History of the 1861 Dahlonega Gold Dollar
During the lead-up to the Civil War, branch mints in the southern United States began preparing for the war.
While the Treasury Department decided not to send any additional bullion, the Philadelphia Mint shipped two pairs of dies to the mint in Dahlonega, Georgia. But two weeks after the dies arrived on January 7, 1861, the state of Georgia officially seceded from the Union. Despite proposals from unionists to seize the mint, Georgia state officials took over the branch’s building, equipment, and materiel under orders of Governor Joseph E. Brown. Rebel Confederate troops officially occupied the mint on April 8, forcing Superintendent George Kellogg to surrender, stating that “Georgia has turned all public property … of the United States over to the Confederate States Government” in a letter to President Lincoln (Lester).
Despite there being very few records referencing this period of Confederate control, it is known that the previous staff remained and struck $3,000 (face value) in gold coins before the mint was closed in June 1861. This total issuance is split between gold dollars and half eagles. While 1,597 half eagles were struck before the Confederate takeover, no dollars were struck before April. This makes the 1861-D gold dollar the only circulating US coin to be struck exclusively by Confederate authorities.
Despite new dies being shipped to Dahlonega, an older 1860-D obverse die was used. This is demonstrated by a dramatic weak spot with “profound weakness” which “completely obliterate[s]” the U in UNITED on many pieces (Stack’s Bowers, 2016). Compounding this weak obverse legend was the generally abysmal production quality. In fact, not only was the strike weak on most pieces, many of the planchets used had poor surfaces and small defects, or even cracks.
Two months after the Dahlonega Mint was officially closed in June, it was converted into an assay office that opened on August 24, 1861. As such, the 1861-D gold dollar was also the last coinage struck at the Georgia facility.
The 1861 Dahlonega Gold Dollar in Today’s Market
Due to the unusual circumstances surrounding this issuance, the mintage is only between 1,000 and 1,500 pieces and is rare in all grades. However, new research by Carl Lester, a scholar on the history of the coinage and operations of the Dahlonega Mint, posits that as few as 500 pieces could have been struck. Today, it is thought that only between 50 and 60 pieces survive.
In fact, this is the second-rarest gold dollar. Certified Mint State examples are offered only occasionally and just a handful of examples come to auction each year. While an MS 64+ earned the auction record of $180,000 in a 2020 Heritage Auctions sale, coins graded and certified as MS 65 sell for between $140,000 and $150,000. These prices are not current, since the last auction record for an MS 65 was for a 2008 sale. More recently, MS 65s are worth between $240,000 and $250,000.
In mid-Mint State (MS 62 – MS 63), examples sell for an average of $43,000, with a high of $112,000 for an MS 63 and a low of $16,500 for an MS 62. However, the prices are not very current since these prices are only valid from 1982 to 2013. More recently, MS 63s sell for $145,000 and MS 62s for around $100,000.
When low Mint State examples (MS 61 – MS 60) come to market, they can command between $80,000 and $90,000. Prices have increased dramatically since 2005, when auction results hovered around $30,000 to $35,000. About Uncirculated pieces, when available, sell for $60,000 to $72,000. Lower-grade and “Details” pieces sell for $15,000 to $30,000.
The obverse of the Type III Indian Head, which was struck from 1856 to 1889, displays a bust of Lady Liberty as an anglicized Native American. Her long flowing hair covers the top of the ears and drops down to the nape of the neck. Her headdress has seven large feathers standing vertically. On the band of the headdress is the legend LIBERTY. Yet this headdress does not represent any realistic Native American clothing. The country name (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA) rings the bust of Lady Liberty. In this design, the head of Lady liberty was made slightly larger and has slightly less relief than the Type II design.
The reverse of this is centered on the date (1861) and denomination (1 DOLLAR). The agricultural wreath used to encircle the date and denomination was also used by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre on the Flying Eagle cent and the Three-Dollar Gold piece. The wreath is allegorical for American agriculture and is comprised of cotton, corn, tobacco, and wheat. Below the ribbon, tied at the bottom of the wreath is the “D” mintmark for the Dahlonega Mint in Georgia.
The edge of the 1861 Dahlonega gold dollar is reeded.
James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was one of the most famous US engravers and medallic artists of the 19th century. Longacre was appointed the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint by President John Tyler after Christian Gobrecht died in 1844. Before his appointment, Longacre worked for the Philadelphia engraving company Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co. until he began working for himself in 1819. As an independent engraver, Longacre produced a series of famous plates that featured the Founding Fathers, President Andrew Jackson, and Senator John C. Calhoun. Once he became Chief Engraver at the Mint, he produced such famous pieces as the Flying Eagle cent, the Indian Head cent, the Shield nickel, and the $20 Coronet Head double eagle gold coin.
|Year Of Issue:||1861|
|Denomination:||One Dollar (USD)|
|Mint Mark:||D (Dahlonega)|
|Alloy:||90% Gold, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||James Barton Longacre|
|REV Designer||James Barton Longacre|
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