Evolution of a Denomination Series: Dollars Part 6

As the Susan B. Anthony dollar series finally came to its conclusion in a last-ditch effort in 1999, the turn of the century would see a brand new dollar take its place. After years of planning, the Sacagawea dollar was authorized by Public Law 105-124, or the United States Dollar Coin Act of 1997.

Sacagawea Dollar (2000-2008)

Research showed that replacing the one dollar note with a coin was a major cost savings. Paper money was less expensive to print, but its lifespan was far less than a coin. With that in mind, Congress went for it with the Susan B. Anthony dollar and was met with resistance and ultimate failure. Trying to overcome the defeat, they once again brought forth the idea of a dollar coin with a requirement as addressed in the authorized law that “the new coin was specifically required to have tactile and visual features...that make the coin discernible, and distinctive so as not to be confused with the quarter...”.

Meanwhile in the background, the design had been selected for a new dollar coin. A national competition was held and from 120 submissions, Glenna Goodacre’s design featuring a young Native American Shoshone woman named Sacagawea was chosen. Sacagawea was a guide and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, helping explorers Meriweather Lewis and William Clark through their journey westward from the northern plains to the Pacific.

The design depicts a young Sacagawea carrying her infant son, Jean Baptise, on her back. While there was no portrait of her life to be found, a living model named Randy’L Teton was said to have provided a human form for the historic woman. The reverse design, created by Thomas D. Rogers, Sr., features an American bald eagle surrounded by 17 stars representing the number of states at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Both Philadelphia and Denver minted the Sacagawea dollar for circulation while Proofs were struck at San Francisco. Having a distinctive gold color, the new dollar coin was quickly referred to as the “golden dollar.” While this was confusing to some people, even leading them to believe that they contained gold, the Sacagawea dollar coins were comprised of two outside layers of manganese brass bonded to a pure copper core. This is what was responsible for its yellowish color. It was also a major reason the public was unsure of the coin. Despite its attractive design and look, the coin was given mixed reviews.

Not initially expected until March of 2000, the United States Mint would start distributing the coins mid-January due to sparked interest. One of the retailers who took on the responsibility of supplying the coins to anyone who wanted them was Wal-Mart. This was a part of the initial delivery of the dollars but a general distribution shortly after took place through channels of the federal reserve banks. While attached to high hopes and a televised advertising campaign, the Sacagawea was not really seen in general circulation. Although Congress considered withdrawing the one dollar note, they could not see a way through such an unpopular action.

Due to the Mint’s attempt at adjusting dies, blanks, strikes, and finishes, there are a number of distinctive dollars in the Sacagawea series. One of the those was the 2000-P dollar, struck with a special presentation finish and presented to sculptor Glenna Goodacre for payment of the obverse design. There were 5,000 pieces.

Presidential Dollar (2007-2016, 2020)

As a result of then President George W. Bush signing into law the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, four new dollar coins a year started being issued and minted starting in 2007. The series aimed to honor former United States presidents with the obverses to bear “the name and likeness of a President of the United States,” “the dates or years of the term of office,” and “a number indicating the order of the period of service in which the president served.” The common reverse for the coins features a likeness of the Statue of Liberty, the inscription “$1”, and the inscription “United States of America.”

The order in which the coins were released followed the president’s terms. The first four coins released in 2007 featured the likeness of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. The composition of the coins was similar to the Sacagawea dollar coins, consisting of three layers of manganese brass with an innermost layer consisting of pure copper. With the intent of decluttering the design on the reverse and obverse, the Mint decided to put the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the edge of the dollars in addition to their mint marks and year dates. This means that they were incused.

Circulation strikes were done at both Philadelphia and Denver with the Proof examples were struck at San Francisco. These coins were also intended to circulate alongside the paper dollar, but the public responded to these much like the dollar coins before. The program ended in 2016 as all remaining former U.S. Presidents of the United States were still living (the program does not allow the featuring of persons currently living). When former president George H.W. Bush passed in 2018, a new bill was introduced to include him in the Presidential $1 Coin program. It was passed and in 2020, the original program expanded to include him with the release of a $1 coin.

Native American Dollar (2009-Current)

The Native American $1 Coin Act would give the existing Sacagawea dollar coin program a facelift in 2009. The law authorized the annual changing of the reverse design, honoring and memorializing Native Americans and “the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans to the development and history of the United States.” The mint mark, year date, and “E PLURIBUS UNUM” was also to be incused on the edge per the new coin act.

In 2009, the first reverse of many to come was introduced. The theme was Spread of Three Sisters Agriculture, which referred to the symbiotic nature in which corn, beans, and squash grew in the same mound in central Mexico and throughout the southwest of North America. The three growing together enhanced the productivity of each plant and the skill from Native Americans in agriculture allowed for the survival of early European colonists. The efficient planting method worked as corn stalks provided support for the bean vines to climb and simultaneously added nitrogen to the soil. The squash provided ground cover and discouraged weeds from growing.

This overall theme for the first reverse spotlighted how agriculture had always been an important subject in Native American culture. It is also important to note that living with the land and understanding our natural resources allowed for the “New World” to ultimately take shape as it relied on the contributions and relationships of Native Americans to the first Europeans.

Source: NGC Coin; The Official 2024 Red Book