Ron Guth: The Coinage Act of 1997 called for a new dollar coin of the same size and weight as the Susan B. Anthony dollar, but with a golden color and a plain edge. After a national competition, a new design was chosen featuring a portrait of the Shoshone Indian, Sacagawea, carrying her infant son, Jean-Baptiste (or "Pomp"). The coin was heavily promoted and nearly three-quarters of a billion Sacagawea dollars were struck for circulation. After an initial wave of enthusiasm, demand for the dollar coins dropped and mintages fell to 5-6 million coins per year from 2002 on. Despite intense marketing efforts, Sacagawea dollars are seldom seen outside of collecting circles and are mostly viewed as curiosities or annoyances by the general public.
39 Proof 2000-W Sacagawea Dollar coins were struck in 22 Karat gold at the West Point Mint in June 1999. 27 were melted and the remaining dozen examples were sent to space aboard the space shuttle Columbia, returning to earth five days later on July 22, 1999. Thereafter, the coins were stored in a vault at the Mint Headquarters in Washington, DC. One coin was displayed at a private congressional dinner on or about August 5, 1999. One coin was displayed at the Philadelphia Mint during the first-strike ceremonies for the 2000-P Sacagawea circulation strike coins on November 18, 1999. Sometime in August or September 2001, the dozen Proofs were sent to the Gold Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The dies for the Gold Proofs were prepared with Thomas D. Rogers, Sr.'s original reverse design featuring 12 tail feathers. Circulation strikes from other mints have 13 tail feathers.
5,500 Sacagawea dollars were placed in random boxes of Cheerios cereal as a means to promote the new coin. Unfortunately, collectors did not discover until years later that these were special coins featuring the prototype reverse with 12 tail feathers on the reverse. These have proven to be great rarities and are easily the most valuable coins in the series.
In 2009, the Mint changed the reverse as part of a Native American series. Each year, a new reverse design is matched with the traditional Sacagawea obverse. As of 2013, this program continues in effect.
Sources and/or recommended reading:
"Remember those real gold Sacagawea dollars?" by Paul Gilkes, COIN WORLD, September 17, 2001, front page and page 8
Tom Delorey's Letter to the Editor, COIN WORLD, September 24, 2001, page 11