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HomeUS CoinsGold Dollar, Type 1 (Liberty Head) 1849-1854 | CoinWeek

Gold Dollar, Type 1 (Liberty Head) 1849-1854 | CoinWeek

1853-O Gold Dollar. Image: David Lawrence Rare Coins / CoinWeek.
1853-O Gold Dollar. Image: David Lawrence Rare Coins / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Type 1 | Type 2 | Type 3

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The Gold Dollar was the smallest circulating gold coin denomination struck by the United States Mint. The Mint produced the gold dollar starting in 1849 and continued to strike gold dollars through 1889. Over this span of years, the Mint produced three types of gold dollar.

The Type 1 Gold Dollar was produced from 1849 to 1854. The Type 2 Gold Dollar, also known as the “Princess Head, Small Head” type, was struck from 1854-56. In 1856, a third and final type, the “Princess Head, Large Head” type, was introduced.

Why Did Congress Authorize a Gold Dollar Coin?

The gold dollar was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849. Because of the high volume of gold coming from the California gold fields, the United States Congress authorized production of a gold dollar coin and the double eagle $20 gold coin.

Of the two denominations, Mint Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre was able to complete the gold dollar in time for an 1849 release. Development on the double eagle design proved to be a nightmare, and only one example was struck in 1849. Mass production of the double eagle began in 1850.

Gold coins were minted in considerably large quantities at the Philadelphia Mint. The New Orleans Mint struck a decent number of coins, but at the branch mints of Charlotte and Dahlonega, gold dollar output was relatively small.

Private Minters Struck the First Dollar Coins in America

The gold dollar of 1849 was the first federal issue of a gold dollar, but not the first gold dollar struck within the geographic boundaries of the United States. 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 1831, 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 U.S. Government. It was suggested by members of the Government that the U.S. Mint take part in this new, profitable venture and begin minting gold dollars of their own. In 1836, Congress authorized the 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 from authorizing the denomination.

The Liberty Head Type I Gold Dollar

Designed by James B. Longacre, the first type of gold dollar is known as the “Liberty Head” or “Type I” Gold Dollar. The obverse of the coin depicts Liberty’s head circled by 13 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 Mint began experimenting with new designs. It was important that the weight of the coin remain the same because of its gold value, so they tried 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 obverse and reverse.

How Much Are Liberty Head, Type I Gold Dollars Worth?

At the basal level, a gold dollar is made of .04837 ounces of gold. At the February 26, 2024, price of $2,046 USD an ounce, the metal content in gold dollars is worth $98.46 each. Gold dollars do not typically trade at basal level, and instead are bought and sold based on the scarcity of the date and their condition. In circulated grades, common date Type I Gold Dollars sell for $350 to 450 each. In Mint State, the value of Type I Gold Dollar common dates jumps to about $1,300 in MS63.

The Type I Gold Dollar has a number of scarce issues and one rare variety.

The 1849-C Open Wreath is extremely rare with only four or five examples known. The finest known example is graded MS62 by PCGS and reportedly sold for close to $1 million in the early 2000s. The coin’s last public auction appearance was at a January 2016 Heritage sale, where it sold for $528,750.

Most of the coins struck at the southern mints at Dahlonega, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, are scarce and sell for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars each, condition depending. These coins are likely undervalued based on their scarcity.

Date-by-Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

What Gold Coin Expert Doug Winter Has to Say About Type I Gold Dollars

1849 Gold Dollar. Image: Douglas Winter Numismatics / CoinWeek.
1849 Gold Dollar. Image: Douglas Winter Numismatics / CoinWeek.

In this article, Doug breaks down the characteristics of each issue. This is a good primer for those interested in pursuing a year set.

Doug breaks down each of the San Francisco gold dollars, providing valuable market insights into each date. Only the 1854-S was struck from the Type I design.

As part of this overview of some of Doug’s favorite lesser-known gold coins, is a detailed write up of the 1849-C Open Wreath dollar, one of the Great Rarities in American numismatics.

This is an important look at the survival rate for Mint State Dahlonega gold dollars. Important for any collector with an interest in building a high-grade set.

Type 1 Gold Dollar Coin Specifications

Gold Dollar (Type 1)
Years of Issue: 1849-54
Mintage: High: 4,076,051 (1853); Low: 2,935 (1854-D)
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% silver and copper
Weight: 1.7 g
Diameter: 12.7 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer: James Barton Longacre

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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