The Dahlonega Mint struck numerous gold coins that can add a unique twist to your collection.
Contrary to popular belief, the first significant discovery of gold in America was not in California in 1848 but in the lower Piedmont area of North Carolina in 1799. Conrad Reed, the son of a local farmer, found a 17-pound, yellow-colored rock that later turned out to be gold — after it served a three-year stint as a doorstop! By the early 1830s, the Bechtler family had established a private mint at Rutherford, North Carolina. Sufficient gold was found in the area to justify the opening of an official, US branch mint in 1838 at Charlotte, North Carolina.
Discovering gold in America
Around 1828, another gold rush began when gold was discovered in an obscure area of northern Georgia that was once part of the Cherokee nation. By 1830, an average of 300 ounces of gold a day was being produced in the area. Private minters such as Templeton Reid and the Bechtler family produced their own coins from locally mined gold. In response, the US Mint established a branch mint in 1838 at nearby Dahlonega, Georgia to convert the raw gold into standardized coins.
Collecting coins by their various mintmarks did not come into vogue until the 1890s, after the publication by Augustus Heaton of a treatise on mintmarks. Many of the great collections formed before this time normally included Proof gold coins produced by the US Mint. The Smithsonian National Collection lacked most mintmark gold coins until the extensive Josiah Lilly Collection was donated in the 1960s.
Today, collectors find the short-lived gold issues from Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia to be among the most desirable coins from that era and they are eagerly collected.
The US Mint facilities
Before 1933, United States gold coins were produced at Philadelphia (PA), Dahlonega (GA), Charlotte (NC), New Orleans (LA), Carson City (NV), Denver (CO) and San Francisco (CA). All the mints, except Philadelphia, placed a mintmark (a letter or letters) on each of the coins to identify the source. For example, the Charlotte Mint placed a small letter “C” on each of their coins.
Each mint seems to have had its own set of characteristics and quirks. Dahlonega and Charlotte coins are infamous for their poor strikes. Philadelphia appears to have produced the best coins of all the mints. Thus, a complete set of mintmarks includes coins of varying quality and even color because of differences in the metallic composition of local ores.
Southern gold coins that were struck at the Dahlonega and Charlotte Mint were produced between 1838 and 1861. In 1861, Confederate forces seized the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans Mints. The first two mints were shut down as a result, never to reopen, but the New Orleans Mint was recaptured by federal troops and produced coins until 1909.
Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coins are among the most popular series of United States coinage. The history surrounding their production makes them extremely desirable and collectible. The coins’ unique physical characteristics add greatly to the charm of these fascinating coins.
Dahlonega Mint (1838-1861)
The Dahlonega Mint opened in 1838 to process locally mined gold. Output at this mint was always low, yet it continued to operate until 1861, when Confederate forces seized the building on the outset of the Civil War. In 1878, the Dahlonega Mint was destroyed by fire. Today, Price Memorial Hall of North Georgia College sits on the original foundation of the Dahlonega Mint. The mintmark for Dahlonega is the letter D, the same as the Denver Mint; however, the two mints never operated simultaneously. The Dahlonega Mint produced only gold coins.
Gold Dollars (1849-1861)
1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854
1856, 1857, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861
Quarter Eagles (1838-1859)
1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846, 1847, 1848, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1858, 1859
Three Dollar (1854)
Half Eagles (1838-1861)
1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 Small and Large Date, 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846, 1846 D/D 1847, 1848, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1858, 1859, 1860, 1861
The NGC Coin Explorer has complete population information and the NGC Price Guide has information for each coin. This is a great resource for comparing relative rarity and availability in every grade.
A complete set of Dahlonega gold coins consists of the above 62 coins, including major Redbook varieties. Only the most advanced collectors usually attempt a collection of every coin issued.
Unlike most series of United States coins, finding Mint State examples of Dahlonega gold coins is the true exception and not the rule. Most collectors seek pleasing circulated examples in the best condition they can afford. Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated examples are the commonly collected grade for the series.
Many Dahlonega gold coins found on the market were cleaned years ago in an attempt to get a higher third-party grading rating. Today’s collectors place a considerable premium on original “crusty”-looking circulated examples. As with any series you collect, spend some time trying to understand the issues of quality and eye appeal before making a substantial purchase. Examining auction lots is one of the best ways to accomplish this task.
Collecting gold coinsThe following are just a few ways to collect these elusive coins:
Three-piece Type Set
- Liberty Gold Dollar
- Liberty Quarter Eagle
- Liberty Half Eagle
This is a relatively easy task and can be done to fit your budget according to the grade collected.
Eight-piece Type Set
This set is relativity achievable, but much more expensive.
- Type One, Two and Three Liberty Gold Dollars
- Classic Head Quarter Eagle and Liberty Head Quarter Eagle
- Classic Head Three Dollar Gold
- Liberty Half Eagle
Many collectors choose one denomination and try to assemble a complete set. Although the Liberty Quarter Eagle set does not contain major rarities such as the 1861-D Gold Dollar and Half Eagle, many of the dates are among the most difficult to find in nice condition.
A Few Great Coins
Over the years, quite of few of my customers have bought one or two coins from this interesting mint because of the history and charm of the era. The 1861-D Gold Dollar that was struck by the Confederacy is a prime example.
As mentioned above, this is a daunting task and would cost about $500,000 in Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated condition. Over the years, I have assisted many collectors who have taken on this project. About four years ago, Atlanta dealer Robert Harwell and I assembled a complete collection of Dahlonega gold for John McMullan. The collection is now on permanent exhibit at the University of Georgia.
Regardless of the journey you choose, collecting Southern gold coins is both challenging and fun. The coins have the added security of knowing they will not be found in bag quantities from overseas hoards. Attractive examples are becoming difficult to find and, as more collectors discover this area of the market, they will be even harder to locate.
Encyclopedia of United States Gold Coins 1795-1933 by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth
Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861 by Doug Winter
This article originally published in the NGC Weekly Market Report, July15, 2021. Posted here with permission from the author, Jeff Garrett.