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Southern mint $2.50s reflect usage patterns

A study of the $2.50 gold pieces produced at the three southern U.S. Mint facilities during the 1840s and 1850s is a fascinating trip back into time.

A study of the $2.50 gold pieces produced at the three southern U.S. Mint facilities during the 1840s and 1850s is a fascinating trip back into time.

It is not simply a case of learning about usually tough and sometimes rare dates, but also a study of three facilities and the local demand for quarter eagles to use in circulation. That gives us some insight into the economy of the region at the time just prior to the Civil War. With such information usually being scarce, the quarter eagle becomes a valuable asset in appreciating and understanding a larger picture.

It much be remembered that prior to the reduction in the amount of gold in gold coins in 1834, the gold quarter eagle had basically no use in circulation. Of course, for a time no gold coins were circulating as they would be sold to brokers and exported, but those coins were primarily half eagles. From the time it was first produced in 1796, the quarter eagle had very limited use.

This can be seen in the mintages, which were never over 10,000 pieces ? when there were any at all.

The situation began to change after 1834 with much larger mintages and more use of the quarter eagle in circulation. The opening of three new Mint facilities in the South, however, would also make a difference in supply. The story was fairly simple in that gold had been discovered in the hills of North Carolina and Georgia. Back in the 1830s, to transport that gold all the way to Philadelphia was not only difficult but potentially dangerous. Moreover, there was a growing population in the gold-producing area and they needed coins. Commerce in the area was functioning primarily through use of privately produced coins emerging from the operation of the Bechtler family. Simply put, it made sense on a variety of fronts to open branch mints, and that was what happened in Dahlonega, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C.

The third of the three facilities approved was a slightly different situation. New Orleans, La., was not in the heart of the gold-producing region, but it was a transportation center. New Orleans could easily receive metal from which to make coins and could then easily send those coins to any number of places. Just to make things better, the city offered a prime piece of real estate if the government would build and operate a Mint. The offer was too good to refuse, so New Orleans also gained approval.

By the time the three facilities were ready for operation, the United States was ready for a design change. All three branch mints would produce the old Classic Head design quarter eagles in 1839, and Charlotte managed to produce some in 1838 as well, but in reality things were just becoming stable when the first Coronet Head quarter eagles were ready in 1840.

It would be common for the three southern facilities to have varied mintages and sometimes no mintages. Dahlonega and Charlotte mintages would reflect the situations in the area at a given time. In the first year of production of the Coronet Head quarter eagle that meant a mintage of 12,822 in Charlotte, 33,580 in New Orleans and just 3,532 pieces in Dahlonega. It is hard to say there ever was a pattern of southern Mint quarter eagles, but the low total in Dahlonega is something that happened many times at that facility.

The vastly different mintages result in vastly different price listings. The 1840-C currently lists at $975 in F-12 while the 1840-D is at $2,000 in the same grade with the 1840-O at just $250. All are tough in mint state with the 1840-O listed at $11,000 while the 1840-C is at $13,000 and the 1840-D is at $35,000. What really matters in the case of southern states quarter eagles are total numbers. It can basically be assumed there are few if any pieces available in mint state. The denomination was high and there were few collectors in the area, so surviving mint state totals are extremely low.
Professional Coin Grading Service reported six examples of the 1840-O in mint state, nine examples of the 1840-C and just two of the 1840-D. In fact, if we look at total numbers, it is slightly surprising that the 1840-C has been graded 83 times, far ahead of the 1840-O at 53 and the 1840-D at 47.

The uneven nature of southern mint quarter eagle production, which at least in Charlotte and Dahlonega basically was dictated by whatever people bringing in gold requested, was seen the following year when New Orleans would have no production while Charlotte would have a mintage of 10,281. Dahlonega again was the low mintage of the three at 4,164. That gives the 1841-C a listing of $750 in F-12 while the 1841-D is shown at $950. Ironically, the 1841-D is more expensive in mint state, listed at $25,000 in MS-60 compared to $18,500 for the 1841-C. In mint state PCGS has seen just two 1841-D quarter ealges, yet in the case of the less expensive 1841-C the number seen by PCGS is just one coin, an MS-60.

A point worth noting is that even when a coin from a southern mint is discovered in mint state, it is likely to be no thing of beauty. Those from New Orleans might be slightly better, but Dahlonega and Charlotte were branch mints treated very much like second-class facilities in terms of equipment. Their production quality was naturally not. Planchets are many times poor and strikes weak. As a result, you rarely if ever see even an MS-63 from Charlotte or Dahlonega, and that shows in the 1841 totals.

All three facilities had 1842 mintages with New Orleans again the highest of the group at 19,800, making the 1840-O available at a listing of $240 in F-12. Charlotte, with a mintage 6,729, is at $700 in F-12 while the 1842-D with a mintage of 4,643 is at $900.

Just when you think there is a mintage pattern from the three facilities, it is broken. That was the case in 1843. The New Orleans mintages were enormous but in 1843 Dahlonega had the second-highest total while Charlotte had the lowest mintage at 26,064. Moreover, the mintages were divided between small and large dates, leaving the key date of 1843 as the 1843-C with a small date which is listed at $1,500 in F-12 today. Actually, there was a variety at Dahlonega which was even tougher, a large ?D? variety. PCGS has seen only 12 examples in any grade of the large ?D.?

The patterns would vary in 1844 and 1845 as in 1844 there would only be mintages at Charlotte and Dahlonega while 1845 saw mintages at Dahlonega and New Orleans but not Charlotte. Of the dates of the two years, the surprise low mintage is the 1845-O, which had a reported mintage of just 4,000 pieces. Yet, it is available, listed at just $550 in F-12 ? lower than all the other 1844 and 1845 dates from the other southern mints. Moreover, the number graded at PCGS is far lower than the others, just 38 pieces while the next lowest total is the 1844-C at 87. The situation is very hard to explain except to say that Dahlonega and Charlotte have reputations for low-mintage and low-quality dates. New Orleans is not seen by many as being similar, so New Orleans dates are usually assumed to be more available. In the case of the 1845-O, the assumption that the New Orleans issue is available appears to be incorrect. If additional collectors start seeking a complete set of Coronet Head quarter eagles or even the Coronet Head quarter eagles from the southern mints, the 1845-O might well have come catching up to do in terms of price.

Things are out of the ordinary again for 1846. While all three facilities produced quarter eagles in 1846, the low total was from Charlotte at just 4,808 pieces. While many assume Dahlonega had all the low mintages, it was not always the case as is seen in 1846. The Dahlonega total of just over 19,000 pieces is far higher than Charlotte and that makes the 1846-C the most expensive date of the year, listed at $725 in F-12.

Of course that would change in 1847. In 1847 it would be the Dahlonega quarter eagle that would have the lowest mintage, 15,784 pieces. Ironically, while low mintage, the 1847-D has a fairly large number of mint state examples known today. PCGS reports a total of 15 and a few were as nice as MS-64.

New Orleans would produce no quarter eagles in 1848 and 1849 and the mintages from Dahlonega and Charlotte in those two years would be very similar. In every case the 10,000 mark was topped. Price listings for the four coins from these two years range from $800 to $1,000. The 1848-D is slightly more available than the other three in mint state with PCGS showing a total of 14 examples graded.

The 1850 mintages were extremes. New Orleans produced 84,000 quarter eagles while Dahlonega struck 12,148 and Charlotte 9,148. The Dahlonega today lists for slightly more, at $950 in F-12, while the 1850-C is slightly more in mint state at $17,500.

In 1851 and 1852 there were mintages at all three facilities and they followed the general pattern. New Orleans, which produced at least 140,000 both years, remains the most available. The 1852 mintages at both Charlotte and Dahlonega were under 10,000 with the Dahlonega total of 4,078 being especially low, resulting in a $840 F-12 listing in F-12. Despite its higher mintage, the 1852-C is tougher and slightly more expensive in mint state with PCGS reporting just two examples of the 1852-C in mint state as opposed to six of the 1852-D.

The only 1853 mintage of quarter eagles in the South was the 1853-D, which had total production of just 3,178 pieces. When you consider that mintage and realize that its F-12 listing is just $950, you have to feel you are getting a great value ? how many other gold coins with a mintage of less than 3,200 pieces can you find for under $1,000? The PCGS total is low at 53 pieces although seven were called mint state, but as usual all seven were in lower mint state grades.

The year 1854 would see another and even lower mintage from Dahlonega, the 1854-D mintage being just 1,760 pieces. That overshadows a low 7,295 total at Charlotte and a higher 153,000 mintage at New Orleans. Higher mintages at New Orleans in the 1850s can be possibly linked to gold shipments coming from California. Despite large amounts of gold, California was still without a U.S. Mint facility at the time. That situation would change in 1854 with the opening of the San Francisco Mint, and the impact would be seen immediately as New Orleans mintages would promptly decline. The 1854-D, as the low mintage quarter eagle from the southern facilities in 1854, is a very tough date listed at $1,750 in F-12. It would probably receive more attention were it not for the fact that San Francisco produced a great rarity in the form of the 1854-S quarter eagle with a mintage of just 246 pieces. That, however, was 3,000 miles away, and at least in the South the tough quarter eagle of 1854 was the 1854-D.

There would be a repeat in 1855 although in 1855 there would be no quarter eagle mintage in New Orleans. In Dahlonega, however, the mintage would fall even lower, to 1,123 pieces. The 1855-D has the same F-12 listing as the 1854-D of $1,750 in F-12. In all grades combined PCGS has seen 10 more examples of the 1854-D, but in both cases the numbers are so low as to suggest that in any particular grade you will have a real problem finding an 1854-D or 1855-D or convincing its owner to sell their treasure. As with the 1854-D, the 1855-D simply overshadows what was a very low-mintage coin from Charlotte as the 1855-C had a mintage of 3,677 and it is listed at just $800 today in F-12.

One of the real quarter eagle rarities came along in 1856 in the form of the 874-mintage 1856-D, which currently lists for $3,500 in F-12. Just how rare the 1856-D is, is a good question. The best guide we have is that PCGS has seen 36 examples in all grades combined. That would suggest probably not even 100 known to exist. It?s tough in mint state as well as PCGS has seen only two, which probably helps to explain a listing of $72,500 in MS-60.

The other 1856 dates are much more available with the 1856-C again being an overlooked good deal at $650 in F-12 with a mintage under 8,000 pieces while the 1856-O with a mintage of 21,100 is nearly at available date prices in circulated grades, currently listed at $180 in F-12, even though its mintage is really not high.

In 1857 the New Orleans total was 34,000, making it an available date, while Charlotte had no mintage of quarter eagles. The Dahlonega total had nowhere to go but up, and it is higher at 2,364 although that is far from a heavy mintage. By comparison to the year prior the 1857-D may look common, making its current $875 listing in F-12 look like an awfully good deal.

The situation in 1858 was unusual as in 1858 only Charlotte had a quarter eagle mintage with a total of 9,056. It was unusual that Charlotte would be the only one of the three facilities to have a mintage. The 1858-C is somewhat better than might be expected. Perhaps being the only mintage from the southern facilities that year, the 1858-C may get a little more attention than usual. Whatever the reason, the 1858-C is currently at $825 in F-12 and it is actually seen with some regularity as PCGS reports over 100 examples graded.

Realistically at this point in time the southern facilities were all seeing lower mintages or no mintages. In fact, New Orleans would produce no additional quarter eagles and in 1859 Dahlonega would also produce its last quarter eagle in the form of the 2,244-mintage 1859-D. It is not the lowest-mintage Dahlonega quarter eagle, but the 1859-D is certainly a typical Dahlonega quarter eagle with a current listing of $1,000 in F-12 while an MS-60 is at $20,000. PCGS reports seeing eight examples in mint state.

With New Orleans and Dahlonega no longer producing quarter eagles, the 1860-C became historic as the last quarter eagle from any of the southern mints. The 1860-C had a mintage of 7,469 pieces, a typical Charlotte total, with typical Charlotte results: the 1860-C lists for $815 in F-12 and $21,000 in MS-60, and PCGS reports only three mint state examples graded.

It would be fair to suggest that as of the first shots of the Civil War, the three southern Mint facilities were basically out of business. All would be quickly seized by state authorities and that would be the end of their official role as branch mints.

The legacy they would leave, however, had already been created. Charlotte and Dahlonega would forever be remembered as facilities with low mintages and sometimes low-quality issues that have challenged collectors throughout the years. New Orleans was a different matter although it too had low mintages at times and frequently is overlooked, making some of its issues potentially excellent values today.

Whether you attempt a complete collection or perhaps a quarter eagle from each of the three, you will find there is something special about holding a quarter eagle from one of the southern mints.