The gold dollar, introduced in 1849, was one of the smallest denomination regular issue U.S. gold coins. It was minted continuously until 1889, though production slowed after the Civil War. Collectors today often seek the three distinct design variations:
- Type I (1849-1854) featured Miss Liberty's portrait, identical to the $20 double eagle.
- Type II (1854-1855, SF Mint in 1856) showcased an Indian princess motif.
- Type III (1856-1889) displayed a modified portrait of an Indian princess.
Initially, Type I gold dollars (13 mm diameter) were commonly used in everyday transactions, resulting in most surviving examples showing wear. In 1854, the diameter was slightly enlarged to 15 mm for easier handling. The introduction of the Indian princess motif in 1854 brought challenges, as it was hard to achieve even striking. To address this, the Type II portrait with shallower relief was introduced in 1856.
Among these types, Type II gold dollars are the scarcest, with fewer than 2 million pieces minted. Type I gold dollars, particularly the 1853 Philadelphia Mint issue, saw over 4 million coins struck. Type III gold dollars had larger mintages compared to Type II.
Collecting gold dollars can be a rewarding pursuit, but it may require a substantial budget. Rare dates from Charlotte and Dahlonega mints, such as 1855-D, 1856-D, 1860-D, and 1861-D, are particularly elusive. The 1875 Philadelphia Mint issue is a prized rarity, with only 20 Proofs and 400 business strikes minted.
Uncirculated gold dollars are generally rare before 1879, except for certain early 1850s issues due to higher mintages. After 1878, a speculative trend led to more hoarding of gold dollars, resulting in a higher survival rate of Uncirculated pieces compared to earlier dates.
A popular approach to acquiring gold dollars is as part of a type set, which may include Liberty Head and Indian quarter eagles, $3 gold, Liberty Head and Indian head half eagles, Liberty Head and Indian $10, and Saint-Gaudens $20. Each coin in this set is relatively affordable. For a more advanced collection, additional varieties of $5, $10, and $20 gold coins can be included.
When purchasing gold dollars (or any gold coins), be cautious of counterfeit coins. If you're not an expert, it's best to buy from a reputable professional numismatist who offers guarantees on their sales.