The gold dollar was a United States dollar coin produced from 1849 to 1889. Composed of 90% pure gold, it was the smallest denomination of gold currency ever produced in the United States. When the US system of coinage was originally designed there had been no plans for a gold dollar coin, but in the late 1840s, two gold rushes later, Congress was looking to expand the use of gold in the country’s currency. The gold dollar was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849, and the Liberty Head type began circulating soon afterward. Because of the high value of gold, the gold dollar is the smallest coin in the history of US coinage.
The gold dollar had its origins more than a decade before the Act of March 3, in the Carolina gold rush of the 1830s. The sudden availability of gold caused the US government to make several changes to its coinage system. Gold coins were minted in considerably larger quantities, and new mints were opened at Charlotte and Dahlonega solely for the production of gold coins. It was around this time that the first gold dollars were minted in the United States, but not by the government.
A North Carolina jeweler by the name of Alt Christoph Bechtler capitalized on the gold rush, by offering to turn prospectors’ raw gold into coins. He began offering this service in the early 1830s, and by 1840 he had produced over $2.2 million in gold coinage. Nearly half of this was in the form of gold dollars.
Bechtler’s actions were perfectly legal at the time, but his success attracted the attention of the US government. It was suggested by members of the government that the US Mint take part in this new, profitable, venture and begin minting gold dollars of their own. In 1836, Congress authorized the US Mint to do just that, but Mint Director Robert Patterson opposed the idea, and nothing came of the matter for the time being. In 1849 however, things changed. A new gold rush in California had sparked demand yet again for more gold coinage. Director Patterson still objected, but was unable to dissuade Congress.
The Act of March 3, 1849 authorized production not only of gold dollars, but another new coin, the double eagle. Production of both denominations would soon begin