In the five years since I wrote the second edition of my book on Dahlonega gold coinage, a number of important coins have been sold and some significant changes are going to be have to be made when I release my third edition (which, if I had to guess, will be out in another year or so). I think it would be interesting to look at the ten rarest Dahlonega gold coins and see what important things have changed about them since 2003. For each of these issues, I am going to focus on the following aspects:
-Changes (if any) in high grade rarity
-Changes (if any) in Condition Census
-New Finest Known coins or important new discoveries
-New price records at auction or via private treaty
Before we begin, I think a quick overview of the Dahlonega market is in order. If I had to summarize it in a paragraph I would say that the market is currently strong. The supply of Dahlonega coins—even schlocky ones—really seems to have dried up in the last two or three years. It was always hard to find choice, original Dahlonega coins; even in low grades. Now it seems hard to find even mediocre quality pieces. And the very rare Dahlonega issues—the coins which we will focus on in this article—have become exceptionally hard to locate. The last really important specialized collection to come on the market was the Duke’s Creek gold dollars and quarter eagles that Heritage auctioned in April 2006.
1855-D Gold Dollar: This remains the rarest Dahlonega gold dollar in high grades and it is the second rarest overall with fewer than 100 known. The rarity of this issue with a full date seems to have been exaggerated by me in the first two editions of my book. I would revise the number of 1855-D gold dollars with a full date upwards from “less than a dozen” to around double this amount.
While no new discoveries of note have been recorded, no less than three record prices were recorded between 2006 and 2007. In February 2007, the Goldberg: 2097 example, graded MS64 by NGC, sold for an incredible $149,500; it had sold earlier as Heritage 1/06: 3396 where it brought $109,250. The finest known 1855-D was purchased by a prominent Alabama collector in the Heritage April 2006 sale where it realized $132,250. This coin had previously been graded MS64 by NGC; now it is in a PCGS 64 holder. The only other Uncirculated 1855-D gold dollars, graded MS62 and MS61 by PCGS, sold for $56,350 and $46,000 respectively in the Heritage 2/04 auction. Remarkably, the four finest 1855-D gold dollars all sold at auction between 2004 and 2007(!)
1856-D Gold Dollar: In the second edition of my Dahlonega book, I estimated that 80-90 examples of the 1856-D gold dollar exist. I still believe that this is accurate. I also estimated that only four to five Uncirculated examples are known. By the magic of gradeflation, I think this number has climbed to around half dozen.
A world record price was set by the Heritage 1/04: 1009 coin (ex: Green Pond) that sold for $47,150 and another impressive price realized was the Heritage 4/06: 1488 coin (ex: Duke’s Creek) that brought $40,250. One of these two coins was upgraded to MS63 by NGC and it now is the highest graded 1856-D gold dollar. Two other high grade 1856-D gold dollars that have traded since the second edition of my book was published are a new PCGS MS62 that I sold via private treaty in 2007 to the Wexford Collection and the ANR 9/03: 425 coin that sold for $41,400, the second highest price ever realized by this date.
1861-D Gold Dollar: The 1861-D gold dollar has, arguably, become the most popular coin of any denomination produced at the Dahlonega mint. I can’t attribute this soaring degree of popularity to anything other than a high “coolness” factor and a multi-tiered level of demand that is not seen by other Dahlonega issues.
My estimate of 55-65 known may be a bit on the low side and I would probably raise this to 65-75 including a dozen or so in Uncirculated. A record price was set in January 2008 when the Heritage 1/08: 3050 example brought $149,500 (this is an exact tie with an MS64 1855-D for the highest price ever realized by any gold dollar from Dahlonega). This same coin had brought $138,000 in April 2006. The finest known 1861-D remains the Pierce/Ullmer coin, graded MS64 by PCGS, in a prominent Alabama collection. In my opinion, the second finest is the Green Pond coin, graded MS63 by PCGS, which sold for $86,250 in January 2004.
1840-D Quarter Eagle: Of the ten coins discussed in this article, I think the 1840-D is the least well-known. It is the third rarest Dahlonega quarter eagle and I now regard it as the second rarest in high grades after the 1856-D. I believe this date is unique in properly graded Uncirculated and the finest known example, known to collectors as the Bareford/Duke’s Creek coin, sold for a record $74,750 when it was auctioned by Heritage in April 2006. (This coin, by the way, still appears in the PCGS population figures as an MS61. The only Uncirculated 1840-D quarter graded Uncirculated by NGC (an MS61) is owned by a Kansas collector and it is ex: Superior 8/07: 659 ($31,050), Heritage 1/04: 1016 ($27,600). I still think that even in properly graded AU50, the 1840-D is genuinely rare and there are fewer than a dozen true AU’s known.
1855-D Quarter Eagle: The true rarity of the 1855-D quarter eagle has been distorted by the fact that virtually all of the higher grade examples that have appeared for sale are overgraded. This includes at least two coins in MS60 holders that have been recolored and another with damage on the surfaces. The all-time price record for the 1855-D was set in April 2006 when Heritage sold an NGC MS61 for $54,625.
I have previously stated that the 1855-D is the rarest Dahlonega quarter eagle in high grades and overall. I now believe it to be the second rarest, after the 1856-D. I still have never seen an encapsulated 1855-D quarter eagle that I believed to fully Uncirculated. There is an example in the Smithsonian’s collection that noted expert Jeff Garrett grades MS62.
1856-D Quarter Eagle: My respect for this issue has increased over time and I now regard it as not only the rarest Dahlonega quarter eagle but the rarest single issue of any denomination from this mint. Only 874 were struck and there are probably no more than 45-55 known.
Due to its crude strike, this is an extremely hard issue to grade and I’m not really sure exactly how many Uncirculated pieces exist. PCGS has only graded a single example in Uncirculated (Heritage 1/04: 1034, ex: Green Pond that sold for $69,000) while NGC shows one in MS60 and four in MS61 with none better. The only Uncirculated NGC coin that I have personally handled is Heritage 4/06: 1513 (MS61) that I paid a record price of $71,875. There is a PCGS AU58 that is owned by a prominent Alabama collector that I think is outstanding for the issue and I have handled two other PCGS AU58’s that I feel are accurately graded.
1854-D Three Dollar: This is the only one of the ten issues in this article that I believe is overrated by most non-specialists. However, as I have mentioned innumerable times, its status as a one-year issue make it exceedingly popular with a wide range of collectors. A nice 1854-D Three Dollar has become the “High Relief of Branch Mint Gold” (i.e., an expensive but extremely popular issue with exceptional liquidity).
An all-time record for this date was set in April 2006 when I purchased an NGC MS62 from the Duke’s Creek collection sale. This easily eclipsed the previous auction high of $92,000 that was set by the Green Pond: 1037 coin back in January 2004. The two finest 1854-D Threes remain the fantastic Bass coin (see www.hbrf.org to view an image of this special piece) and the PCGS MS62 in the Great Lakes collection.
As of July 2008, PCGS had graded four examples in Uncirculated: MS62-(2) MS61 and MS60 while NGC had graded nine: MS62-(5) MS61 and (3) MS60. I believe the actual number of Uncirculated 1854-D Threes is around four or five.
1838-D Half Eagle: The 1838-D is by far the most available issue in this group of ten coins and the major reason I decided to include it (and exclude much rarer coins such as the 1860-D gold dollar and 1841-D, 1842-D and 1854-D quarter eagles) is that it is extremely popular. I would have to rank it as one of the three or four most popular issues from this mint.
As I mentioned before, the 1838-D half eagle is a relatively common issue and I believe that there are somewhere north of 300 known including as many as eight to ten in Uncirculated. But what I find interesting about this issue is that the supply has really shriveled in the last few years, particularly in higher grades. The only really nice Uncirculated 1838-D that I have seen in the last few years is Heritage 2007 ANA: 1919 (PCGS MS62 @$37,375). An NGC MS63 (ex: Ashland City collection) bounced around from sale to sale in 2003-2006 and I have never particularly cared for it. I believe that if a really choice, fresh PCGS MS62 or better 1838-D half eagle were to appear on the market, it would command a record price as there seem to be many collectors waiting around for such a coin.
1842-D Large Date Half Eagle: Despite its status as the rarest Dahlonega half eagle in higher grades, this is another issue that is somewhat off the radar to nearly everyone except specialists. In terms of its overall rarity, I believe this variety is a bit more available than I claimed in the second edition of my book. In high grades, it remains a major rarity with just a single Uncirculated graded by PCGS (the Green Pond coin which is in an MS61 holder) and two in MS61 at NGC.
The all-time auction record for the 1842-D half eagle was set in January 2004 by Green Pond: 1043 which realized $41,400. The Duke’s Creek/Eliasberg coin, which was formerly in a PCGS AU58 holder, is now (deservedly) in an NGC MS61 holder. An exceptional new PCGS AU58 was sold by me around a year ago to the Wexford Collection. I am especially interested to see the newly discovered NGC MS61 that was found as part of the S.S. New York treasure in Louisiana. This coin will be sold at auction by Stack’s just prior to the 2008 ANA.
1861-D Half Eagle: Like its gold dollar counterpart, the 1861-D half eagle has become an issue whose demand transcends specialists. As a result, prices for both 1861-D issues have soared in recent years. Despite the fact that even low grade 1861-D half eagles are now commanding prices upwards of $10,000, few have come to market since the second edition of my book was released.
However, there has been quite a bit of activity in the upper end of the 1861-D half eagle market. The finest known example, graded MS63 by PCGS, sold for a record $207,000 in Heritage’s 2008 FUN auction. This was, as far as I know, the most money that any single Dahlonega coin has ever brought. The second finest known example, pedigreed to the Duke’s Creek and Eliasberg collection, was upgraded from MS63 at PCGS to MS64 at NGC. And another MS63 was “made” at PCGS when the Duke’s Creek coin (ex: Heritage 1/04: 1065 @ $74,750 as PCGS MS62) upgraded a point.
The current certified population figures for this date are clearly inflated. PCGS shows three coins in MS63 but there are only two. They also show four in MS62 but I believe that the correct number is also two. The NGC population figure of three in MS62 seems inflated as well.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I plan to begin work soon on the revised third edition of my Dahlonega book and will incorporate all of the changes mentioned in this article. If you have pertinent new information about Dahlonega coins that you feel should be in the book, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make certain it is included.