Contrary to popular belief, the first significant discovery of gold in the United States 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.
Around 1828, another gold rush began when gold was discovered on Cherokee land in northern Georgia. By 1830, an average of 300 ounces of gold a day was being produced in the area. Private minters like Templeton Reid and the Bechtler family produced their own coins from locally mined gold. In response, the United States Mint established a branch in 1838 at nearby Dahlonega 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.
US Mint Facilities
Before 1933, United States gold coins were produced at Philadelphia, Dahlonega, Charlotte, New Orleans, Carson City, Denver, and San Francisco. All 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 Mints were produced between 1838 and 1861. In 1861, Confederate forces seized the Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans Mints. As a result, the first two were shut down, 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.
The Dahlonega Mint (1838-1861)
The Dahlonega Mint opened in 1838 to process locally mined gold. Output at this mint was always low but it was productive 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)
- Type One: 1849-54
- Type Two: 1855
- Type Three: 1856-61
Quarter Eagles (1838-1859)
- Classic Type: 1838
- Liberty Type: 1839-59
Three Dollar (1854)
- Liberty Type: 1854
Half Eagles (1838-1861)
- Classic Type: 1838
- Liberty Type: 1839-41, 1842 Small and Large Date, 1843-46, 1846 D/D, 1847-61
A complete set of Dahlonega gold coins consists of the above 62 coins, including major Redbook varieties. Only the most advanced collectors 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 collector places 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 Dahlonega Gold
The 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.