America’s coinage history has a rich heritage of designs that may have come and gone from the national spotlight, but are not lost in the minds of investors and collectors. Among the most sought after coins from American history are those gold coins struck before 1933. Although their age contributes to the rarity of the coins, as many are more than 100 years old, an increased value is attributed to coins, such as the $1 Indian Gold Eagles, because of actions taken by the federal government at the outset of the Great Depression.
Prior to the 1830s, the production of gold dollars at the United States was relatively limited in scope, and in fact, in interest from the American public. At this point in national history, Americans had a hard time trusting a hard currency from one central government. After all, during the Revolutionary War, individual states often issued their own currency alongside attempts from the Continental Congress to issue paper money.
A series of gold rushes across the country led to a boom in gold dollar production from the US Mint. The first, a relatively minor boom, took place in the Carolinas and Georgia in the 1830s. It was the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s that really spurned the US Mint to act. In the first 10 years of the gold rush alone, $600 million in gold was discovered and this sleepy territory on the Pacific Coast great from a tiny population of 25,000 to more than 500,000.
In addition to the influx of people, the gold rush flooded the Treasury Department with gold reserves. The immense flow of gold into the federal government’s reserves pressed Congress into action. In the Coinage Act of March 3, 1849, Congress authorized the production of three new denominations of gold coins: a gold dollar, $3 gold piece, and a $20 gold double eagle.
These original gold dollar coins from the US Mint hold the distinction of being the smallest regular-issue gold coins ever produced in the US. The US Mint’s Chief Engraver at the time, James Barton Longacre, designed a coin that was a diminutive 13 millimeters in diameter. The public complained that these early coins were too small and, thus, too easy to lose.
When James Ross Snowden took over as Director of the US Mint in 1853, he revolutionized American coinage by making the gold dollar coin larger, but also thinner.
Following passage of the Coinage Act in 1849, Longacre designed a Liberty head image for the obverse face of the new gold dollars to be issued. The first coins were struck that same year, 1849, and produced through 1854 with the same obverse and reverse designs. On the obverse side of the first coins was a left-profile portrait of Lady Liberty, with her hair pulled back in a bun and a crown atop her head bearing the word “Liberty.” Included around her bust were 13 stars representing each of America’s original colonies.
The reverse side of the first gold dollar coins featured a wreath, tied off with a bow, surrounding the face value (listed as 1 Dollar) and the year of minting in the middle. Around the outer edge was the engraving of “United States of America.” On some of the coins, a mint mark is visible underneath the bow that holds the wreath together. These original coins were referred to as Type I coins, or in most cases as $1 Liberty Gold Eagles Type I.
In 1854, the $1 Indian Gold Eagle was born as the Type II coin in the gold dollar series. The name used to define these coins is deceiving to some, as many 20th century coins from the United States Mint actually featured Native American figures on the obverse design of coins. In reality, Longacre redesigned the image of Liberty to depict her as a Native American princess.
The new $1 Indian Gold Eagle Type II featured Liberty in the same left-profile relief, but rather than having her hair collected in a bun and wearing the Liberty crown, she was now featured wearing a crown of feathers. Although the feathered headdress she wore in the design was not representative of any known Native American tribe, the Indian Gold Eagle name stuck.
Several significant design changes were made to these Type II coins. Beyond the appearance of Liberty on the coin, her image was downsized to take up less space on the obverse. Gone were the 13 stars that appeared on the obverse of Type I coins, replaced by “United States of America.”
On the reverse side of the coin, additional alterations were made to the design for the Type II coins. Longacre’s original wreath design was replaced with an adaptation of the so-called agricultural wreath he had designed for the $3 gold piece. Blending products of both the North and South into the design, the new wreath featured cotton, corn, tobacco, and wheat. The size of the wreath was increased to compensate for the loss of the “United States of America” engraving on the reverse, while the face value of year of minting remained in the middle of the design.
The Type II coins in the gold dollar series are among the rarest of US coins, due in part to their short production run from 1854 to 1856. The United States Mint faced a significant challenge in the 19th century in bringing Longacre’s design to live on a coin that was now wider and thinner than the original Type I gold dollar coins.
It was difficult for the US Mint to strike Longacre’s design on the new Type II gold dollars, because the coin was now thinner, creating weak spots in the design and poor striking quality. The coins were notably weak around the mint marks, and the year of minting was often illegible between the 8 and 5 in the 1854, 1855, and 1856 date marks.
During the first two years of production, the $1 Indian Gold Eagle Type II coins were only produced at the Philadelphia Mint. The Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans Mints produced the coins in 1855, and the San Francisco Mint produced more in 1856. In addition to its limited production run, the poor quality and illegible nature of many of the coins resulted in large batches being sent back to the Philadelphia Mint for melting and recoinage as other denominations of gold coins.
There are many reasons why these particular coins are rare finds today. Aside from its limited mintage, the coins wore down quickly when exposed to circulation. Many of the coins became entirely illegible after a few years of circulation, and the availability was further damaged by gold hoarding during the Civil War. It is estimated that only 1% of all coins struck still exist today. The coins are extremely rare in Mint State grades, with only a handful known to exist above Mint State 65.
When you purchase a $1 Indian Gold Eagle from JM Bullion, you have many options available to complete your purchase. We proudly accept Visa and MasterCard credit/debit cards, paper checks, PayPal fund transfers, and bank wire transfers. The latter two forms of payment process immediately, while credit/debit cards take an average of one business day and paper checks take four to six business days.
JM Bullion is happy to offer all customers free standard shipping and insurance on purchases. Your shipment will be packaged in discreet boxes for shipping, and delivered via the US Postal Service or UPS. If you’d like expedited shipping, it is available at an extra cost. Any packages lost or damaged during shipping qualify for a replacement product (if available) or full refund of purchase price.
If you have any questions about $1 Indian Gold Eagle Type II coins, feel free to contact JM Bullion directly. Our associates are available on the phone at 800-276-6508, online using our live web chat, and via email.