The Type 1 $1 Gold Liberty Head Coins were the smallest coins in the United States Mint history, produced with a mere diameter of 13 millimeters. Three different variations of this coin were minted in total between 1849 and 1889, and chief engraver, James Barton Longacre was put in charge of designing each type. In 1854, the Mint increased the Type 2 Liberty Head Coin’s diameter to 15 millimeters without making any changes to its weight. The physical dimensions remained the same when the Type 3 coin was released in 1856.
It all started with the California Gold Rush when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 and the American Government authorized the production of gold dollars. It was the U.S. Mint’s chief engraver, James Barton Longacre who was awarded the job of designing the new coin.
The obverse of the coin features a left-facing portrait of Lady Liberty wearing a crown that displays her name. Liberty’s hair is drawn back into a coil at the back of her head, with ringlets cascading down the side and back of her neck. She is encircled by thirteen stars that represent the original colonies. The reverse displays a simple wreath, along with the inscription 1 DOLLAR and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. On the reverse, some Type 1 Liberty Head coins have an open wreath, while others have a closed wreath.
Measuring just 13 millimeters in diameter, Type 1 Liberty Heads are the smallest coins to ever be released by the U.S. Mint. They were struck at five different mints including Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Charlotte and New Orleans produced these coins every year except 1854, while San Francisco only created them in 1854. All those minted in Philadelphia do not have a mint mark, and both Dahlonega and Philadelphia issued Type 1’s every year until the coin was retired in 1854.
Many critics complained that the Type 1 Liberty Head Coin was too small and easy to lose, so mint officials began experimenting with its size in 1853. At the time, James Ross Snowden was the director at the U.S. Mint and suggested making the coin larger but adding a hole to ensure the weight of the coin stayed the same. Once again, James Barton Longacre was asked to come up with a new design for the coin, as well as make the necessary modifications.
The Type 2 Liberty Head Coin’s obverse features a woman wearing a feathered headdress, and this female is often described as an Indian Princess. Some people believe the image is still Lady Liberty but with a different headpiece, and many refer to the coin as the Indian Head. The female’s hair appears to be loose and laying around her neck. On the reverse of the coin is the denomination and date within a wreath.
This new and improved Liberty Head Coin was 15 millimeters in diameter but it did have a unique problem. Longacre hadn’t realized that he’d made the relief on the obverse too high until it was struck and, as a result, the coins lacked detail. Virtually all of the coins in circulation deteriorated quickly as very few were fully struck.
The Type 2 Liberty Head Coin only lasted until 1856 because of the issues with the strike. Dahlonega, Charlotte, and New Orleans produced these coins in 1855, while San Francisco made them in 1856. Philadelphia minted the majority between 1854 and 1855.
In 1856, James Barton Longacre made some changes to the Type 2 Liberty Head Coin but kept the actual size and design the same. He only made the portrait of the female larger and reduced its three-dimensional shape, so both the Type 2 and Type 3 coin feature the Indian Princess image. Longacre also moved the obverse UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inscription closer to the edge of the coin to make striking both sides easier.
Composed of .0483 oz. pure gold, the Liberty Head Coin is relatively affordable, with Type 1 and Type 2 varieties demanding a little more. This is mainly down to the Type 3 coins being more plentiful in mint condition than the two other types. You also need to appreciate that many Liberty Head Coins have been melted down over the years, making them scarce but highly sought after coins.
Due to the high demand for these coins, it’s quite possible you’ll come across counterfeit pieces. We recommend you always purchase certified Liberty Head Dollars from a reputable seller who deals only in professionally graded coins. This way, you’ll know your coins are genuine and have been certified by one of the top grading services, such as the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS).
Capital Gold Group is a proud to offer certified gold coins that have been graded by either the NGC or PCGS. If you’re looking to enhance your portfolio or collection with Liberty Head Dollars, please feel free to contact us about any of our available pieces or to discuss your unique requests.