She’s So Money Sacagawea and her sculptor on coin bring riches to the auction block.

Sacagawea Glenna Goodacre true west
By the time Glenna Goodacre designed her Sacagawea coin (she stands with design here), she was already a world-renowned sculptor, for her Vietnam Women’s Memorial installed in Washington, D.C. in 1993. Seven years after the minting of her coin, the artist suffered a head injury and fell into a coma. Her recovery gave her years of art for her fans, with her final work being a bronze modeled after Clark Hulings’s Helping to Push watercolor. Her retirement ushered in the auction of her personal collection this April, with the top bid, $350,000, going to Puddle Jumpers and setting an auction record for the artist.
– Glenna Goodacre photo courtesy National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum –

Sacagawea played a major role in the success of the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. The teenaged Lemhi Shoshoni interpreter, peacemaker and guide rose to fame after traveling from 1804 to 1806 on that “long dangerous and fatigueing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back,” wrote Lewis and Clark Expedition leader William Clark.

Her courageous accomplishment led to Sacagawea becoming, in 2000, the first woman minted on U.S. money…by a woman.

Glenna Goodacre designed the $1 golden coin—featuring Sacagawea carrying her infant son Jean Baptiste on her back, like she had during her famous journey—after
the famous sculptor’s design won a contest. Yet she was not the first woman chosen
to design a coin for national circulation.

Sacagawea Coin Glenna Goodacre true west
he Sacagawea dollar coin design hammered down at $3,500, while one of the coins the U.S. Mint presented to Goodacre went for a $500 bid. The sculptor requested she be paid her $5,000 commission in Sacagawea dollars; the U.S. Mint struck these on specially burnished blanks to give her coins a unique finish.

Laura Gardin Fraser was a notable coin designer who had fashioned, among other commemorative coins, the Oregon Trail Memorial half-dollar with her sculptor husband James Earle Fraser (who designed the buffalo nickel). Then Laura won a contest in 1931 to create a quarter in honor of President George Washington’s 200th birthday. So why, then, is Goodacre’s Sacagawea dollar the first circulating U.S. coin designed by a woman?

The quarter Americans carry in their pockets and wallets carries the design by John Flanagan. Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon usurped the decision by the Bicentennial Committee and Fine Arts Commission and chose to go with a design by Flanagan instead. Thus, Goodacre not only earned the distinction of being the first woman to mint a woman on U.S. currency, but also her coin became the first circulating U.S. coin by a woman.

Sacagawea Jean Baptiste Glenna Goodacre true west
Goodacre’s Sacagawea and Jean Baptiste bronze sold for the next highest bid, at $95,000. The artist created this sculpture in 2001 after her coin relief pattern was accepted by the U.S. Mint; this is one of 12 bronzes cast.

In 1999, the 200th anniversary year of Washington’s death, Laura’s design finally got minted, on a commemorative $5 coin. Having died in 1966, just before her 77th birthday, she never lived to see her Washington Quarter sculpture minted.

Goodacre not only lived to see her Sacagawea sculpture end up in people’s pockets, but she also chose an interesting time in the coin collecting arena to retire from sculpting (last fall), destroy her molds for existing sculptures and auction off her personal collection (this April 6) at Arizona’s Scottsdale Art Auction.

Crossing the Prairie Glenna Goodacre sculpture true west
Crossing the Prairie is Goodacre’s tribute to the mothers who walked alongside wagons during America’s Westward expansion. “I had a good time sculpting the movement of fabric in this piece,” she admits. “I found the old bonnet in a costume shop in Santa Fe [New Mexico];” $45,000.

Last year, Americans learned the news that the U.S. Mint will add other courageous women to the nation’s currency, most notably the escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. That design will be released in 2020.

This year, as in years past, the Sacagawea coin will have a new American Indian on the tails side: Sequoyah, creator of the Cherokee writing system. In 2018, Sauk Olympian Jim Thorpe, over an outline of his ancestor Chief Black Hawk, will take his place.

ronald reagan sculpture glenna goodacre true west
This After the Ride is a maquette, a small study, of the larger-than-life-size representation of President Ronald Reagan that Goodacre sculpted for his presidential library in Simi Valley, California; $14,000.

As for Goodacre, she retired with a bang in Scottsdale. Collectors made nearly $1.15 million on her art, but more than that, the April auction broke her artist record, with the $350,000 bid for her nearly 13-foot-wide, six-foot-tall bronze of children jumping over puddles.

The humanity she carved in those children’s faces is a deft touch felt in all her art purchased by collectors at the auction, particularly those featuring that courageous young mother and babe, looking forward, about to tackle the next snowy pass on their monumental journey west.

What do you think?

Meghan Saar

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.