In 1849, the United States Mint started minting the country's first gold dollar coin that would circulate. Though this regular issue gold dollar was struck until 1889, its design was revised several times. That design went through three different "types," starting with the Type 1 design. The Type 1 coin is particularly remarkable for having a diameter of just 12.7mm; that diameter is smaller than any other U.S. coin ever struck. When in production, the gold Liberty Type 1--as we call it here--was often deemed too short in diameter; this was a major reason why, only five years after it was first issued, the Type 1 was replaced by a noticeably wider coin known as the Type 2.
However, the design differences between the Type 1 and Type 2 go far beyond the diameter. Both coins show Liberty, but on the Type 1's obverse she is depicted wearing a coronet. On the Type 2 piece, the headwear is instead that of an Indian princess. Furthermore, the Type 1's design surrounds the Liberty head with 13 stars. The Type 2 replaces those stars with the nation's name, which the Type 1 displays on its reverse instead. Both coins show, on that side, the face value and issue year inside a wreath; however, the wreath takes up more of the surface on the Type 2 design due to the omission of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The Type 1's metal composition is a tenth copper but, unsurprisingly, nine-tenths gold, which is .900 fine and makes up 0.0.4837 Troy ounces. That coin's overall mass is 1.672 grams. The gold content makes the coin's backdrop appealing in color, while the edge's reeds are another easily appreciable visual touch. A mint mark, if present, appears beneath the wreath. Calls for a gold dollar coin in the U.S. can be traced as far back as the 1790s. Attempts to bring a gold coin to circulation ultimately failed until the 1840s, when American mints were receiving gold in historically high amounts. The California Gold Rush helped to continue this trend.
Therefore, a bill intended for authorizing a gold dollar was introduced in January 1849. Various possible forms were proposed for the coin before the approval of designs that the U.S. Mint's Chief Engraver James B. Longacre had created. The Type 1's design broke cover to critical acclaim. It was noted how small and light the new coin was; there was even the claim that it was too beautiful for use in paying for food. However, there was also the insistence that, due to its overly small size, the coin was not likely to ever enter general circulation.
A strong attraction of Type 1 coins for collectors today is how individual pieces from that issue can subtly differ in design. This is a result of Longacre having been continuing to tweak the design even after production commenced. Hence, there are both open wreath and closed wreath versions of the 1849 coin; the former shows bigger gaps between the wreath tips and the 1 of 1 DOLLAR.
Features of the Common Date $1 Gold Liberty Type 1 MS65: