By Victor Bozarth for PCGS ……
In parts one, two, and three of this four-part series, I discussed the early Europeans’ unsuccessful search for gold in what became the United States. Despite both Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vázquez de Coronado being “on top of gold” during their expeditions, neither was able to close the deal. Once gold was discovered in North Carolina in 1799, there was very little rush for the first 10 to 15 years. Indeed, most prospecting was mainly confined to farmers mining on their own land after harvest.
Encroachment pressure from farmers wanting Five Tribe lands for cotton and other crops all over the Southeast, especially in Georgia and North Carolina, had been occurring since the end of the Revolutionary War. Once gold was discovered in the Gold Belt, the encroachment accelerated. By the end of the 1820s, the government itself was actively involved in both the confiscation of Five Tribe land and the implementation of their expulsion under the Indian Removal Act.
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. In this same year, the first private minting operation was opened in Milledgeville, Georgia, near the Dahlonega gold strikes by Templeton Reid. Although the Reid operation was short-lived, the highly successful Bechtler mint produced gold dollars, quarter eagles, and half eagles for nearly two decades. The establishment of the Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans Mints by the United States Congress in 1835 was long overdue.
A Quarter Century of Rarity
Political and economic factors dominated the two decades preceding the Civil War. Eight states were admitted to the Union between 1845 and January 29, 1861, when Kansas became the nation’s 34th state. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a measure worked out between northern and southern legislators and passed by the U.S. Congress that allowed Missouri to become the 24th state in 1821. The Compromise admitted Maine as a free state, Missouri as a slave state, and most importantly made free the soil upon all western territories north of Missouri’s southern border.
This compromise was unpopular on both sides and the conflict over the extension of slavery would continue for four decades before exploding into the Civil War in 1861. President John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson’s predecessor, noted in his diary, “Take it for granted that the present is a mere preamble – a title page to a great, tragic volume.” Adams died in 1848.
Conflict between the North and the South would grow, threatening outright war when the Missouri Compromise was repealed in 1854 by the Kansas-Nebraska Act and declared unconstitutional in the Dred Scott decision of 1857. War was inevitable, and the Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints were doomed.
If you’re a numismatist talking with another of like mind, just the mere mention of a “C” or “D” Mint coin sparks a reaction. Some coins are scarce in all dates and grades. Charlotte and Dahlonega Mint gold is special. I don’t remember actually holding a C or D Mint gold coin until my high school years – more than a few years after starting to collect and then buying and selling coins. You just didn’t see them in the rural Midwest.
The Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints were authorized to mint only gold coins. One of their functions was to assay gold as well as mint coins. The Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints opened on July 27, 1837, and February 1838, respectively. Roughly $11 million in face value of gold coins was produced by the two mints. Interestingly, the number of gold coins minted at the two mints was roughly equal. The Dahlonega Mint produced approximately six million of the total 11 million dollars in face value. Were more coins produced in Dahlonega because of the later Georgia gold finds? Both mints operated for nearly a quarter of a century before their capture by Confederate forces in 1861.
Although the Charlotte Mint opened in 1837, neither the Charlotte nor Dahlonega Mint produced coins until 1838. The first coins produced at the Dahlonega Mint on April 17, 1838, were 80 half eagle gold coins, which would have been of the Classic Head design type. The Charlotte Mint also produced Classic Head half eagles in 1838. There were Classic Head quarter eagle gold coins produced at Charlotte in 1838 and 1839 and the Dahlonega Mint in 1839. Only five total Classic Head design issues were produced in total between the two denominations at the two mints. Doesn’t a five-piece Charlotte and Dahlonega Mint Classic Head design set sound interesting?
In 1838, there were design changes to our gold coinage that would be implemented over the next three years. The new Liberty Head design for quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles appeared first on the Liberty Head eagle gold coins in 1838. These were the first $10 gold coins the U.S. had produced since 1804. Of course, the Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints were only authorized to produce smaller gold. The new Liberty Head half eagle design started production at both mints in 1839, while the new Liberty Head quarter eagle design wouldn’t be introduced until 1840 at both mints.
Doing some research before attempting sets of either or both Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coins is a must. Frankly, you’re already looking for a scarce item, and pre-Civil War issues are generally heavily circulated. Many dates aren’t collectable in Mint State because of rarity, cost, or both. Determining a path forward before taking the plunge is always prudent. You will be fighting availability and cost.
Including varieties listed in A Guide Book of United States Coins (the “Red Book”), there are 111 total Charlotte and Dahlonega gold issues. The Charlotte Mint produced 20 different quarter eagle dates and 23 different half eagle dates starting in 1838 and ending in 1860 and 1861, respectively. Although only eight dates of gold dollars were produced at the Charlotte Mint, the three different gold dollar design types are represented in that 1849 and 1859 date range.
The Dahlonega Mint produced 60 different date and denomination issues – including the only $3 gold produced in Dahlonega in 1854. There were 20 different quarter eagle issues produced from 1839 to 1859. Although gold dollars weren’t produced until 1849, the Dahlonega Mint made gold dollars every year through 1861 for 13 different issues, including the three different design type issues. The half eagle gold run from 1838 through 1861 at Dahlonega is truly amazing, with 26 total issues and a continuous 24-year production span.
Both Charlotte and Dahlonega Mint coins abound with scarce and rare dates. As an informal survey, the coins I would include in my top 10 list of Charlotte and Dahlonega Mint dates are as follows:
- 1854-D Indian Princess $3 – Mintage 1,120 (the only $3 gold coin produced at either mint)
- 1849-C Liberty Head $1, Open Wreath – Mintage 11,634* (*total mintage open/closed)
- 1855-D Indian Princess $1, Small Head – Mintage 1,811
- 1861-D Indian Princess $1, Large Head (CSA Strike*) – Mintage 1,250*
- 1838-C Classic Head $2.5 – Mintage 18,140
- 1840-D Liberty Head $2.5 – Mintage 3,532
- 1856-D Liberty Head $2.5 – Mintage 874
- 1838-C Classic Head $5 – Mintage 17,179
- 1846-C Liberty Head $5 – Mintage 12,955
- 1861-D Liberty Head $5 – Mintage 1,597
Wouldn’t you like to own them all? Why do you think so many numismatists become coin dealers? At least as a dealer, you can get to possess them for a short period of time between acquiring them and selling them!
Seriously, I always make recommendations based on what I would do as a collector starting a new project. First, I almost always recommend starting a small type set project first. I recommend a type set because there is generally a modest amount of coins in the set. For example, a Charlotte and Dahlonega type set would comprise six coins (seven for the $3 if you are flush with funds). One of each of the three primary denominations from both mints would total six total coins.
For those who want to jump off the high dive, a complete date set of either (or both) Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coins is a project measured in years. Of course, the cost of a complete date set will vary depending on the grade level sought, because even lower-grade sets will be very costly. Even the financially well-heeled will find it difficult to land many of the coins necessary for any set entailing Charlotte and Dahlonega coinage. Availability amounts to a trickle of coins at best, with many issues only appearing at auction every few years. These two sets are amazing, and regardless of how much progress one might make, demand for even partial sets will always be strong.
I would recommend a couple of collecting options. A six-piece type set of one of each denomination from both mints will be challenging. Depending on the grade you desire, even finding six coins you like will be hard. If you want to throw yourself a curve, try and put your set together with coins from only the 1840s. The 1849 gold dollars – the only ones representing the 1840s – will be a challenge. Only somewhat easier would be a six-piece type set from the 1850s.
How about a Civil War set? There are seven different Charlotte and Dahlonega issues produced in 1860 and 1861. Charlotte didn’t make gold dollars, nor did Dahlonega make quarter eagles after 1859.
Currently, the PCGS Registry Sets of D.L. Hansen are the highest-ranked date sets of both Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coins. Only retired sets, like the Bass or Eliasberg Collections, or the Smithsonian Collection, have achieved this level of quality. The Hansen Collection’s weighted grade point average (GPA) for the Charlotte and Dahlonega sets are a phenomenal 60.66 and 59.30, respectively. To put the accomplishment these sets represent into perspective, the next highest-weighted average grade sets for active sets are 48.73 and 54.40.
Statistics clearly indicate the difficulty of these sets. While there have been complete sets of Dahlonega gold coins put together, the best Charlotte sets of all time, including the Hansen set, all achieved a 96.30% completion statistic. As of this writing in December 2021, the Hansen set is missing only the 1843-C Open Wreath gold dollar. There are two PCGS-graded coins for the date and the finest-known MS62 example sold for $529,000 in the Heritage Auctions event at the 2016 Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Show.
One of the important choices you must make is deciding the grade you seek. When it comes right down to it, many Charlotte and Dahlonega coins are impaired in terms of grading standards. Many Charlotte and Dahlonega coins were “improved” during the decades since the last of these coins were minted in 1861. Net-grade impaired Charlotte and Dahlonega coins are available more often because they have problems. Don’t buy a bargain.
Finding PCGS-graded Charlotte and Dahlonega coins will be difficult. You will have to be patient. As a collector, you have to like the coin, but for Charlotte and Dahlonega gold especially, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. If you find a Charlotte or Dahlonega coin in your grade range at a price you can live with, I would recommend pulling the trigger. The collector behind you won’t pass and odds are the next Charlotte or Dahlonega coin you see will be priced higher!
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