Following the discoveries of vast gold reserves in California in the 19th century and the second gold rush, the US government was forced to change its stance on minting gold coins. Having seen the success of Christopher Bechtler, who minted gold coins for the general public, Uncle Sam finally decided to produce the first gold dollar. And in 1849, the Liberty Gold coins or the first gold dollar came into existence. The coin was designed by James B. Longacre and characterized by the liberty head wearing a coronet facing left and encircled by thirteen stars. The reverse of the coin was designed by Peter Filatreu Cross which showed the date of manufacture, the denomination 1, covered with open or closed wreaths.
The design remained in existence till 1854, after which a female with a feather headress pattern was adopted, popularly known as the Indian head type, which was a slightly bigger version. The new design was called the Type-2 coinage and the liberty was referred to as the Type 1. Due to this, the Liberty gold coin to date remains as one of the most valued coin due to its scarcity as well as the vast history behind it. The liberty gold coin consisted of two variants: An open wreath variant and a closed wreath variant in which the denomination 1 is constrained and almost touches the upper wreath. Both these variants were produced in different mints, namely Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans and San Francisco. Only the gold coins manufactured in Philadelphia bore no mint marks. Mintages of Philadelphia and New Orleans were very high in number as compared to the others. Hence, rarities from Charlotte, Dahlonega and San Francisco hold more value.
Details of the Liberty Gold Coin
• Composition: The gold coin weighed in at 1.672 grams. The composition was 0.900 gold and 0.100 copper. The total weight of gold was 0.04837 Oz.
• Size: The diameter of the coin was 12.7 mm, which made it the smallest coin to be made in US history. Due to such tiny dimensions, many objections were made as people found these coins to be easy to lose. Various experiments were made on the coin, such as making it with a hole in the middle to expand the diameter while keeping the weight and composition similar, but this plan was later done away with by then mint director James Snowden who proposed the construction of a larger diameter coin by reducing its thickness. This also raised concerns about the durability of the coin
• Grades: There are various grades to which the present day surviving gold coins are categorized. From poor, fine, very fine, extremely fine to mint state. One can decipher the state of the coin by judging the upper wreaths and stars on the obverse side of the coin. Traces of wear are fast to appear at the points near the leaves of the wreath and the hairs near the coronet, which a collector first sees to judge the extent of wear and hence the value of the coin. These coins are so rare, that even the most renowned collectors end up with only one or two of these beautiful masterpieces.
• Proofs: Proofs of the coinage of Type-1 gold dollars weren’t originally made, but later on Walter Been claimed that a minimum of seven did exist in 1849.
• Value: The value of these coins in today’s market is around $5000-$7000, depending upon the rarity as well as the condition of the coin. Versions like the 1849(c) or Charlotte open wreath and 1849 Philadelphia gold dollars are so rare that their existence is sometimes doubted. Such coins attract hoards of collectors when auctioned.
These are among the legacies that have come out of the worlds gold reserves.