The Charlotte Mint
The Charlotte, North Carolina Mint (1838-1861)
by Timothy O’Fallon [email protected]
As a result of a stunning gold find in 1799, North Carolina became the site of the first gold rush in U.S. history. The large amount of gold discovered overwhelmed local coiners, and so an act was passed on March 3, 1835 authorizing the creation of U.S. Mint facilities in Charlotte as well as New Orleans, Louisiana and Dahlonega, Georgia. Only gold coins were minted in Charlotte. In 1838, the first $2.50 quarter eagle and $5.00 half eagle gold coins were struck, and in 1849 the Mint began producing $1.00 gold coins as well. The final act of the Charlotte Mint was in 1861, when Confederate forces stormed the facility and produced a small number of $5.00 gold coins dated that year. The building still exists as a museum on Randolph Road in Charlotte, North Carolina, but most of the coins have been melted or damaged over the years. Very few coins exist today, making them highly sought-after among collectors and investors.
How to Collect Charlotte Gold Coins
While there are many ways to collect gold coins from Charlotte, North Carolina, here are a few ways that are especially worthy of respect and potentially profitable in the long run:
1. The Basic 3-Coin Type Set: This consists of any date $1 gold coin from Charlotte, any date $2.50 Coin from Charlotte, and any date $5.00 coin from Charlotte. In “About Uncirculated” Condition, a pleasing basic 3-Coin Type set may cost somewhere in the $8,000.00 range and take a short time to assemble in current market conditions. We think no more than about 450 of these sets can be assembled in “AU” or better condition.
2. The Full 10-Coin Type Set: This consists of one coin from each major denomination and design. This set may take a year or more to assemble, and in “About Uncirculated” condition may cost in the $60,000.00 range. We think no more than about 35 of these sets can be assembled in “AU” or better condition. The set should include:
The $1 Gold Type 1 (1849-1853)
The $5.00 Liberty Small Letters (1840-1843)
The $5.00 Liberty Large Letters (1844-1861)
3. The $1 Set: Excluding the prohibitively rare 1849-C “Open Wreath” (a well-known but unusual variety), the set of $1 Charlotte coins consists of only 8 coins! The set could take well over a year to assemble and may cost in the $35,000 range. Since $1 gold coins are small, this series has been ignored by many, providing the intelligent collector with an excellent opportunity to acquire a very rare set at an extremely good value. We believe no more than 30 sets can be assembled in “AU” or better condition. See the $1.00 Gold section below for a list of dates.
4. The $2.50 (quarter eagle) Set: This is an exciting set to assemble. Although increasing in popularity, it is still possible to complete a set of all 20 coins in About Uncirculated condition for under $120,000.00. The $2.50 is beautiful, about the size of the dime, and different years show sometimes markedly different surface and strike characteristics. It could take several years to find all the coins, especially nice coins, and of course the prices can rise in that time, increasing the cost (and the value) of the set. In our opinion, it is only possible for about 15-20 of these sets to be assembled in “AU” or better condition. See the $2.50 Gold section below for a list of dates.
5. The $5.00 (half eagle) Set: A complete set of nice quality Charlotte $5 gold coins certainly puts the owner in an elite category. These are among the most popular of all Charlotte Mint coins, owing partly to the fact that they are the largest in size (somewhere between nickel and quarter size), and partly due to the fact that some coins of 1861 were minted under Confederate supervision. This is a very historically significant series. There are 24 coins in the set, and in About Uncirculated Condition a complete, quality set would run in the $175,000.00 – $200,000.00 range. Owing to the popularity of the 1861-C $5, the extreme rarity of the 1842-C Small Date, and the strong demand for 1838-C $5.00 coins for type sets, we estimate fewer than 15 complete sets of Charlotte $5 can be assembled in “AU” or better condition. This is a worthy endeavor that would likely take several years. See the $5.00 Gold section below for a list of dates.
6. The Complete Charlotte Gold Set*: Assembling one each of every collectible Charlotte gold coin (52 coins) in About uncirculated condition or better, would be legendary. The effort to find quality coins could take 10+ years, but at current market levels might run as little as $350,000.00 to $500,000.00. But the issue is availability, with some coins coming onto market very infrequently. Perhaps as few as 5 nice complete Charlotte Gold sets can be assembled going forward, especially with other collectors and investors pursuing denomination-specific sets only.
United States Mint Coins of Charlotte 1838-1861
The Estimated Survivors numbers cited are from PCGS CoinFacts, a valuable numismatic resource.
$1.00 Gold 1849-1859
1849-C Open Wreath* – Unknown mintage, perhaps no more than 100. 5 known survivors
Type I $1 Gold
1. 1849-C Closed Wreath $1. Mintage: 11,634 — Est. Survivors: 150
2. 1850-C $1. Mintage: 6,966 — Estimated Survivors: 125
3. 1851-C $1. Mintage: 41,267 — Estimated Survivors: 600
4. 1852-C $1. Mintage: 9,434 — Estimated Survivors: 150
5. 1853-C $1. Mintage: 11,515 — Estimated Survivors: 150
Type II $1 Gold
6. 1855-C $1. Mintage: 9,803 — Estimated Survivors: 175
Type III $1 Gold
7. 1857-C $1. Mintage: 13,280 — Estimated Survivors: 175 8. 1859-C $1. Mintage: 5,235 — Estimated Survivors: 125
$2.50 Gold 1838-1860
Classic Head $2.50 Gold
1. 1838-C. Mintage: 7,880 — Estimated Survivors: 150
2. 1839-C. Mintage: 18,140 — Estimated Survivors: 250
Liberty Head $2.50 Gold, Small Date
3. 1840-C. Mintage: 12,822 — Estimated Survivors: 150
4. 1841-C. Mintage: 10,281 — Estimated Survivors: 110
5. 1842-C. Mintage: 6,729 — Estimated Survivors: 115
6. 1843-C (Small Date Variety). Mintage: 2,988 — Estimated Survivors: 75
Liberty Head $2.50 Gold, Large Date
7. 1843-C (Large Date Variety). Mintage: 23,076 — Est. Survivors: 225
8. 1844-C. Mintage: 11,622 — Estimated Survivors: 150
9. 1846-C. Mintage: 4,808 — Estimated Survivors: 100
10. 1847-C. Mintage: 23,226 — Estimated Survivors: 325
11. 1848-C. Mintage: 16,788 — Estimated Survivors: 175
12. 1849-C. Mintage: 10,220 — Estimated Survivors: 100
13. 1850-C. Mintage: 9,148 — Estimated Survivors: 160
14. 1851-C. Mintage: 14,923 — Estimated Survivors: 125
15. 1852-C. Mintage: 9,772 — Estimated Survivors: 140
16. 1854-C. Mintage: 7,295 — Estimated Survivors: 115
17. 1855-C. Mintage: 3,677 — Estimated Survivors: 90
18. 1856-C. Mintage: 7,913 — Estimated Survivors: 95
19. 1858-C. Mintage: 9,056 — Estimated Survivors: 225
20. 1860-C. Mintage: 7,469 — Estimated Survivors: 150
$5.00 Gold 1838-1861
Classic Head $5.00 Gold
1. 1838-C. Mintage: 17,179 — Estimated Survivors: 175
Liberty Head $5.00 Gold, Mintmark on Obverse
2. 1839-C. Mintage: 17,205 — Estimated Survivors: 400
Liberty Head $5.00 Gold, Small Letters Reverse
3. 1840-C. Mintage: 18,992 — Estimated Survivors: 500
4. 1841-C. Mintage: 21,467 — Estimated Survivors: 300
5. 1842-C (Small Date). Mintage: 4,595 — Estimated Survivors: 110
6. 1842-C (Large Date). Mintage: 22,837 — Estimated Survivors: 400
7. 1843-C. Mintage: 44,277 — Estimated Survivors: 500
Liberty Head $5.00 Gold, Large Letters Reverse
8. 1844-C. Mintage: 23,631 — Estimated Survivors: 400
9. 1846-C. Mintage: 12,995 — Estimated Survivors: 300
10. 1847-C. Mintage: 84,151 — Estimated Survivors: 500
11. 1848-C. Mintage: 64,472 — Estimated Survivors: 500
12. 1849-C. Mintage: 64,823 — Estimated Survivors: 600
13. 1850-C. Mintage: 63,591 — Estimated Survivors: 700
14. 1851-C. Mintage: 49,176 — Estimated Survivors: 400
15. 1852-C. Mintage: 72,574 — Estimated Survivors: 650
16. 1853-C. Mintage: 65,571 — Estimated Survivors: 650
17. 1854-C. Mintage: 39,283 — Estimated Survivors: 400
18. 1855-C. Mintage: 39,788 — Estimated Survivors: 500
19. 1856-C. Mintage: 28,457 — Estimated Survivors: 500
20. 1857-C. Mintage: 31,360 — Estimated Survivors: 500
21. 1858-C. Mintage: 38,856 — Estimated Survivors: 750
22. 1859-C. Mintage: 31,847 — Estimated Survivors: 225
23. 1860-C. Mintage: 14,813 — Estimated Survivors: 450
24. 1861-C. Mintage: 6,879 — Estimated Survivors: 300
Privately Minted North Carolina Gold 1831-1850 German immigrant Christopher Bechtler, his son August, and his nephew Christopher began striking gold coins in North Carolina years before the U.S. Mint opened the Charlotte Branch. Since the weight and purity of the gold itself was money, and not just the Federal Government’s word that it was money, this was a perfectly acceptable practice. The Bechtlers would take in gold from the local miners and charge 2.5% to assay and coin the gold for easier spending. The Bechtler family produced gold coins from 1831 to 1850, and at various times minted $1 coins, $2.50 coins, and $5.00 coins. During the lifetime of the senior Christopher Bechtler, the weight and purity of the coins were precise to standards, but things seemed to slip a little when his son August took over operations following his death. When Christopher the nephew assumed leadership of the operation, things got little better. The Bechtler boys were just not as honorable as Christopher Sr., and the free market punished them as their coins fell out of favor. The last Bechtler coin was minted in 1850. Interestingly, because of the Bechtler operation, the “first” North Carolina gold dollar coin was minted in 1831, and the Charlotte U.S. Branch mint would not issue dollar coins for another 18 years! All Bechtler gold coins are rare. Look for PCGS or NGC certified $1, $2.50, and $5 coins from these time periods:
The coins minted in 1831-1834 tend to be the scarcest. This is because an act of Congress passed on June 28, 1834 changed the definition of a dollar by 6%, meaning it would require 6% less gold to make any gold coin. This also meant that every gold dollar produced prior to 1834 now had $1.06 worth of gold in it, every $2.50 coin contained $2.15, and every $5.00 coin had a whopping $5.30! This was real money back then, when dinner out at a restaurant in Baltimore cost less than 16 cents. So guess what folks did with their gold coins? Right, they were melted in vast quantities and re-coined to the new specifications, netting the owner of the pre-1834 gold coin at least a 4% profit. Few of these older Bechtler gold coins survived this melting frenzy. It’s possible to own an undamaged Bechtler gold coin for as little as $4,000.00, but nicer examples and the larger denominations are worth more. The most valuable Bechtler coin I’m aware of is a PCGS certified MS62 condition $5 coin made in the early phase (1831-1834) which brought $97,750.00 at auction in 2007.
The Story of the Charlotte, NC Mint
The First Gold Rush
All the incredible Charlotte Mint coins and the stories that go with them can be traced back to a Sunday in 1799, when a 12-year old boy named Conrad was playing hooky from Church on his dad’s property. Conrad’s dad, John Reed, was a Hessian soldier who fought for the British in the Revolutionary war, but who stayed on as an American after the war. He bought a farm in Cabarrus County in North Carolina, married, and had children: one of whom was Conrad. Conrad was goofing off with his siblings by Little Meadow Creek on his dad’s property when he noticed a funny looking rock in the water. He lugged it home where his father distractedly agreed he could keep it. For three years the rock was a doorstop. In 1802, a friend suggested to John that the rock should be checked out by a jeweler in town. John agreed, and after the rock was examined and tested, the Jeweler asked the elder Reed what he wanted for the rock. John asked what he thought was a high price: a week’s wages. John asked for and received $3.50. The rock was a 17lb gold nugget, worth about $3,600.00. Don’t feel too bad for John. Learning from his mistake, he decided it might be a good idea to check out that creek again. He found gold – lots of it. Gold just sitting there in the creek bed and just underneath. Among these “placer nuggets” was found a 28lb solid gold nugget! John Reed became a rather wealthy man, and as word got out, the first gold rush in United States history was well underway.
The First United States Branch Mint
Within 25 years, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg Counties in North Carolina were gold rush towns. Miners came from everywhere to pan the creeks and mine gold from the rich deposits in quartz veins also discovered there. Gold was also discovered in North Georgia in large quantities, gold that was geologically related to the North Carolina strike. But much of this gold ended up overseas because of a logistical problem. While the Bechtlers certainly handled the conversion of raw gold into coins well for local trade, much of the gold ended up going to London, as the overseas journey to Great Britain was much more convenient than the overland journey to the main U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the U.S. imported gold from Britain and other countries and paid a fee for doing so. President Andrew Jackson would have none of this, and at his urging Congress passed a law authorizing the first three U.S. branch mints:
- The Charlotte, North Carolina Mint (to handle the aftereffects of Conrad Reed’s skipping Church that Sunday)
- The Dahlonega, Georgia Mint (so much gold was found in the Georgia strike that the inhabitants founded a new city named after a Native American word for “yellow money” – Dahlonega)
- The New Orleans, Louisiana Mint (to process and coin the raw gold and ingots coming into the port of New Orleans from Mexico and South America) The New Mint building in Charlotte began minting coins in 1838. While fewer coins were minted than Andrew Jackson expected, the facility was well-run and productive.
The Fire of 1844
After all this work and effort, the Charlotte Mint burned to the ground in July of 1844. I mean, “cinders and ashes” burned to the ground. Unrecoverable. A total loss. “Kaput”, as John Reed would say. No one is quite sure how it happened, but there was a story going around about some college students smoking in the basement the day of the fire. No word on what they may have been smoking.The minting of coins obviously ground to a halt, and the “short” mintage of 1844 makes these coins real rarities, because the local demand caused heavier than usual circulation and usage until the Mint could reopen. And yes, the Mint did reopen. Construction was finally completed in October of 1846, and the first coins since the fire were produced in that month. Coins minted in Charlotte in 1846, especially the $2.50 quarter eagles, are exceedingly rare. I call the 1846-C $2.50 the “Southern Darling” of U.S. coins, a fascinating historical rarity long overdue for more recognition. I believe there are fewer than 30 pieces in quality “About Uncirculated” condition to have survived to the present day.
In 1849, the Charlotte Mint received another shock: the discovery of massive gold deposits in California sent the local miners packing. They figured they could get rich quicker over there. A lot of the ‘49ers were formerly North Carolina miners! This obviously affected the community, which suffered the economic effects of losing all those customers paying in newly-found local gold. Some of the relocated miners apparently returned with the gold they found in California, as the Charlotte Mint saw a surge in deposits of gold for assaying and minting into coins, much of it apparently from California. But the San Francisco Mint began producing coins in 1854, and by 1856 the minting of coins in Charlotte, North Carolina seriously decreased.
Civil War Spoils
The Federal government of the United States owned the Charlotte Mint facility. But on May 20, 1861, North Carolina seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, putting the Charlotte Mint geographically in a different country. What to do? Well, a month prior to secession (April 20, 1861), Confederate troops had already seized the Charlotte Mint. Interestingly, some of the $5 Charlotte coins minted in 1861 were minted under the supervision of Confederate authorities, making the date an important Civil War issue for collectors and historians. The Confederacy never did much with the facility, however, and did not issue their own coins in Charlotte. In fact, no coin was ever minted again at the Charlotte, North Carolina Mint. The building was used for assay purposes until 1913, and then its doors were closed forever. Well, until they opened again.
The doors of the Charlotte Mint reopened in 1917, when it was used for a couple of years as a Red Cross station during World War I. It also served as the meeting place of the Charlotte Women’s Club. There is no substance to the rumor that the ladies abandoned their parasols and white gloves to spend a good part of their meeting time checking every corner of the building for stray gold coins. In 1931, the building was slated for demolition to accommodate the expansion of the local post office. Again, no evidence whatsoever exists to suggest that the inside of the building’s disrepair was due to the members of the Charlotte Women’s Club ripping the walls and fixtures apart in search of treasure. This is a cruel and unsubstantiated rumor. The Mint building was not demolished. A citizens’ group purchased the building from the U.S. Treasury and moved it to its present location on Randolph Road in the city of Charlotte. They turned it into an art museum featuring Native American, European, and African art. Everyone, myself included, vigorously denies that the museum employees can be found searching under the floorboards for coins while visitors like you are looking at really cool beads, baskets, artwork, and reference books. Psssst…the address of the Mint Museum is: 2730 Randolph Road Charlotte, NC 28207 (704) 337-2000
* Of course, if you wish to add one of the 5 known elusive and unusual “1849-C open wreath gold $1 coins”, making this a 53-coin set, be prepared to settle in for a long and exciting hunt. That coin alone has a value as high as all the other coins combined, but occasionally one of the five comes to market. Questions? Feel free to contact us here.