Your set of Dahlonega coins is complete or nearly complete. You aren't interested in upgrading what you own but you still want to actively participate in the Dahlonega market. What's a frustrated collector to do? Try collecting the major varieties of Dahlonega coinage. Chances are, you're already doing this, even if you don't realize it. As an example, your set of half eagles probably contains examples of the 1842-D Large Date and Small Date. And the chances are equally as good that you have the 1846-D Normal Mintmark and Repunched Mintmark half eagles.
There are some other significant varieties that should be included in a comprehensive set of Dahlonega coinage. A number are now recognized by PCGS, giving them further cachet among collectors. Here are some of the more interesting varieties, as well as some basic information about them.
1855-D Full Date Gold Dollar
Unlike the other coins listed in the body of this article, the 1855-D Full Date is not a die variety. It is, in fact, a variation in strike; similar to a Full Bands Mercury dime or a Full Bell Lines Franklin half dollar. The 1855-D gold dollar is notorious for its weakness of strike and around 90% of the known specimens are weak on the date. Those that show a full, sharp date (with all four digits clearly visible) are considered extremely desirable by collectors. In fact, sophisticated collectors are now willing to pay a premium as high as 50% for an 1855-D gold dollar with a full, sharp date.
While I am generally opposed to paying premiums for variation in strike, this is one case where I think an added premium makes great sense. In the future, I would not be surprised if the difference in price between typical strike and Full Date 1855-D gold dollars grows even further apart.
1839-D Bold Branch Quarter Eagle
There are two varieties known for the 1839-D quarter eagle. The more common (Winter 1-A) has a weak branch stem that extends to over the upright of the D in the denomination. The rarer has a bold branch stem that is located entirely to the left of the D in the denomination.
This variety is not as likely to be included in advanced collections as the other listed here. But the popularity of the Classic Head series gives it a greater chance than comparable Liberty Head quarter eagles varieties.
1843-D Large Mintmark Quarter Eagle
There are four die varieties known for this issue. Three employ a small mintmark while the fourth has a large mintmark. There were only 3,537 pieces produced with the large mintmark (all were made on October 7, 1843) and this variety can be readily distinguished from its large mintmark counterpart with the naked eye.
As a side note, how does one decide whether or not a variety merits consideration in a collection? I like to use what I call the "Wife Test." If I show my wife Mary a variety and she can easily understand its significance, it passes. If I show her another variety and she looks at me like I'm speaking Greek, it fails. The 1843-D Large Mintmark quarter eagle passed the Wife Test.
1846-D/D Quarter Eagle
The 1846-D Near D (so-called because the original mintmark was punched too far to the left of the regular mintmark) quarter eagle has become very popular in recent years and is now included in most quarter eagle collections. It is actually less rarer than generally believed in Very Fine and Extremely Fine but it is quite rare in the lower About Uncirculated grades, extremely rare in the higher AU grades and currently unique in Uncirculated.
When purchasing this variety, it is important to remember to look for an early die state (as illustrated on page 110 of my book "Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861."). It is my opinion that this will be the most readily accepted Dahlonega quarter eagle variety in the coming years.
1839-D Centered Mintmark Half Eagle
In my opinion, the 1839-D half eagle is among the more interesting Dahlonega issues. It is a distinct one year type coin with a different Liberty Head than that seen on the issues from 1840 onwards. And, it is the only Liberty Head half eagle from this mint with the mintmark on the obverse.
The majority of 1839-D half eagles have the mintmark positioned slightly to the right, over the 39 in the date. The rarer variety has the mintmark more centrally placed, over the 3 in the date. In addition to being rare, this variety is almost always seen with weakness of strike at the central obverse. For some reason, it is exceptionally hard to locate examples of this variety with original color and I have not seen more than one or two that graded higher than About Uncirculated-50.
This variety is slightly more esoteric than others listed here, but I feel that it has a good chance to be recognized as an important addition to a set of Dahlonega half eagles.
1840-D Small Mintmark Half Eagle
The 1840-1843 period saw considerable experimentation at the mint. In the half eagle series, there were experiments with date size, mintmark size and lettering. These varieties form a very interesting group for the Dahlonega collector.
In 1840, most of the half eagles produced at the Dahlonega mint had a tall, medium size mintmark. A less substantial number display a small, more narrow mintmark. This variety is easily recognized by the presence of a reverse die crack that runs through the right diagonal of the V in FIVE up through the right side of the mintmark and into the shield. It appears that the 1840-D Small D half eagle is very rare, especially in grades higher than About Uncirculated-50.
1841-D Medium Mintmark Half Eagle
The 1841-D Medium D half eagle (PCGS designates this variety as the "Tall D") uses the same reverse as seen on the 1840-D Medium D half eagle. It is believed that a total of 4,105 1841-D Medium D half eagles were produced as compared to 25,287 examples of the more common 1841-D Small D. A very interesting late die state exists that shows the obverse heavily shattered by four distinct cracks that converge at the back of Liberty's ear. An example of this variety was Lot 369 in the Bass IV sale. It is now in the Auraria collection of Dahlonega half eagles.
1843-D Small Mintmark Half Eagle
The 1843-D Small D is probably the best known of the three major mintmark varieties seen on Dahlonega half eagles during the early 1840's. It uses the same reverse as on the 1842-D Small Date, Large Letters half eagle. It shares the same obverse as the 1843-D Large D half eagle but in an earlier state, lacking the three tiny die lumps between stars one and two as seen on that variety. The 1843-D Small D appears to be considerably more rare than its Large D counterpart and it is beginning to sell for a premium.
1848-D/D Half Eagle
This is a variety that has become fairly well-known in recent years but it is still misunderstood. Unlike the 1846-D/D half eagle, the 1848-D/D is not easily visible. On the 1848-D/D, the first mintmark is located below the second. Two distinct die states are known. On the rarer of the two, the first punch can be seen with light magnification (see the illustration on page 199 of my book "Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861.") The more common late die state shows just a faint trace of the underlying mintmark and, in my opinion, should not sell for a premium.
The "real" 1848-D/D half eagle is rare in all grades and extremely rare in properly graded About Uncirculated-50. I have never seen an Uncirculated example and the majority of the AU's that I have seen were not attractive.
There are a few other varieties that a serious collector might wish to add to his collection.
In the realm of "strike varieties," some of the more interesting ones include the 1850-D Strong Mintmark, the 1851-D Weak Mintmark and the 1854-D Weak Mintmark half eagles.
Most 1850-D half eagles have a weak to very weak mintmark. It is my opinion that any piece with a strong mintmark deserves to sell for a premium. An advanced set might have a piece with a strong mintmark and an example with a weak mintmark to illustrate the differences.
One variety of 1851-D half eagle (Winter 19-M; see page 208 in my book "Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861.") is sometimes seen with a faint to very faint mintmark. The same holds true for a number of 1854-D half eagles. I have actually seen a few 1854-D half eagle that had such a weak mintmark that even under strong magnification it was very difficult to see the "D."
The 1854-D three dollar gold piece is nearly always seen with pronounced weakness on the borders. A few are known that show virtually complete denticles and these are very rare. It is possible that at some point in the future, an 1854-D three dollar gold piece with strong borders will sell for a premium over a more typically struck example.
Nearly every known 1840-D quarter eagle was struck from heavily cracked dies. A few very early die state pieces are known without cracks. It is conceivable that such pieces will sell for a premium in the future.
At the present time (September 2001), very few of these varieties sell for a premium. The advanced collector of Dahlonega gold should view this as an excellent "window of opportunity" that should be slamming shut in the near future, especially given the fact that PCGS now recognizes and is publicizing these varieties.