Updated: Sep 24, 2021
A gold dollar coin had been proposed several times in the 1830s and 1840s, but was not initially adopted. Congress was finally galvanized into action by the increased supply of bullion caused by the California gold rush, and in 1849 authorized a gold dollar. The Indian Princess Gold Dollar was struck from 1854 to 1889. The coins were struck at five different mint facilities although production would take place almost exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint after the start of the Civil War.
The gold $1 coin was designed by James Barton Longacre. The coins are composed of 1.672 grams of .900 gold (net weight .04837 oz. of pure gold). The first variety (Type I) was a Liberty Head at a diameter of 13mm. Contemporary reviews of the Type 1 design were generally favorable. The New York Weekly Tribune on May 19, 1849 described the new dollar as "undoubtedly the neatest, tiniest, lightest, coin in this country ... it is too delicate and beautiful to pay out for potatoes, and sauerkraut, and salt pork. Oberon might have paid Puck with it for bringing the blossom which bewitched Titania." Willis' Bank Note List stated that "there is no probability of them ever getting into general circulation; they are altogether too small."
Type II has become known as an "Indian Princess Head" because it looks like she is wearing a crown. The reverse featured an agricultural wreath, composed of corn, cotton, tobacco, and wheat. The denomination “1 Dollar” and date appeared within the wreath. The diameter was increased to 15mm with the same gold weight.
Type III had a redesign of the head becoming known as the "Large Head". (Type II then becoming known as the "Small Head" variety.)
In 1873, the Mint Director advocated limiting striking of gold dollars to depositors who specifically requested it. "The gold dollar is not a convenient coin, on account of its small size, and it suffers more proportionately from abrasion than larger coins." Later that year, the new director, Edward O. Leech, issued a report stating that the gold dollar "is too small for circulation, and ... [is] used almost exclusively for the purposes of ornament".
Love Tokens were a commonly created as jewelry during this time. Often made out of coins in circulation, some Love Tokens were also made out of Gold Indian Princess Head Coins also!
A total of 19,499,337 gold dollars were coined, of which 18,223,438 were struck at Philadelphia, 1,004,000 at New Orleans, 109,138 at Charlotte, 90,232 at San Francisco and 72,529 at Dahlonega. As coin collecting became a widespread pastime in the early 20th century, gold dollars became a popular specialty, a status they retain.