If you’re a coin collector or work for the United States Mint, you might know about occasional special currencies that are released. Otherwise, the one we’re talking about may have escaped your notice: the Sacagawea dollar. At face value, the Sacagawea dollar is worth, well, a dollar. However, its makeup and increasing rarity might make it a little more valuable to collectors.

The U.S. Mint created a limited-release run of the Sacagawea coins from 2000 forward. From 2002 to 2008 and since 2012, the coins have not been released into standard circulation. Therefore, they have the potential to be more valuable to investors and collectors if these rare ones are found.

We’ll talk about what the coin is, what makes it so special, and what can be expected of its future performance. If you have any of these coins in your wallet or change box at home, you might want to hold on to them or sell them later when you get a good quote for the price.

For now, we’ll focus on the history of the coin and how to know when it might be more valuable.

Background

Sacagawea was a Shoshone member who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition northwest through the Louisiana Purchase, which tripled the size of the early United States.


The Sacagawea coin was first suggested to replace the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, but ultimately neither of them proved popular in comparison with the Presidential coins that saw the most release from 2007 to 2015. Starting in 2007, the Native American $1 Coin Act mandated a new design to appear on the coins every year. This meant that there would be several more designs.


The most well-known image on the dollar coins is the Sacagawea face on the observe, or “heads,” and the eagle design on the reverse, or “tails.” The model for Sacagawea was

A Native American woman requested especially because of the fears of making the facial profile look European.


The reverse side of the first coin had an eagle feather. The other major difference was the lack of the date and “E Pluribus Unum” lettering, which went to the edge, surrounded by stars. Even if you only get a look at the coin’s edge, you know you’re dealing with a Sacagawea coin if you can see or feel the lettering here. Some other designs for various years include the following:

  • A woman planting the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans, squash)
  • Sacagawea with her infant son
  • The eagle/wolf/turtle symbol of the Lenape nation
  • A sheaf of arrows

So What Are The Coins Made Of?

5 gold coins

image via: flickr.com

Despite appearance, the Sacagawea coins are not made of gold. Instead, they contain a copper core, a copper-manganese exterior that’s also mixed with nickel. The sheen of the coin looks like gold, but it isn’t. Gold is not in standard circulation but is the metal by which most fiat currency is measured.


If anyone tries to sell you one of these coins at an artificially marked-up price claiming that they’re made of gold, you know they’re not telling you the truth.


That being said, the U.S. mint is considering the release of a pure-gold 2020 Sacagawea coin. This coin would be released alongside the regular year’s release of the coin that normally is made of the brass composite. As a solid gold coin,  the retail value is expected to be anywhere from $420 to $480 for a quarter-ounce coin.


The Mint is also considering a half-ounce gold coin, which would sell at a retail price of $840 - $960.

The coin’s design is going to be the Sacagawea bust that was used from 2000 to 2008, and there is a possibility it will be struck multiple times with the die to make it brighter.


As an aside, coins are made by taking rolls of copper, gold, or whatever the metal is, and moving them through a die. This is a press that will create the characteristic design of the coin. By striking each coin at least twice with the die, it creates a sharper image, but akes the coin slightly wider and flatter, giving it a fresher appearance.


Each Sacagawea coin in the 2020 run is going to have dual dates: 2000 to commemorate the year the line was first launched, and 2020 for the then-current year. Only special lines of coins received this dual-dating mark.

Why Aren’t More Coins in Circulation?

Simply put, the U.S, Mint only releases a certain number of dollar coins per year. It’s usually only 75,000. These coins get bought by enthusiastic coin collectors and are rarely used in regular consumer spending. It’s possible that if you tried to hand a cashier this coin, they would reject it, not realizing that it’s a real coin. Therefore, most people don’t use it.


Humans are creatures of habit. They don’t like being different and coming across another coin in their wallet or coin purse that is not the same as a penny, nickel, dime, or quarter; they don’t like to spend it. This is either because they don’t recognize it or they do recognize it as something valuable and would prefer to keep it. Therefore, many of the Sacagawea dollars do not go into general circulation.

Recognizing a Rare Sacagawea Coin

two rare sacagawea coins

image via: flickr.com

There are several identifying markings of a true Sacagawea dollar coin that you should watch out for if you’re planning to buy one as a collector’s item.


First, you’ll want to look at the obverse or heads side. There should be the bust of Sacagawea. Then, look on the reverse side to look for one of the previous-mentioned designs. All of these designs are attempts to celebrate Native American cultural influence.


Next, look at the reverse side if you have a Wounded Eagle coin. This is the one that has an eagle with its wings outstretched. Normal Wounded Eagle coins have a basic eagle. However, in 2000, there were a select few coins created and released in boxes of cereal. These coins bore the eagle reverse but had been made with a more detailed die.


If you see extra detail in the tail feathers, you’re dealing with a rare “Cheerio” dollar. However, there is one other thing to look for.


Check the edge of the coin. Some unscrupulous online sellers try to market Sacagawea dollars that are just Presidential coins. You don’t see edge lettering on true Sacagawea coins minted before 2009. The lettering reads “E Pluribus Unum” with stars going around the rest of the edge.


If anyone tries to sell you a Sacagawea coin with edge lettering claiming it to be an early model, do not purchase it. The odds are that it will be marked for much higher than the actual worth of the coin is. If you have one and want to determine the price, encapsulate the coin and send it to the Independent Coin Grading Company. They will be able to tell you whether the coin is authentic.


Next, you’ll want to look at the dates. Remember that from 2002 to 2008, the coins were not in broad circulation. If you see a Sacagawea dollar dated between these years, you have a rare coin on your hands,

Another place to look for the authenticity of the coin is the mint mark. The U.S. Mint operates facilities in different locations, but only three of them produced Sacagawea currency: the Philadephia mint, marked with a “P”; the San Francisco mint, marked with an “S”; and the Denver mint, marked with a “D.” You can find the mint mark right below the year on the obverse.


Finally, to get a rough idea of the value, look at the coin to see whether it has signs of wear. If it looks like fresh copper with no dents, chips or other signs of use, it’s likely considered an uncirculated coin and has a higher numismatic premium. In other words, it has a market price that’s more than the value of the metals with which it’s made.

How Much Will Sacagawea Coins Cost?

Most of the time, you can expect to pay anywhere from $2 to $25 for Sacagawea coins that have been minted depending on the year and the condition of the coin. However, if you encounter one of the rare coins that we discussed like the Cheerio coin, expect to be quoted a price in the thousands or millions. Those coins are indeed that rare.

Final Thoughts

If you have a Sacagawea coin in your wallet, you should probably hold on to it or get a coin collector to look at it. The coin could potentially be worth thousands of dollars if it’s a rare model. Look especially for coins minted between 2000 and 2008 for the best chance at having a rare coin. Even if you don’t have a rare coin, it could easily increase in value over time.