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Liberty and Indian Princess Head Gold Dollars 1849 to 1889

The first gold dollars made in the United States were privately minted issues produced about 1830 by a German immigrant named Alt Christoph Bechtler. The first One Dollar Gold Coin wasn't produced until 1849 by the U.S. Mint, and the California gold rush provided the spark. The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 energized Congress to expand existing uses of the metal into U.S. coinage.

On March 3, 1849, Congress passed legislation authorizing not only gold dollars but also $20 gold pieces. James Barton Longacre, the U.S. Mint's chief engraver designed the new one dollar gold coin.

For the United States first Dollar coin, Longacre came up with an interesting obverse design. A left-facing portrait of Miss Liberty with a small crown, in her hair.

Miss Liberty is encircled by 13 stars, symbolic of the 13 original colonies. The dollar's reverse is a simple design because of the coin's small size. It has the denomination 1 DOLLAR and the date within a simple wreath, which is encircled by the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

1849 Type 1 Gold Dollar 1849 Type 1 Gold Dollar reverse

1849 Type 1 Gold Dollar

During their six years of production, Type 1 gold dollars were struck at five different mints, Philadelphia, PA (no mint mark), Charlotte, NC (C), Dahlonega, GA (D), New Orleans, LA (O) and San Francisco, CA (S). However, only the Philadelphia and Dahlonega mints issued them every year.

1855 Type 2 Gold Dollar 1855 Type 2 Gold Dollar reverse

1855 Type 2 (small head) Gold Dollar

By 1854 a new design by Longacre for the one dollar coin was made due to the small size of the Type 1. The 1854 (Type 2) piece was made larger in diameter and was much thinner. Its obverse features a left-facing portrait of a female figure wearing a fancy headdress. The female figure is frequently described as being an Indian princess, and the coin is commonly known as the Indian Head type. The reverse design shows the date and denomination within a wreath of corn, cotton, wheat and tobacco.

Liberty and Indian Princess Head Gold Dollars 1849 to 1889

Being 15% larger in diameter, this Type 2 gold dollar was easier to keep track of—and less likely to get lost—than its predecessor had been. Because of the striking difficulties, Longacre had to go back to the drawing board yet again, and the Type 2 dollar lasted only until 1856 before giving way to a Type 3.

1859 Type 3 Gold Dollar 1859 Type 3 Gold Dollar reverse

1859 Type 3 (large Head) Gold Dollar

In 1856 the U.S. Mint produced yet another One Dollar Gold coin (Type 3). The type 2 didn't strike very well and was quickly worn down. So Longacre made the portrait larger, but also flatter. Besides enlarging the portrait’s size, Longacre also moved the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA closer to the border on the obverse. Minor changes were made in the reverse.

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