Coinage of the gold dollar was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1849, after the start of the California Gold Rush.
Although a case could be made for designating the Small Head, Open Wreath gold dollar as a separate type, it is not generally collected as such. Instead, pieces dated from 1849 through 1854 are collectively designated as Type 1. Examples today are readily available in all grades, although truly choice and gem Mint State pieces are in the minority.
In contrast, the Type 2 design, produced at the Philadelphia Mint in part of 1854, and at the Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans mints in 1855, and only at the San Francisco Mint in 1856, is a great challenge. Examples are scarcer in all grades than are those of Types 1 and 3. Choice and gem coins are especially rare. Striking is a great problem, and while some sharp pieces exist, probably 80% or more have areas of weakness, typically at the 85 (center two digits) of the date, but often on the headdress and elsewhere. Further, the borders are sometimes imperfect.
Type 3 gold dollars, made from 1856 through 1889, are easier to acquire in nearly any grade desired, including choice and gem Mint State, most of which are well struck and have excellent eye appeal. Among Type 3 gold dollars the dates from 1879 through 1889 inclusive are most often seen, as these were widely saved by coin dealers and collectors at the time and did not circulate to any appreciable extent. Some of these have very low mintage figures, making them very appealing to collectors.