The Dahlonega Mint opened in 1838 as a result of the North Georgia gold rush. The difficulty of transporting gold ore to Philadelphia for deposits and/or coinage made this former backwater a viable location for the production of coinage. The mint was opened until 1861 when the outbreak of the Civil War closed all three southern facilities.
If I had to select the Most Popular Branch Mint it would likely be Dahlonega (although Carson City could make this boast as well). Dahlonega gold coins have become an avidly-sought after area of the market with collectors from all over the country building sets; not just from the Atlanta area as was the case a few decades ago.
Dahlonega gold coinage exists in four denominations (see below) and there are no impossible rarities as with most of the other southern mints. There are numerous ways by which to collect Dahlonega coins, ranging from casual to obsessive. In this article, we will look at some of the most basic ways to collect these coins and some clever methods which you might not have considered.
1. The Three (or Four) Coin Basic Denomination Set
The easiest way to collect Dahlonega gold is to acquire one example of each of the denominations which were produced at this mint. These are as follows:
- Gold Dollar: These were struck from 1849 through 1861 in three design types. The most available gold dollar from this mint is the 1849-D which can be obtained in nice AU grades for $3,000 or less.
- Quarter Eagle: These were struck from 1839 through 1857, and again in 1859 in two design types. The date run from 1843 through 1848 is the most available issues and a nice AU can be obtained for $5,000 or less.
- Three Dollars: This was struck only in 1854 and it is a rare, popular issue with just 1,120 struck. Many collectors do not include this issue in the basic denomination set due to its price. A nice AU will run in the $45,000-55,000+ range.
- Half Eagle: These were struck continuously from 1838 through 1861 in four design types. There are a number of dates in the 1840’s and 1850’s which are “common” and a nice AU can be obtained for $5,000 or less.
If the three dollar piece is eliminated, a very nice three-coin set of Dahlonega gold can be assembled for around $12,500-15,000. If this is too much money, it is possible to assemble the same set in the VF-EF range for around $6,000-7,000.
2. The 10-Coin Advanced Type Set
There are no less than 10 major design types of Dahlonega gold coinage. Many collectors seek to complete a set which includes one of each of the following:
- Type One Gold Dollar (1849-1854): This type is reasonably common and can be found in grades up to MS62 or MS63. The 1849-D is the most common date, while the 1854-D is the rarest.
- Type Two Gold Dollar (1855 only): This type is rare and in great demand. Examples usually are seen in lower grades and most have weakness on the date. Choice examples with a strong date are worth a strong premium.
- Type Three Gold Dollar (1856-1861): Only two dates of this type are reasonably common (1858-D and 1859-D) and all are rare in Uncirculated. The 1856-D and 1860-D are rare, while the 1861-D is rare and much celebrated as the only issue positively made by the Confederacy.
- Classic Head Quarter Eagle (1839 only): This type is not really rare but it is in-demand as a one-year and first-year issue. It is seen in grades as high as MS62 to MS63, but most choice 1839-D quarter eagles are off the market.
- Liberty Head Quarter Eagle (1840-1859): Dates of this type range from common to rare and are generally available in grades up to MS62. I would recommend a better but not rare date (such as the 1849-D, 1850-D, or the 1851-D) as a type example.
- Three Dollar Gold Piece (1854 only): As mentioned above, this one-year type is rare and is in demand from many different collectors. It is extremely rare in Uncirculated and it is very hard to locate in properly graded AU55 to AU58.
- Classic Head Half Eagle (1838 only): As with the quarter eagle of this design, this one-year type is very popular and it is in strong demand. It is not rare from an absolute standpoint, but really nice pieces have become hard to locate.
- Liberty Head Obverse Mintmark Half Eagle (1839 only): The 1839-D half eagle was overlooked for years but it has finally become recognized for its numismatic significance and its rarity. This issue is very rare in Uncirculated, and most advanced collectors will “settle” for a nice AU.
- Liberty Head Reverse Mintmark Half Eagle w/Small Letters Reverse (1840-1842): While not widely recognized this is a distinctive type. All three issues are obtainable in EF and AU grades, but are very rare in Uncirculated.
- Liberty Head Reverse Mintmark Half Eagle w/Large Letters Reverse (1842-1861): Dates of this type range from common to rare with most readily available in the EF and AU grades. Nice Uncirculated pieces are available with patience.
The most popular grade range for a 10-coin advanced set of Dahlonega gold is EF to Choice AU. An Uncirculated set is possible, but it is very rare and expensive due to the 1855-D dollar and the 1854-D three dollars.
A nicely matched set of EF coins costs approximately $125,000, with the Type Two gold dollar and the Three Dollar piece accounting for at least half of the total cost.
A set with all the coins in AU grades costs approximately $175,000 but the overall cost would be greater if the majority of the coins were AU55 to AU58 and were CAC approved.
A set with all the coins in Uncirculated is possible but it is extremely difficult to complete. It would run in the $400,000-500,000 range and could potentially be even more if very high grade (MS63 and finer) coins are featured.
3. Collecting by Denomination
Every collector feels an affinity for a specific denomination. Each of the three primary denominations struck at the Dahlonega Mint have their pros and cons.
The small size of the gold dollar is a turn-off to some collectors. It is hard to embrace the concept of spending thousands—or even tens of thousands—of dollars for a coin that is about the size of the average adult’s thumbnail.
Also, the gold dollars from this mint are crude and they lack the “pretty” appearance which larger-sized, better-struck coins from this facility display.
The very reasons that cause some people to dislike gold dollars are the exact reasons why others like them. They are so small and can be so crude that this gives them a certain charm.
Sophisticated collectors like Dahlonega gold dollars due to their small mintage figures. Only one of the 13 issues has a mintage of more than 10,000, and five have mintages of 3,000 or less.
The gold dollar series is the most expensive of the three primary denominations to collect on a coin-by-coin basis. A set of all 13 in nice EF grades will cost in excess of $125,000-150,000. In AU this set is a challenge but it is completable for less than $200,000. An Uncirculated set is also a realistic goal but four dates (1855-D, 1856-D, 1860-D, and 1861-D) are rare to very rare.
The Dahlonega quarter eagle set is the most challenging of the three primary denominations from this mint. Assembling a set requires a good deal of patience and careful study of specific issues. Six dates are very scarce to rare (1840-1842 and 1854-1856) and even the “common” dates are not regularly seen with good strikes, choice surfaces and natural color.
An EF set is certainly a realistic goal and it could be completed for around $150,000-175,000. In AU grades, a Dahlonega quarter eagle set is very difficult to assemble, especially if quality and originality is an issue. A nice set will run in excess of $250,000. It is theoretically possible to assemble a set in Uncirculated but this would be a remarkable accomplishment (as far as I know, it has only been done two or three times) and it would be both costly and long in duration.
The half eagle series is the most popular denomination from Dahlonega to collect. The coins are large in size and there are no impossible dates to acquire. Such a set consists of 26 different issues with two 1842-D (Small Date and Large Date) and two 1846-D (Normal Mintmark and D over D Mintmark). The two scarcest issues are the 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D. The former is much undervalued despite its being essentially unavailable in any Uncirculated grade. The latter is very popular, and as a result it has become one of the more expensive issues from this mint.
Assembling a nice, evenly matched EF set of Dahlonega half eagles is not difficult. It will require around $125,000-150,000 with around half of this amount being used on the two key issues. An AU set will be more challenging and some of the “common” issues will prove harder to locate than one might imagine. This set will cost around $225,000-250,000. An Uncirculated set is theoretically possible, but as with the quarter eagles from this mint, a few issues will be nearly impossible to locate.
4. A Complete Set of Dahlonega Gold
A complete set of Dahlonega gold is generally understood to contain the following:
- Gold Dollars: 13 issues struck between 1849 and 1861.
- Quarter Eagles: 20 issues struck between 1839 and 1859.
- Three Dollars: A single issue struck in 1854.
- Half Eagles: 26 issues struck between 1838 and 1861.
This is a grand total of 60 different issues covering four different denominations.
It is feasible that you could race through this set and assemble a full run in a year. But you will be cutting a lot of corners unless you get extremely lucky. In 2017, nice Dahlonega gold of all denominations is really hard to locate and you might have to wait for years to find, say, a truly nice AU 1840-D quarter eagle.
Here are a few basic rules which should be followed:
- Be Patient. You can finish a mediocre set quickly, but rushing inevitably leads to mistakes. Wait for the “right coin” to come along.
- Stretch for Exceptional Coins. Truly choice, high-end Dahlonega coins are very hard to locate. Don’t miss out on the chance to purchase an important coin because it’s a little spendy. High quality coins will inevitably pay for themselves in the long run.
- Buy the Best You Can Afford: If you are focusing on Dahlonega gold you have a comparatively high coin budget. But not every D mint specialist can get their arms around paying $30,000 for a really choice 1842-D Large Date half eagle. Establish your per-coin budget and be aggressive when a nice $15,000 version of this variety comes available.
- If Possible, Buy the Rarest Coins First: Every denomination has at least a few “toughies.” In the quarter eagle series, the 1840-D and the 1856-D are often the last two coins added to a specialized set. If the right situation occurs, try and buy these before common issues such as the 1844-D or the 1847-D. And remember that your opportunities to purchase truly rare coins such as 1840-D quarter eagles are infrequent, while your chance to buy a common date like an 1844-D will be far more frequent.
- Buy With Eye Appeal in Mind: The overall value of a complete set is enhanced when the coins are pretty. This sounds basic but it is not frequently followed by collectors. A really crusty PCGS AU58 1846-D quarter eagle is going to add more “oomph” to the overall quality of a set than a dipped, bright PCGS MS61 example of the same issue.
How much is it going to cost to assemble a significant complete set of D mint gold? My best guess is that you are looking at a million dollars or so, and this figure could get much higher if you are thinking of creating a world-class collection.
5. Buying the Issues with Multiple Levels of Demand
There is a select group of Dahlonega issues with multiple levels of demand. These are coins whose demand is not strictly from specialized Dahlonega collectors but also from first-year-of-issue collectors, one-year type specialists, etc. Putting together a set with nice examples of the following would be an interesting way to “dabble” in Dahlonega.
- 1855-D Dollar: The only Type Two dollar from this mint.
- 1861-D Dollar: The only gold coin indisputably struck by the Confederacy.
- 1839-D Quarter Eagle: The first quarter eagle from this mint and the only Classic Head quarter eagle from this facility.
- 1854-D Three Dollar: The only Dahlonega three dollar gold piece.
- 1838-D Half Eagle: The first half eagle from this mint and the only Classic Head half eagle from this facility.
- 1839-D Half Eagle: The only Liberty Head half eagle with an obverse mintmark and a single-year type.
- 1861-D Half Eagle: An issue with Confederate association.
This seven-coin set would be expensive to complete (a minimum of $225,000-275,000 for above-average coins) but it would be extremely liquid, not to mention really fun to assemble.
6. A Few More Collecting Suggestions
Here are a few more collecting suggestions, ranging from quick and semi-easy to complex:
- A Year Set: 1854 is the only year in which all four denominations were made but there are other years in which a three coin set (consisting on a gold dollar, quarter eagle and half eagle) can be assembled. The most affordable is the 1849-D set but other good selections include 1850-D, 1851-D, 1852-D, 1853-D and 1857-D.
- Pedigree Set: There are a number of famous Dahlonega sets including but not limited to Eliasberg, Norweb, James Stack, Bass, Pittman, Jasper Robertson, North Georgia, Duke’s Creek, Green Pond and Chestatee. An interesting set would “collect the collectors” and have an example from as many of these assemblages as possible.
- Die Variety Set: A significant number of Dahlonega die varieties are recognized by the grading services and my books on Dahlonega gold cover these in detail. Many advanced collectors supplement their sets by adding significant varieties.
- Color Set: A small percentage of Dahlonega coins so exceptional, rich natural colors. It would be interesting to create a set with a number of pieces which display great color.
Would you like to assemble a collection of Dahlonega gold coins with the help of the world’s leading branch mint gold expert? Call Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 and let’s discuss how we can begin working on your set.