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The Small Head Type Two gold dollar is a notoriously scarce type. It was struck for only three years, with the final year of production limited to a tiny San Francisco emission. San Francisco was late in the game due to the geographic distance between the two coasts. Each of the other three branch mints then in operation, Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans, struck a small number of Type Two pieces in 1855.
Due to the cost and scarcity of the branch mint issues, most type collectors choose either the 1854 or 1855 Philadelphia dates. Their mintages are similar, separated by only 25,674 pieces, and they trade at equivalent levels. The 1854 mintage of 783,943 pieces compares favorably with the more than 4 million pieces struck in 1853. Undoubtedly, the reason for the much smaller production is related to the heavy mintage of silver half dimes through half dollars in 1853.
Silver coins had nearly vanished from circulation by 1853, since their bullion value exceeded face. The traditional silver to gold ratio was affected by the large quantities of gold recovered from California mining camps. Gold coins continued to circulate, while silver coins were hoarded by speculators. As the lowest denomination gold coin, the gold dollar was needed in commerce to fill the gap caused by silver's absence.
Like the silver three cent piece, the gold dollar was essential to commerce when there was little alternative. But in 1853, the weight of the Seated Liberty denominations was reduced, with the exception of the silver dollar. Once again their face value exceeded their value as bullion, and the half dime, dime, quarter, and half dollar returned to circulation. Mintages of the half dime, dime, and quarter broke records in 1853. Production of the half dollar was at a ten-year high.
The flood of silver coinage reduced the need for the gold dollar, which was unpopular in any event because its small diameter made it easy to lose. To combat this problem, the Type Two's diameter is 15 mm, slightly greater than the 13 mm Type One.
In the 19th century, it was Mint policy to limit designs, preferably one per alloy. The half cent and cent, the half dime and dime, the quarter and half dollar, and the quarter eagle through eagle had similar designs. But the three dollar gold piece, introduced in 1854, was similar in value to the quarter eagle, and needed distinctive motifs. The increased diameter Type Two gold dollar needed new designs, and it was natural to re-use the wreath and layout of the approved three dollar.
Mint officials likely regretted their decision to create a new bust of Liberty for the Type Two obverse. Longacre's Small Head was in high relief, causing metal to flow into the portrait and away from the corresponding area of the reverse. Thus, DOLLAR and the date are nearly always weak on Type Two gold dollars. This problem was alleviated in 1856, when the Small Head was scrapped in favor of the Large Head conveniently taken from the three dollar design.
The two-year, relatively small Type Two mintage at Philadelphia led to the rarity of this gold type. In 1854 and 1855, there were few collectors, even on the East coast. As a store of value, gold dollars were set aside, but rarely was its condition of any concern. It is remarkable, then, that a few high grade Mint State examples have survived.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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