The gold dollar was the smallest denomination regular issue United States gold coin. It first appeared in 1849, when the government introduced two new denominations, the dollar and double eagle, to exploit vast quantities of gold coming to the East from the California Gold Rush. Gold dollars were minted continuously from 1849 through 1889, although mintages were sharply curtailed following the Civil War with the exception of 1873 and 1874.
Today most of the demand for gold dollars comes from type coin collectors, who desire one each of the three different design variations. Type I gold dollars, with Miss Liberty's portrait identical to that used on the $20 double eagle, were made from 1849 through 1854, while Type II dollars, with an Indian princess motif, were struck in 1854 and 1855, plus in 1856 at the San Francisco Mint only. Type III dollars, featuring a modified portrait of an Indian princess, were made from 1856 through 1889.
In the early years, from 1849 through the Civil War, the gold dollar was a workhorse denomination. Those of the Type I design, 13 mm in diameter, were used often in everyday change, and most examples seen today show some wear. In 1854 the diameter was enlarged slightly to 15 mm, to make the coin more convenient to handle. The Type II obverse design now showed an Indian princess, but problems striking the coin arose as it was not possible for the metal in the dies to flow into the deep recesses of Miss Liberty's portrait on the obverse and at the same time into the central date digits on the reverse. This resulted in the majority of pieces displaying a weak strike on the central two digits (85 in the date 1854, for example). To correct this, in 1856 the portrait was enlarged and engraved in shallower relief to improve the striking characteristics, creating the Type III variety.
Among the three design types of gold dollars, by far the scarcest is the Type II. The total mintage of Type II gold dollars amounted to fewer than 2 million pieces. Contrast that to the Type I gold dollar, for which over 4 million coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1853 alone! Similarly, the Type III gold dollar was minted in quantities far larger than the Type II.