Native American to shine from new coin

The new dollar coin, slated for America's pockets, purses, and couch cushions in early 2000, will be unlike anything the buying public has ever seen. Unlike the stiff, stern profiles of presidents Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, and George Washington, the most-likely subject of the nation's newest coin is staring directly at its holder. Not only that, it's a she and she's a native American. Sacagawea, the Shoshone teenager who traveled across the continent with explorers Lewis and Clark in 1804, will grace the new dollar coin. The glowing, full face of the young Indian is a radical departure from the cold and unattractive profile of women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, say US Mint officials. Many recall the Anthony disaster of the early 1980s, but the Mint is quick point out it learned from those mistakes. "We were very conscious of what the Susan B. Anthony had to teach us," says US Mint Director Philip Diehl. "It was not embraced by the American people." While the new coin's dimensions will be roughly the same as the Anthony dollar, it will have a smooth edge and gold color to distinguish it from the quarter, although the best alloy is yet to be determined. Last month, the US Fine Arts Commission whittled the Sacagawea designs - some 121 in all - down to three and recommended one in particular to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who will make the final decision this month. In that design, by New Mexico sculptor Glenna Goodacre, Sacagawea is looking back over her shoulder. Her infant son is strapped to her back, sleeping peacefully. Ms. Goodacre, who created the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, modeled her three Sacagawea designs after a Shoshone college student. The real Sacagawea, carrying her child, Jean Baptiste, acted as an interpreter between tribes on the push across the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Ocean. "I really like the Sacagawea with the child because it does have a child," says Goodacre from her Santa Fe studio. "It completes the story of Sacagawea, and says something about her and about motherhood." Using Sacagawea as the subject of the new dollar coin was a grass-roots idea, Mr. Diehl says. But recently, a survey conducted for the General Accounting Office indicated that 65 percent of Americans would prefer using the Statue of Liberty over the Shoshone mother. That will not change Mr. Rubin's choice of subject, the Treasury Department says. The design selection process is "pretty far along, and I doubt it's reversible," says Rep. Michael Castle (R) of Delaware, even though as a sponsor of the dollar-coin legislation, he pushed for the Statue of Liberty as its subject. "If it's not used now, I would hope it can be used on some other circulating coin in the future," he says. "More people around the world associate America with the Statue of Liberty than anything I know." The Mint felt the public's embrace of the subject was important, and thought it had achieved that with Sacagawea. When designs were posted on the Mint's Web site in December, the response was overwhelming. The public's clear favorite was the mother with child. "We see some irony in that the Susan B. Anthony is the most successful coin in America's history" in terms of production numbers, Diehl says. "But no matter what the numbers say, the clear perception is that it failed." The unpopular Anthony dollar, minted in 1979 and '80, is widely used in vending machines and mass transit. The supply will most likely run out in early 2000. "The expectation was much too high that [the Anthony coin] would drive the dollar bill out of the market. There is no similar kind of expectation associated with Sacagawea," Diehl says. "Americans are very attached to the dollar bill." Whatever happens with the new coin, slated for production this fall, artist Goodacre is proud and excited to have her designs chosen. "This was was a chance to say something meaningful, something I will be proud to have in everyone's pocket," she says.

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