A Neat Knick-Knack: Counterfeit 1842 Dahlonega $5
As you become a more passionate collector, “oddball” items become more appealing. I refer to these as knick-knacks and, as you can guess, this is a pretty broad term. For the coin collector, knick-knacks become more appealing as they become more relevant to your collecting specialty. As an example, a collector of Morgan Dollars will be more excited by a canvas silver dollar bag from the Philadelphia mint dated 1885 then I would. To me, this is a neat item but not one that gets my numismatic juices really flowing.
I probably shouldn’t admit this but there is one area in numismatics that I love above all else: the coinage of the Dahlonega mint. There is something about the coinage from this southern branch mint that appeals to me a little more than any of the other mints. And as someone who loves Dahlonega gold coins, I am always on the lookout for interesting Dahlonega-related knick-knacks.
The problem is that there just aren’t many interesting contemporary items from this mint. Sadly, while the Dahlonega mint has left a fascinating legacy of coins for collectors, there are very few items like patterns or mint records or drawings or items from the original mint left for collectors. Around ten years ago I was able to purchase a bullion receipt dated 1856 from the mint (a very rare item and, until a small group of these was found a few years back, one of just two that I had ever seen) but my Dahlonega knick-knack collection was pretty slim.
Until recently, that is.
At the Dallas ANA show, I purchased an item that I think is extremely cool and probably very rare: a contemporary counterfeit 1842-D Small Date half eagle (shown below) that is the first counterfeit gold coin from this mint that I have ever seen:
The coin was made in brass and later gilt plated. It shows extremely good work, especially on the reverse. It is the proper size and weight (22 mm in diameter and a bit over 8.2 grams) and, as you can see, it appears to have seen a small amount of circulation.
If you think about it, a contemporary counterfeit Dahlonega half eagle makes sense, especially in 1842 which was just the third year in which the new Liberty Head half eagle was produced. For many people, especially those who didn’t live that close to Dahlonega, there was not much familiarity with the new coins from this mint and a reasonable facsimile stood a decent chance of entering circulation and staying there.
But, there were other reasons why a coin like this is an amazing anomaly. It was die struck, and someone with real artistic sensibility took the time to create the obverse and reverse dies. A goodly amount of artistic and technological sophistication was required and this doesn’t seem to be something that was found in excess in North Georgia in the early 1840′s. Also (and I don’t know this for sure) the penalties for counterfeiting in the South during this time period had to be excessively harsh. Someone was taking a huge risk to produce counterfeit gold coins in Georgia in the early 1840′s, and you have to wonder how many were actually made let alone how many entered circulation.
So, why is this item special to me and why does it now hold a place high in my personal collection of knick-knacks? As someone who is a major dealer in Dahlonega gold, I won’t collect the coins from this mint because I don’t want to compete against my clients. So this is the closest thing to a “real” piece of D mint gold that I can hope to own. But beyond that, I love the rarity and the history of this piece.
How rare is it? I have never seen another and I’d like to think I’ve got the inside track on any pieces that would have come onto the market in the past two+ decades. How historic is it? A contemporary counterfeit 1842-D half eagle that is well-designed and which still retains much of its original gilt finish clearly has an incredible story to tell, although I may never know exactly what it is.
Getting back to the original point of this blog, items like this are what make collecting really fun. Regular issue coins are great and there is certainly a huge amount of pride-of-ownership to have a great 1842-D half eagle in your set. But the really esoteric items in the Dahlonega market–or in any other market–really appeal to me. Be they catalogs, original papers, plaster molds…anything that gives me deeper insight into the coins that I love add a lot of value to my personal holdings.