So...You've Decided to Collect Dahlonega Gold...

So...You've Decided to Collect Dahlonega Gold...

If I had to select the Most Popular Branch Mint it would likely be Dahlonega. These gold coins have become an avidly-sought after area of the market with collectors from all over the country building sets...

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How Rare are High-Grade Dahlonega Quarter Eagles?

How Rare are High-Grade Dahlonega Quarter Eagles?

The Dahlonega mint began production of quarter eagles in 1839 and discontinued this denomination in 1859. There are a total of 20 issues and two major types: the popular one-year Classic Head (1839 only) and the Liberty Head (1840-1859).

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How Rare Are Choice High-Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

How Rare Are Choice High-Grade Dahlonega Half Eagles?

Since I wrote the first of my three editions of Dahlonega gold books over two decades ago, I’ve sought to constantly remind collectors that truly choice, high-grade (in this instance high-grade equates to coins which grade AU55 and above) Dahlonega half eagles are rare, regardless of how “common” the issue seems to be in terms of overall rarity.

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Recently Sold by DWN: A Choice PCGS AU53 1855-D $1.00

The 1855-D is one of two gold dollars from the Dahlonega mint with multiple levels of demand. It is popular with type collectors who like it for its one-year status (it is the only Type One gold dollar from this mint) and it is also popular with collectors who appreciate truly rare coins. While the 1861-D is the “sexy” D mint gold dollar, the 1855-D is actually a rarer coin in high grades, especially with choice surfaces, original color and a sharp strike. Of the 100 or which are known, most 1855-D dollars grade in the VF-EF range and are characterized by very flat central detail. There are an estimated two dozen known in properly graded About Uncirculated, as well as another four or five in Uncirculated.

1855-D $1.00 PCGS AU53

A very small number (lower than 10% of the survivors) are known with a full date and collectors appreciate these. Full Date coins typically command strong premium and to qualify as such, an 1855-D needs to be as well defined on the 85 as the present coin; see the photo for more evidence.

This fresh-to-the-market coin is perhaps the nicest circulated 1855-D dollar that I have owned and its eye appeal far exceeds the assigned grade. It is extremely well-struck and is probably one of the very first coins struck from the Winter 7-I die pair. The date shows 100% full detail, and there are only moderate clashmarks at the centers. The surfaces are clean and well made with attractive rich deep russet color seen on both sides. Some dirt in the recesses can be seen as well and it is likely that this is one of only a small number of 1855-D dollars which has not been cleaned or dipped.

This coin was recently sent in for grading by the descendants of an old Southern family, where the coin had resided since the 19th century. I was excited to purchase it, and I sent it to PCGS and later to CAC, hoping it would grade AU55.

Here is an example where a coin in a lower grade holder is clearly worth more than one graded higher. My coin was “competing” with an NGC AU58 which was listed on a West Coast dealer’s website for less money than I was asking for a coin which was “only” an AU53. As I pointed out to the collector who purchased this coin from me, the AU58, based on images, was weakly struck, unnaturally bright, and had rough, processed surfaces.

The new owner of this coin is nearing completion of a set of Dahlonega gold and he has just a few more coins before he is finished. I am pleased that he took a leap of faith and purchased this exceptional 1855-D Full Date dollar as it will make a superb addition to his set.

If you want to purchase Dahlonega gold coins which are choice s this 1855-D dollar, please contact me at


Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world’s leading expert help you assemble a set of coins?

Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at

Grade Distribution of Branch Mint Gold Coinage

It is interesting to study the grade distribution patterns for various branch mint gold issues. By this, I am referring to what percentage of a certain issue’s survivors exist in a specific grade range. In order to apply this to a practical numismatic situation, I am going to use the Dahlonega quarter eagle series as my lab experiment. Any assumption that I make in this blog is series specific.

By this, I mean that what applies to Dahlonega quarter eagles doesn’t apply to New Orleans half eagles or San Francisco eagles. And within the Dahlonega quarter eagle series there are differences; as an example the issues from the 1840’s are likely to have different grade distribution patterns than those from the 1850’s due to a number of factors. In the case of Dahlonega quarter eagles, the primary consideration is that of usage: these coins circulated differently in the 1840’s than they did in the 1850’s.

1843-D Small D $2.50 graded PCGS AU50

I think the best “base line” Dahlonega quarter eagle to use in our brief study is the 1843-D Small D. This is the most common date in this series both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. It has the highest mintage figure of any quarter eagle from this mint, and with over 500 examples known, it can be found in a variety of grades.

According to the most recent data from PCGS, there have been a total of 243 coins graded. This number, of course, is inflated by resubmissions, but it gives a good indication of the grade distribution for this issue. According to PCGS, the grade distribution is as follows:

  • VF and lower: 58 coins (23.86%)
  • EF: 77 coins (31.68%)
  • AU: 97 coins (39.91%)
  • Uncirculated: 11 coins (4.52%)

Before analyzing this, there are a few things to remember. First, there are probably more raw low grade 1843-D quarter eagles than there are high grade ones, meaning that the number at the low end of the grading scale could easily inflate if these were ever submitted. Secondly, the number of coins in very high grades (in this case AU58 and Mint State) is clearly inflated on account of the financial incentive to upgrade a coin. An upgrade from VF25 to VF30 is pretty meaningless, but an upgrade from AU55 to MS60 translates to a not inconsiderable amount of money. And lastly, the grade range that has seen the most gradeflation in the last decade is AU, meaning that a significant number of coins graded AU50 or even AU53 by PCGS would not necessarily qualify as such if broken out and submitted again.

Taking all of these caveats into consideration, this grade distribution makes sense to me. I expected at least 60-70% of all 1843-D quarter eagles to grade EF45 and below, and according to PCGS’s figures, the current percentage is 55.54%. If we were able to dismiss all the superfluous AU submissions included in the numbers above, and punt all the marginal AU50 coins that are actually EF’s, this figure might well be close to 70%.

I think that the actual number of 1843-D quarter eagles which grade AU is more likely in the 25-30% range; not all that far off from the 39.91% figure shown.

By any stretch of the imagination, Uncirculated 1843-D quarter eagles are rare. My best estimate is that 15-20 are known, and many are marginal MS60 to MS61 examples. In MS62 and MS63 there are likely no more than four to six and none finer.

The grade distribution for the 1843-D Small D quarter eagle is reasonably similar to that seen for the 1844-D, 1845-D, 1846-D, 1847-D, and 1848-D. These are six of the most available quarter eagles from this mint and they represent the Golden Age, if you will, of commercial use for this denomination in the antebellum south. Beginning in 1848, gold discoveries in California made the Dahlonega (and Charlotte) mint redundant, and by 1854, mintage figures of all C and D mint denominations except half eagles were cursory at best.

1857-D $2.50 PCGS AU55

There is a Dahlonega quarter eagle whose grade distribution is complete different than the 1843-D; enough so to be a complete anomaly within the series. This is the 1857-D; let’s look at the PCGS figures.

A total of 70 1857-D quarter eagles have been graded by PCGS. The by-grade breakdown is as follows:

  • VF and lower: 4 coins (5.71%)
  • EF: 6 coins (8.57%)
  • AU: 45 coins (64.28%)
  • Uncirculated: 15 coins (21.42%)

The 1857-D is the second to last quarter eagle from this mint with an original mintage of only 2,364 with an estimated 125-150 known. As long as I have specialized in Dahlonega coins, I’ve noted that the 1857-D is almost never seen in VF or EF grades, and most of the survivors are in the AU53 to AU58 range.

What is most interesting about this date is that so many of the survivors have a similar look. The typical example in AU55 to AU58 has an “Unc-ish” appearance with many of the hallmarks of a Mint State coin but with either light friction or soft hairlines suggestive or a gentle old cleaning. And, on most of the high grade coins, the color and quality of luster are similar.

These facts combined with the PCGS grade distribution lead me to believe that the 1857-D is a hoard coin. I can’t prove this—and even if it is true I know nothing specific about the so-called hoard. But the fact that 85% of all 1857-D quarter eagles graded by PCGS are AU or Uncirculated is interesting and is completely different in pattern than for any other date in this series.

1856-D $2.50 PCGS AU58 CAC

There is one final Dahlonega quarter eagle with a grade distribution pattern which varies from the norm but for a different reason: the 1856-D.

The 1856-D is not only the rarest quarter eagle from this mint; it is the rarest single issue of any denomination. Only 874 were struck and around 45-55 are known in all grades.

The distribution by grade is very interesting; let’s take a quick peek at how the PCGS has graded the 35 they have recorded:

  • VF and lower: 5 (14.28%)
  • EF: 8 (22.85%)
  • AU: 21 (60%)
  • Uncirculated: 1 (2.85%)

There are many interesting things about these numbers, but two points need to be mentioned first. The 1856-D is an extremely poorly produced coin which is exceptionally hard to grade. I have seen 1856-D quarter eagles which could be graded VF30 just as easily as they could be graded AU50. It is also important to remember that as a rarity within the series, PCGS (and NGC as well) tend to push the grade on the 1856-D quarter eagle. Because it is such a rare coin, a nice EF45 example is typically graded AU50 or AU53 with little complaint from specialists.

I think the PCGS grade distribution for the 1856-D is skewed way too far towards AU and I very, very seriously doubt if “60%” of all known examples grade AU50 to AU58. But given the difficulty of grading this issue, I can understand how this is the case.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the grade distribution for each series depends on a number of factors. Age and the original mintage figure are obvious and important, but there are less subtle factors at play such as perceived rarity, appearance of the coin, whether or not a hoard exist(ed), and if examples were expatriated to Europe and are now returning to the American market.


Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world’s leading expert with you assembling a set of coins?

Contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 or by email at

A Record-Breaking Dahlonega Quarter Eagle

Lost in the post-sale chatter about the 1794 dollar was a record-breaking Dahlonega coin which became the highest-priced single quarter eagle from this mint ever sold at public auction. Stack’s Bowers was able to do something which no one else has ever done before: elicit a six-figure bid for an 1839-D quarter eagle.

1839-D $2.50 PCGS MS64 CAC, photo courtesy of Stacks Bowers

The coin in question is an 1839-D quarter eagle graded MS64 by PCGS and approved by CAC. It was consigned by the owner of the Stellar collection and it was previously Lot 859 in Stack’s October 1994 sale of the famous James Stack collection where it brought $55,000. Nearly two decades later, it was offered as Lot 13291 in the Rarities Night session of the Stack’s Bowers January 2013 auction where it brought a sizzling $105,750.

The previous auction record for a Dahlonega quarter eagle of any date was $86,250, set by the Goldberg 2/12: 1209 coin; an 1855-D graded MS63 and approved by CAC, which I purchased and later blogged about.

I hadn’t seen this 1839-D in many years, and when I had a chance to view it again in person at the 2013 FUN show, I was suitably impressed. It was coin which had aged well; the color was as wonderful as I had remembered from before and it was very high end for the date and grade. But did I expect it to shatter the record for all Dahlonega quarter eagles? To be honest with you, I didn’t and now, a few days later, I finally understand why this coin was a record-setter.

Before I give some thought as to why it broke a record, I think a little background information about the 1839-D in particular and the D mint quarter eagle series in general is in order.

Of the 20 quarter eagles made at the Dahlonega mint between 1839 and 1859, the 1839-D is only the 13th rarest in terms of the number known in high grades. There are a few hundred known in total from an original mintage figure of 13,674 and as many as 8-11 exist in Uncirculated. I do not consider this to be an especially rare issue but I consider it to be very popular and very fundamentally desirable; two points that I will touch on in more detail in a minute.

Looked at as a series, the Dahlonega quarter eagles are the rarest of the three primary denominations struck at this mint. While there are a few common issues, virtually all Dahlonega quarter eagles are hard to find in AU55 and higher grades and very choice Uncirculated pieces, regardless of date, are very rare. The Dahlonega quarter eagle series doesn’t appear to be “hot” to me and I haven’t seen a flood of new collectors in this market but I have noted a strong level of demand for all very high end Dahlonega coins, regardless of date or denomination, in recent months. Noting this, I’m not surprised that the James Stack/Stellar 1839-D did well.

I don’t know who bought this coin but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if the new owner was a type collector as opposed to a Dahlonega specialist. The 1839-D is a unique issue among Dahlonega quarter eagles in one regard and this is what gives it a far more broad level of appeal than a rarer issue like an 1855-D.

The 1839-D quarter eagle is a first year of issue coin AND it is a one-year type. It is the only quarter eagle from this mint that employs the short-lived Classic Head design and, as a result, it is the only quarter eagle from this mint with the mintmark placed on the obverse. It is one of the few Dahlonega quarters eagles (maybe the only one, in fact) that a collector who wasn’t a specialist would buy and in this regard, it is similar to issues like the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles.

There are some other interesting facts about this coin which were not discussed in the Stack’s Bowers description. It is regarded as the single finest known 1839-D quarter eagle (despite being tied with one other as the finest graded by PCGS) and it has been graded MS64 since it was first slabbed back in the mid-1990’s unlike so many other high grade Dahlonega quarter eagles which have “gradeflated” over the years. In looking back at my notes from the 1994 Stack sale which the coin first appeared in, I called it a “Gem” back then and I still think it deserves serious consideration today at the MS64+ to MS65 level. There is certainly the possibility it was bought by a dealer who will break it out, send it to NGC and hope for an MS65 grade; if there was ever an 1839-D that deserved consideration at this level, it is the James Stack/Stellar coin.

The new owner of this coin has added a very special 1839-D quarter eagle to his collection The purist in me can think of other Dahlonega quarter eagles which are more “valuable” but I totally understand why this coin is the current record holder. Branch mint collecting has changed dramatically in the last few years and “dates” aren’t always as important as “types.” The 1839-D is a coin which “checks all the boxes” for the new breed of Dahlonega collector and, ultimately, its record breaking sale at the January 2013 Stack’s sale is a great shot-in-the-arm for the Dahlonega market.