By Timothy O’Fallon – Gibraltar Coins & Precious Metals …..
The First Gold Rush
All the incredible Charlotte Mint coins and the stories that go with them can be traced back to a Sunday in 1799, when a 12-year old boy named Conrad was playing hooky from Church on his dad’s property.
Conrad’s dad, John Reed, was a Hessian soldier who fought for the British in the Revolutionary war, but who stayed on as an American after the war. He bought a farm in Cabarrus County in North Carolina, married, and had children: one of whom was Conrad. Conrad was goofing off with his siblings by Little Meadow Creek on his dad’s property when he noticed a funny looking rock in the water. He lugged it home where his father distractedly agreed he could keep it.
For three years the rock was a doorstop. In 1802, a friend suggested to John that the rock should be checked out by a jeweler in town. John agreed, and after the rock was examined and tested, the Jeweler asked the elder Reed what he wanted for the rock. John asked what he thought was a high price: a week’s wages. John asked for and received $3.50.
The rock was a 17lb gold nugget, worth about $3,600.00. Don’t feel too bad for John. Learning from his mistake, he decided it might be a good idea to check out that creek again. He found gold – lots of it. Gold just sitting there in the creek bed and just underneath.
Among these “placer nuggets” was found a 28lb solid gold nugget! John Reed became a rather wealthy man, and as word got out, the first gold rush in United States history was well underway.
The First United States Branch Mint
Within 25 years, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina were gold rush towns. Miners came from everywhere to pan the creeks and mine gold from the rich deposits in quartz veins also discovered there. Gold was also discovered in North Georgia in large quantities, gold that was geologically related to the North Carolina strike. But much of this gold ended up overseas because of a logistical problem.
While the Bechtlers certainly handled the conversion of raw gold into coins well for local trade, much of the gold ended up going to London, as the overseas journey to Great Britain was much more convenient than the overland journey to the main U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, the U.S. imported gold from Britain and other countries and paid a fee for doing so. President Andrew Jackson would have none of this, and at his urging Congress passed a law authorizing the first three U.S. branch mints:
- The Charlotte, North Carolina Mint (to handle the aftereffects of Conrad Reed’s skipping Church that Sunday)
- The Dahlonega, Georgia Mint (so much gold was found in the Georgia strike that the inhabitants founded a new city named after a Native American word for “yellow money” – Dahlonega)
- The New Orleans, Louisiana Mint (to process and coin the raw gold and ingots coming into the port of New Orleans from Mexico and South America) The New Mint building in Charlotte began minting coins in 1838. While fewer coins were minted than Andrew Jackson expected, the facility was well-run and productive.
The Fire of 1844
After all this work and effort, the Charlotte Mint burned to the ground in July of 1844. I mean, “cinders and ashes” burned to the ground. Unrecoverable. A total loss. “Kaput”, as John Reed would say. No one is quite sure how it happened, but there was a story going around about some college students smoking in the basement the day of the fire. No word on what they may have been smoking.
The minting of coins obviously ground to a halt, and the “short” mintage of 1844 makes these coins real rarities, because the local demand caused heavier than usual circulation and usage until the Mint could reopen. And yes, the Mint did reopen. Construction was finally completed in October of 1846, and the first coins since the fire were produced in that month.
Coins minted in Charlotte in 1846, especially the $2.50 quarter eagles, are exceedingly rare. I call the 1846-C $2.50 the “Southern Darling” of U.S. coins, a fascinating historical rarity long overdue for more recognition. I believe there are fewer than 30 pieces in quality “About Uncirculated” condition to have survived to the present day.
In 1849, the Charlotte Mint received another shock: the discovery of massive gold deposits in California sent the local miners packing. They figured they could get rich quicker over there. A lot of the ‘49ers were formerly North Carolina miners!
This obviously affected the community, which suffered the economic effects of losing all those customers paying in newly-found local gold. Some of the relocated miners apparently returned with the gold they found in California, as the Charlotte Mint saw a surge in deposits of gold for assaying and minting into coins, much of it apparently from California. But the San Francisco Mint began producing coins in 1854, and by 1856 the minting of coins in Charlotte, North Carolina seriously decreased.
Civil War Spoils
The Federal government of the United States owned the Charlotte Mint facility. But on May 20, 1861, North Carolina seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, putting the Charlotte Mint geographically in a different country.
What to do? Well, a month prior to secession (April 20, 1861), Confederate troops had already seized the Charlotte Mint. Interestingly, some of the $5 Charlotte coins minted in 1861 were minted under the supervision of Confederate authorities, making the date an important Civil War issue for collectors and historians. The Confederacy never did much with the facility, however, and did not issue their own coins in Charlotte. In fact, no coin was ever minted again at the Charlotte, North Carolina Mint. The building was used for assay purposes until 1913, and then its doors were closed forever. Well, until they opened again.
The doors of the Charlotte Mint reopened in 1917, when it was used for a couple of years as a Red Cross station during World War I. It also served as the meeting place of the Charlotte Women’s Club. There is no substance to the rumor that the ladies abandoned their parasols and white gloves to spend a good part of their meeting time checking every corner of the building for stray gold coins.
In 1931, the building was slated for demolition to accommodate the expansion of the local post office. Again, no evidence whatsoever exists to suggest that the inside of the building’s disrepair was due to the members of the Charlotte Women’s Club ripping the walls and fixtures apart in search of treasure. This is a cruel and unsubstantiated rumor.
The Mint building was not demolished. A citizens’ group purchased the building from the U.S. Treasury and moved it to its present location on Randolph Road in the city of Charlotte. They turned it into an art museum featuring Native American, European, and African art. Everyone, myself included, vigorously denies that the museum employees can be found searching under the floorboards for coins while visitors like you are looking at really cool beads, baskets, artwork, and reference books. Psssst… the address of the Mint Museum is: 2730 Randolph Road Charlotte, NC 28207 (704) 337-2000
* Of course, if you wish to add one of the five-known elusive and unusual “1849-C open wreath gold $1 coins”, making this a 53-coin set, be prepared to settle in for a long and exciting hunt. That coin alone has a value as high as all the other coins combined, but occasionally one of the five comes to market. Questions? Feel free to contact us here.