Shortly after the discovery of gold in California, Congress was debating whether to authorize mintage of either a one-dollar gold piece or the proposed new denomination $20 Double Eagle. A compromise was reached in which both were conditionally authorized for two years of production. Permanent authorization for either or both would depend on the public’s acceptance.
A one-dollar gold coin was included in the Coinage Act of 1792, but none were struck for more than 50 years. The first one-dollar gold piece finally went into mintage in 1849, known today as the Liberty Gold Dollar or Gold Dollar Type I.
The new coin’s designer was James B. Longacre, who also designed the Liberty Quarter Eagle, Half Eagle, and Eagle gold coins. The obverse of the Liberty Gold Dollar depicts a classic bust of Liberty, facing left and wearing a coronet with the inscription “LIBERTY.” Encircling Liberty are 13 stars.
Within a wreath on the reverse are date and denomination (“1 Dollar”). Surrounding the wreath is the inscription “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
Longacre tinkered with his design throughout 1849, resulting in three significant varieties struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Two variations, the “open wreath” and “closed wreath,” refer to the design on the reverse. Another is the inclusion of the monogram “L” on Liberty’s neck, the first circulated American coin bearing the designer’s initial.
In all, over 12 million Type I Gold Dollars were struck, nearly 10 million of which were minted in Philadelphia from 1851 to 1853. However, only about four million of them survived a large scale melting to provide bullion for new coins.
The Gold Dollar Type I was tiny, only about 1/2 inch in diameter. One novel proposal was to make a larger annular coin – one with a hole in the center. All U. S. coins must have a device symbolizing Liberty, however, which presented an insurmountable obstacle to the design of an annular coin.
In 1854, mintage of Type I Gold Dollars came to an end, making way for a wider and thinner coin: the Gold Dollar Type II.
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