The 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar - the rarest of all gold dollars - is an enigmatic issue that remains shrouded in mystery. Why were Open Wreath and Closed Wreath reverses used to strike gold dollars at the Charlotte Mint in 1849 but not at Dahlonega or New Orleans, which only employed the Open Wreath reverse? This issue was not discovered until Waldo Newcomer, a famous collector from Baltimore, located an example sometime prior to 1933. To date, a total of four or five pieces are known. This includes a coin that was discovered since the last edition of [my] book was published in 1997 and the finest known piece which was "rediscovered" in 2004.
The 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar is the rarest coin ever produced by the Charlotte Mint. It is the rarest golg dollar from any mint and it also ranks as one of the rarest United States gold coins made as a business strike issue. Despite an example having sold for a high six-figure price in the last few years, this variety remains underpublicized among non-specialists. Among Charlotte collectors, it has assumed near-mythic proportions.
STRIKE: There are three relatively high grade examples known and all show a relatively sharp strike. The obverse has a slightly concave look which gives the portrait an almost three-dimensional appearance. The hair and stars are sharp, while the denticles have some weakly defined areas from 3:00 to 7:00. The reverse is not as well struck, as a result of the concave appearance mentioned previously. The leaves in the wreath are mostly sharp as is most of the lettering. The 4 and the bottom of the 8 are slightly weak while the mintmark is sharp. The reverse edge is irregular from 12:00 to 3:00 while the rest of the denticles are sharp and clear.
SURFACES: All four examples that I have personally seen show a varying degree of marks on the surfaces. These range from a small number of abrasions and hairlines as seen on the finest known 1849-C Open Wreath...to extensive problems as seen on [the lowest graded example].
LUSTER: On the higher grade pieces, the luster has a slightly reflective appearance. It is different in texture and appearance than on the Closed Wreath variety of this year. At least one example shows enough reflectiveness that it has been designated as "Prooflike"...
COLORATION: The natural coloration is a medium to deep green-gold shade. I am aware of just a single example of this variety that has not been either cleaned or lightened at one time.
EYE APPEAL: It is difficult to definitively discuss the eye appeal of a coin which is as rare as this. Of the four or five examples known, two are relatively attractive, one is moderately attractive and one is low grade with some signs of damage.
DIE CHARACTERISTICS: There are a number of prominent die characteristics seen on all 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollars. These are excellent hallmarks of authenticity. The star opposite the tip of Liberty's nose has a short right point and it is weaker than the other stars. The leaf below the 1 in the date is hollow while the tip of the leaf below the 9 is partly detached. The ribbons are incomplete due to die lapping. A tiny die file mark can be seen above the RI in AMERICA. I would assume that any example which lacks these characteristics is not genuine.
DIE VARIETIES: A single die variety is known.
Variety 1 (formerly Variety 1-A): The obverse displays the die characteristics listed above. On the Open Wreath reverse, the left end of the wreath extends to a point below the first T in STATES while the right end extends to a point below the far side of the F in OF. The date is evenly spaced and placed somewhat high in the field. The mintmark is high and centered slightly to the left of the bow knot. Other die characteristics are listed above.
David Akers (1975/88):
This is by far the rarest of all gold dollars, and there are only three auctions appearances representing just two different coins. The first piece was successively owned by Waldo Newcomer, Belden Roach, Charles M. Williams, and Robert Schermerhorn. In the Roach Sale in 1944, B. Max Mehl graded it "uncirculated", but when James Kelly offered it in the 1956 ANA Sale, he catalogued it as "extremely fine to about uncirculated". (Breen, in his monograph, constantly refers to it as being only VF, but it certainly appears to be better than that according to the photo in the 1956 ANA catalogue.) The coin realized $6,000 at the 1956 ANA, a remarkable price for the period. The second distinct specimen to appear at auction was offered in Pine Tree's 1974 GENA Sale where it sold for $35,000 to a North Carolina collector. The piece had been mounted and was graded VF. The third specimen, supposedly a strong EF, was bought over-the-counter by New Netherlands Coin Company of New York City, and was later sold into a private collection. There are no official records of this coin ever having been struck, and it would be difficult to make even a reasonable guess as to the exact mintage.
The 1849-C Gold Dollar with an Open Wreath on the reverse is one of the rarest of all United States Gold coins. It wasn't until the early 1900's, over 50 years after it was struck, that the variety was first discovered by Waldo Newcomer! Only five examples are accounted for today.