In the early part of the 19th century the U.S. began catching gold fever with discoveries of gold deposits in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Virginia. By the late 1820's gold mining was beginning to hit it's peak as miners moved from panning to the more expensive underground mining.
By 1848, North Carolina led the nation in gold production and the eastern States being flush with gold saw the rise of private minters whose issues became popular despite the creation of two new mints in Charlotte, North Carolina & Dahlonega, Georgia.
In 1849, North Carolina would be eclipsed as the nations leading gold producer due to the California Gold Rush. With no official mints in the west and a lack of coinage, private minters & their issues became increasingly popular as coins were issued in denominations as small as 25 cents to as large as 50 dollars.
With large deposits of gold available and the desire to reduce or eliminate privately minted coins, the U.S. authorized production of gold dollar coins under the Act of March 3, 1849. The dollar coin represents the smallest gold denomination ever minted by the U.S. and it's first issue was known as the Liberty Head Dollar. Produced with a composition of 90% gold and with a diameter of only 13mm it was also the smallest coin ever produced by the U.S. Mint.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the $1 Liberty Head was minted from 1849 to 1854 with each coin containing .04837 ounces of gold.
The obverse design features an idealized bust image of Lady Liberty facing left wearing a coronet with “LIBERTY” inscribed. Circling the bust design are 13 stars to represent the original states or colonies.
The reverse features a laurel wreath tied with a bow. At the top of the wreath is the numeral “1” and inside the wreath is the denomination “DOLLAR” and year of issue. On the outer periphery is the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA". Just below the bow is a mint mark for New Orleans (O), Charlotte (C), Dahlongea (D) and San Francisco (S). Coins minted at the Philadelphia Mint carried no mint marks.
Though there are small die varieties, the series has only two major varieties based on how close the laurel wreath is to the numerical “1”:
Variety 1 Open Wreath - issued from 1849
Variety 2 Close Wreath - issued from 1849 to 1854
General Market Notes
The key to the series is the 1849-C Open Wreath issue. The semi-keys are the 1849-C (close wreath), 1849-D, 1850-C, 1850-D, 1851-C, 1851-D, 1852-C, 1852-D, 1853-C, 1853-D and 1854-D issues.
For the value investor, the 1850-O & 1854-S hold particular interests with mintages of only 14,000 and 14,632 but with a price tag only slightly more than that of common issues.
Due to the high valuations of these coins, it is not uncommon to discover altered or counterfeit coins. It is highly recommended NOT to purchase a raw specimen but a certified coin from a reputable seller.