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1861-D dollar case of missing mintage

Don’t bother to check the mintage to find out why the 1861-D gold dollar costs $4,950 in F-12 or $41,500 in MS-60. The 1861-D doesn’t have a recorded mintage, which helps to make it one of the most interesting stories in the history of U.S. coins.

Actually, it might not be correct to call the 1861-D gold dollar a U.S. coin as the 1861-D is one coin that can be said to have been struck by someone other than United States Mint employees.

The story goes back to the early days of the Civil War when the Dahlonega Mint was seized by Georgia forces. It is thought that on that April 8, 1861, day there was roughly $13,345 in gold still in the facility as well as dies to make gold coins.

2012 U.S. Coin Digest: Gold Coins

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We know that with either the state of Georgia or the Confederate States of America in charge, someone produced 1861-D gold dollars. We can be certain of that for the simple reason that in 1861, while under the control of the United States, no gold dollars were struck.

This raises questions of how many were created and whether or not they actually circulated. We know they certainly did circulate as the vast majority are found in circulated grades. Precisely how many were made is another matter. There were no records kept at the time and the best guess over the years has been that the mintage was probably between 1,000 and 1,500.

The surviving 1861-D gold dollars are typical products of the Dahlonega facility, which is a nice way of saying that they were somewhat crude. Dahlonega had always been treated as a second class facility, and it can be seen in the coins. In the case of the 1861-D, the planchets can be irregular and grainy. If you check the “U” on “UNITED” it will be weak and details are usually lacking.

Since the 1861-D did not appear in officials records, it was not even known for a number of years. Few, if any, were collecting gold dollars, and those who were didn’t collect by date and mint. In fact, the first example to appear at auction was in 1907 in a sale conducted by S. Hudson Chapman where the 1861-D was said to be one of “only four specimens known.”

Over time other examples would surface, but they would be few and far between in terms of auction appearances. In almost every instance, the 1861-D was touted as the rarest U.S. gold dollar.

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Trying to determine a more precise mintage is a challenge. The 1860-D, with a 1,566 total mintage, is a good comparison as it was produced at the same facility just the year prior. You rarely find a better comparison, especially since the 1861-D’s estimated mintage falls just below the 1860-D if the high end estimate of 1,500 is correct. If it is closer to the lower end of 1,000, there should be some substantial differences in numbers known.

Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen 48 examples of the 1860-D with six being Mint State. The 1861-D has been seen 23 times with a surprising eight being Mint State. Professional Coin Grading Service totals show the 1860-D has been graded 67 times with 10 being Mint State while the 1861-D has been graded 53 times with 17 being called Mint State.

It appears that the likely mintage of the 1861-D was probably closer to the lower total of 1,000 as the differences in numbers seen are relatively significant, suggesting a greater difference than just 66 coins, which would have been the case if the 1861-D had a mintage of 1,500.

The surprise is the 1861-D is actually seen more often in Mint State. It should not be the case and it almost suggests that there were collectors or at least souvenir savers in the group that struck the 1861-D.

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