Guest Blog - A Dahlonega Odyssey: Completion of the Auraria Collection

Today on the blog, we hand the reigns over to collector Joe Gaines, who shares his story and collecting lessons with us.

"After 21 years (and three months) the Auraria collection of Dahlonega gold is finally complete. The set includes 68 coins with all of the major varieties; 34 coins are in mint state, and the vast majority of the rest are in choice AU condition. I have just a few observations on the journey. First find a dealer you trust and stick with them. It does not make a lot of sense to have several dealers searching for the same coins for you!

I was fortunate to have two great dealers assist me. Jack Hancock, now deceased, helped me start the collection and got me about half way through the half eagle set when he suddenly died. He lived only about 30 miles away and had assisted a number of local collectors. Jack had an excellent eye. It was Jack’s idea to come up with a name for the collection; he felt it created a certain mystique. Auraria was a small town near Dahlonega where the Georgia gold rush began. Upon Jack’s death I had to find a new dealer.

I made the best decision in contacting Doug Winter. Doug was able to get me through the rest of the half eagles, and before I finished them I purchased a 1849-D $1 MS64 from him. That led to wanting to complete the gold dollar set, and before completing the gold dollars, Doug sold me the Harry Bass Jr 1856-D quarter eagle that led me to complete the entire Dahlonega series.

Of course, I made a few mistakes along the way. Early on I bought a few coins from other sources that I later regretted. I would definitely suggest buying a very nice example the first time so you are not tempted to upgrade later. Unless you purchase the coin at a very good price, more often than not you will lose money on upgrades. Have a plan and try to stick to it. My plan was to have every coin in AU 50 condition or better. There is no way anyone can duplicate the amazing quality of the Duke’s Creek collection, so I did not try.

One thing I will say is that as I purchased more coins, I wanted to have better examples. I bought a couple of early coins sight unseen, and raw at auction via a fax bid that luckily turned out to be good coins. (Don’t ever risk that!) Stick to PCGS and NGC graded coins with original surfaces that are well-struck or better struck than usual for a Dahlonega mint coin. Avoid problem coins. One coin I missed out on was the 1845-D PCGS MS65 Harry Bass half eagle. I could have bought it through Doug but would not pull the trigger. That was a big mistake. If a great coin becomes available sometimes you just have to suck it up and buy it. Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them.

It’s a good idea to have a reference library of books and auction catalogues. The most important book on Dahlonega gold is "Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint" by Doug Winter, first and second editions. I also have a fairly extensive collection of auction catalogues of important collections of Dahlonega gold. Several coins in the Auraria collection were pedigreed to important collections by matching the coin with the auction catalogue where the pedigree was lost or obscured. These catalogues can be purchased from numismatic literature specialists. The Heritage auction archive is also an excellent resource.

Doug was very patient with me. I would frequently text or email him the final coins I was looking for while he was at shows. One of the advantages of sticking with one dealer is that if a great coin becomes available you may get the first shot at it before anyone else is even aware of it. Those coins do not make it to the web site.

Spreading out and building the collection over a long period of time is not for everyone, but it was the only way I could afford better examples. Most of the coins were direct dealer purchases, with about 25% bought at auction with dealer representation. Always use an experienced dealer for bidding at auction unless you are experienced and see the coins personally. The least number of coins purchased in one year was 1 and the most was 7. On two occasions I purchased 3 coins in one auction (from the Chestatee and Dukes Creek sales). I believe Doug is very fair in his pricing and did very little dickering with him over the years.

I prefer PCGS graded coins, but have several NGC graded coins in the collection. A good coin is a good coin regardless of who grades it. CAC did not exist until I was nearly through with the gold dollars. I would expect that a fairly high percentage of coins in the collection would be certified by CAC if they were sent in. I was fortunate to be actively collecting when such famous collections of Dahlonega coins as the Harry Bass Jr collection, North Georgia collection, Chestatee collection, Dukes Creek collection, and Green Pond collection became available. Quite a few coins in the Auraria collection came from these wonderful holdings.

The first two gold dollars I bought were the 1849-D in MS64 and the 1861-D in MS61. The most common, and the rarest, gold dollars. The first two quarter eagles purchased were the 1856-D and the 1855-D, the two rarest quarter eagles. The last coin purchased was the 1853-D quarter eagle, certainly a scarce coin in high grade but not the rarest.

I would consider the following coins to be the highlights of the collection:

Gold dollars

  • 1850-D NGC MS64 Ex Dukes Creek finest known
  • 1852-D NGC MS63 Ex Dukes Creek and Eliasberg finest known
  • 1855-D PCGS MS61 full date Ex Green Pond
  • 1861-D PCGS MS61 Ex Amon Carter Jr.

Quarter Eagles

  • 1840-D PCGS AU58 CAC Ex Harry Bass Jr
  • 1851-D PCGS MS62 Ex Jasper Robertson
  • 1855-D PCGS AU55 Ex North Georgia
  • 1856-D PCGS AU55 Ex Harry Bass Jr.

Three Dollar gold

  • 1854-D PCGS AU55

Five Dollar gold

  • 1843-D PCGS MS63 Ex Eliasberg
  • 1846-D Regular D PCGS MS61 Ex Harry Bass Jr, and possibly the finest known
  • 1849-D PCGS MS62 Ex Harry Bass Jr
  • 1850-D PCGS MS60 Ex Chestatee Collection
  • 1852-D PCGS MS61 fully struck, 1857-D PCGS MS61 Ex Byron Reed and Dukes Creek
  • PCGS 1861-D MS61 Ex Chestatee Collection

I met a lot of nice people who collect and sell Dahlonega gold including Al Adams, David Patton, Carl Lester, and Bill House. These guys are real experts. A somewhat ironic twist is that after Jack Hancock died, the owner of the Duke’s Creek Collection wrote an online tribute to Jack. It turned out the owner of the collection was married to my first cousin, and I never knew he even collected coins.

What do I do now? I will enjoy the collection for a while and continue to possibly improve the collection. Being a collector at heart I will probably move on to another area of interest."

We love to feature Guest bloggers here on If you have a story you'd like to share, insight into your collection or rules for collecting, or other ideas, please contact Doug Winter via email at with your proposed blog. We look forward to hearing from you!