut in a ceremony at the White House on May 4, 1999. Photographs of the event showed First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (remember her?) standing with Randy’L He-dow Teton, a model of the coin, in front of a large cut-out of the new dollar. “Sacagawea played an unforgettable role in the history of our nation,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Every day this coin will remind us we are a nation of many cultures.”
With a nod to Yogi Berra, the new dollar was déjà vu all over again. Congress wanted to have a metal dollar to replace the paper dollar bill. A paper dollar lasted perhaps 18 months in circulation, whereas a metal dollar might last close to 20 years or even more. Logical enough, it would seem.
Not so fast! News about the forthcoming coins engendered much controversy, some of which was played out in the daily papers. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association strongly opposed the possible replacement of the familiar dollar bill with Washington’s portrait. Others stated that the elimination of the paper dollar would cost 600 to 1,000 jobs at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing as the Crane & Co. paper contract of $65 million per year included about 40% of the amount for dollar bills.
Standing to benefit from the coins was the vending-machine industry of about $40 billion revenue per year. It would not cost much to configure coin mechanisms to take dollar coins, replacing bill changes that cost $400 each. Beyond vending machines billions of dollars in coins, usually quarters, went through non-vending devices such as parking meters, washing machines, airport luggage carts, and even vibrating beds in motel rooms. The new coins replacing the paper dollar would result in increased employment at the various mints, offsetting to an unknown degree the losses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (both entities are under the Treasury Department). The seignorage or profit made on each coin would be a benefit as well.
The mints went to work and churned out golden dollars to be launched in 2000.
Next week: More on the first dollars, including the creation of a great rarity by General Mills, the maker of Cheerios cereal.