Gold Dollars – Gold Dollar Type 1 (Liberty Head) 1849-1854
The Type 1 Gold dollar was produced from 1849 to 1854. Composed of 90% pure gold, it was the smallest denomination of gold currency ever produced in the United States. When the US system of coinage was originally designed there had been no plans for a gold dollar coin, but in the late 1840s, two gold rushes later, Congress was looking to expand the use of gold in the country’s currency.
The gold dollar was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849, and the Liberty Head type began circulating soon afterward. Because of the high value of gold, the gold dollar is the smallest coin in the history of US coinage.The gold dollar had its origins more than a decade before the Act of March 3, in the Carolina gold rush of the 1830s. The sudden availability of gold caused the US government to make several changes to its coinage system.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Gold coins were minted in considerably larger quantities, and new mints were opened at Charlotte and Dahlonega solely for the production of gold coins. It was around this time that the first gold dollars were minted in the United States, but not by the government. A North Carolina jeweler by the name of Alt Christoph Bechtler capitalized on the gold rush, by offering to turn prospectors’ raw gold into coins. He began offering this service in the early 1830s, and by 1840 he had produced over $2.2 million in gold coinage. Nearly half of this was in the form of gold dollars.
Bechtler’s actions were perfectly legal at the time, but his success attracted the attention of the US government. It was suggested by members of the government that the US Mint take part in this new, profitable venture and begin minting gold dollars of their own. In 1836, Congress authorized the US Mint to do just that, but Mint Director Robert Patterson opposed the idea, and nothing came of the matter for the time being. In 1849 however, things changed. A new gold rush in California had sparked demand yet again for more gold coinage. Director Patterson still objected, but was unable to dissuade Congress. The Act of March 3, 1849 authorized production not only of gold dollars, but another new coin, the double eagle. Production of both denominations would soon begin.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the first type of gold dollar is known as the “Liberty Head” type or the “Type I” gold dollar. The obverse of the coins depicts Liberty’s head circled by thirteen stars. She faces to the left and wears a coronet inscribed with the word “LIBERTY”. The reverse depicts a simple wreath encircling the date and value of the coin, and the inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”. Weighing 1.672 grams, the coin had a composition of .900 gold and .100 copper. It therefore contained .04837 ounces of pure gold.
Starting in 1849, a quantity of the Liberty Head gold dollar was minted each year at Philadelphia and Dahlonega. The coin was also minted at Charlotte, New Orleans, and San Francisco. The quantity minted in total each year ranges from 511,301 in 1850 to 4,384,149 in 1853. However, a problem soon arose with this type. The Liberty Head gold dollar had a diameter of only 13 mm. At less than three-quarters the size of the present-day dime, it was the smallest coin in U.S. history. Because it was so small, it could be easily lost despite its high value. As a result of this issue, many people were highly critical of the new coin.
In response to their objections, the US Mint began experimenting with new designs. It was important that the weight of the coin remain the same because of gold values, so they soon began experimenting with putting a hole in the middle of a larger coin. These plans were scrapped when James Snowden became Mint Director in 1853. His idea was that the coin simply be made wider but thinner, and that James Longacre redesign its faces.
Rare dates in this series include the 1849-C with an Open Wreath on the reverse and most of the coins struck at the Southern Mints at Dahlonega, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Designer: James Barton Longacre
Mintage: All Years 12,565,273 Proofs- Fewer than 20
Diameter: ±12.7 millimeters
Metal content: Gold – 90% Silver and Copper – 10%
Weight: ±25.8 grains (±1.7 grams)