Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Southern Gold Rush, the Seymour Collection, and Templeton Reid
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #168 …..
On Friday, May 10, at a convention center in New Orleans, Stack’s-Bowers sold a substantial part of the Dexter Seymour Collection of territorial gold coins, as part of the official auction of the Spring ANA Convention. The star of the Seymour Collection was a $2½ gold coin that was privately issued in Georgia in 1830 by Templeton Reid, who was an extraordinarily talented jeweler, engineer and artisan. This $2½ gold coin is graded Almost Uncirculated “58” by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and has a green sticker of approval from the CAC. Also, the coins in the Seymour Collection directly relate to gold rushes that are major parts of the history of the U.S.
The coins of Templeton Reid are the first privately issued gold coins in the United States, unless Brasher Doubloons are regarded as coins. The Reid pieces are certainly the first gold coins to be produced in the South.
Much of the information regarding Templeton Reid comes from research done by the same person who formed the collection that was just auctioned. Dexter Seymour authored scholarly articles about Reid and his coinage, which were published by the ANS in New York, during the 1970s.
Seymour’s estate or his beneficiaries consigned the remainder of his collection of territorial gold coins to this Stack’s-Bowers auction. More than thirty years ago, he consigned other coins to auctions.
It is not practical to discuss all of the territorial gold coins in the Seymour Collection. As so much has been written about California territorials, it makes sense to focus on the coinage of Templeton Reid, especially since Seymour himself enthusiastically researched the life of Templeton Reid. Furthermore, the Bechtler family gold coinage, which was minted in North Carolina from 1831 to 1852, is not nearly as rare or as mysterious as the coinage of Templeton Reid. Besides, the Reid $2½ gold coin was, by far, the most valuable coin in the Seymour Collection and is very interesting for other reasons.
Templeton Reid was a jeweler, an expert in watches, a clockmaker and a gunsmith, plus he had other talents. It is believed that he designed his own coins and hand-crafted the dies. Later in life, he developed machines that separate cotton fibers from seeds,‘cotton gins.’ Reid was born in 1789 and died in 1851.
In July 1830, or earlier, Templeton Reid began minting coins in Milledgeville, Georgia. He then moved to Gainsville, to be closer to gold mines. Reid minted gold coins there from Aug. to Oct. 1830. According to Breen’s analysis of Seymour’s research, Reid produced more than one thousand $2½ gold coins, around three hundred $5 coins, and perhaps two hundred and fifty $10 coins. Breen’s comprehensive encyclopedia was published in 1988 (New York: FCI/Doubleday).
The Seymour piece in this auction realized $329,000, a strong price and an auction record for a Reid $2½ coin. “We were the underbidder,” Don Kagin reveals. Among surviving Templeton Reid $2½ coins, Kagin states that the Seymour piece is in the “top half dozen.”
Many think this Seymour piece probably scores higher in the category of originality than at least a couple of others in the top six. I have seen several Templeton Reid $2½ coins. I examined this one on May 2nd.
I. The Gold Rush in the South
In the history of the United States, there were two major gold rushes, the Southern Gold Rush and the California Gold Rush. Substantial quantities of gold were mined in the South, especially in Georgia and in the Carolinas Although gold was accidentally found in North Carolina in 1799 and first mined there in the very early 1800s, the Southern Gold Rush really began around 1828.
“In the 1820s, a series of gold strikes from Virginia to Alabama caused such excitement that thousands of miners from all parts of the United States poured into the region,” declares David Williams in his book on “The Georgia Gold Rush” (University of South Carolina Press, 1995). “By late 1829, north Georgia, known at the time as the Cherokee Nation, was flooded by thousands of prospectors lusting for gold,” Williams states in an encyclopedia published in 2003.
Multiple mines are known to have been in operation in the northern part of the State of Georgia in 1830. U.S. Branch Mints were established in Dahlonega (GA), Charlotte (NC), and New Orleans (LA) in 1838. The name of Dahlonega stems from a word in the Cherokee language that means ‘golden.’
Historian Otis Young asserts that this gold rush occurred from 1828 to 1836. “The Southern Gold Rush itself,” Young notes, is “not very familiar even to historians of that region. Its locale was the eastern Piedmont of the Appalachian [mountain] ranges” and gold deposits spanned an area from “northern Virginia to central Alabama,” most of which were in North Carolina and northern Georgia.
Young was a history professor at Arizona State University. Among many other publications, he wrote articles about the Southern Gold Rush that appeared in recognized academic journals in 1980 and 1982.
According to Joyce Handsel, of the Brevard Station Museum, from “1804 to 1828, all domestic gold coined by the United States Mint came from North Carolina.” Even if true, this statement is somewhat misleading, as many gold coins from the Spanish Empire and elsewhere were melted to produce U.S. coins. Other kinds of gold objects were melted as well.
From 1802 to the mid 1820s, significant gold mining did occur in North Carolina, though there was not then a true “gold rush.” Indeed, farming remained the primary occupation of people who lived in the areas where gold was found. Handsel says that, before “the mid-1830s,” gold mining was usually done by part-time workers, many of whom were “farmers [who] panned for gold during the off-season.”
Troy Kickler, the Director of the North Carolina History Project since 2005, emphasizes that the scale of gold mining operations increased dramatically in the late 1820s and early 1830s. “By the late 1820s, in many places, prospecting in creeks turned into deep-mining operations.” For thousands of people, gold mining became a “a full-time job, and [mining] companies replaced part-time miner-farmers,” Kickler states.
In 1827 and 1828, somewhat significant gold mines became operational in South Carolina as well. In 1829, a mine in South Carolina shipped gold to the U.S. Mint to be used for coinage. I wonder if the gold in this shipment came from the e Mine, which has been in operation, ‘on and off,’ since 1827 or earlier, and may be re-activated in the near future. The nearby Brewer Mine was founded in 1828 and was operational in the 1990s!
The California Gold Rush did not occur until 1849. In the United States, students start learning about the California Gold Rush in elementary school and often are quite familiar with it before graduating from high school. The Southern Gold Rush is not nearly as well known, and the Colorado Gold Rush is often ignored by teachers.
In 1858, the Colorado Gold Rush began. In the early 1860s, the firm of “Clark, Gruber & Co.” produced a large quantity of coins, including several varieties. These are much less rare than Templeton Reid coins and are avidly collected.
There were five Clark, Gruber pieces in this offering of items from the Seymour Collection, four gold coins and one die trial in copper. An 1860 $2½ gold coin is PCGS graded MS-61 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. It brought $12,925. An 1861 Clark, Gruber $2½ gold piece that is non-gradable, and has the “Details” of an Almost Uncirculated (AU) grade coin, went for $4700.
In terms of the total numbers owned by collectors of all varieties, Clark-Gruber and Bechtler coins are among the least rare of all pioneer gold coins. It is easy to find representatives of multiple design types of these.
Bechtler gold coins from the Seymour Collection in this auction ranged in price from $1116 for a non-gradable $1 gold coin to $64,625 for a PCGS graded AU-55 representative of one of the rarer varieties of $5 gold pieces. I saw it and its really neat color is impressive. There are many varieties of Bechtler gold coins and the least scarce varieties are usually not particularly expensive, in terms of prices for rare gold coins in general.
II. Templeton Reid $2½ Coins
In 1830, Templeton Reid issued gold coins in Georgia of $2½, $5 and $10 denominations, which were then the denominations of U.S. gold coins, though, at that point, U.S. $10 gold pieces had not been minted since 1804. Supposedly, Reid minted some additional coins in 1849, though these later pieces are far more mysterious.
All Templeton Reid coins are extremely rare. The $2½ pieces are the least rare. The Hancock & Harwell website provides a detailed list of twelve. Dexter Seymour estimated that twenty four survive. “I know of twenty-three,” Don Kagin asserts. I am surprised by Seymour’s estimate and Kagin’s revelation. Before this week, I would have guessed that sixteen to eighteen exist.
I repeat that the Seymour Collection piece is PCGS graded AU-58 and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. This coin has really nice color, medium gold with a slight pale-greenish tint. There are touches of light russet toning. Under five-times magnification, plenty of small contact marks and light lines are apparent. There are some deeper scratches in the inner fields of the reverse (back of the coin). These scratches are not terrible and grading standards for territorials are much more liberal than standards for U.S. federal gold coins.
This Templeton Reid $2½ gold coin is more than attractive. It needs to be seen in actuality to be fully appreciated.
On Nov. 7, 2006, Stack’s-ANR auctioned the Nygren-Brand, Templeton Reid $2½ gold coin in Baltimore for $299,000. It was cataloged as ‘Choice Almost Uncirculated-55’ and later NGC graded MS-61. The firm of Henry Chapman sold the A. C. Nygren Collection in April 1924, which is well remembered for territorials. Also, on July 27, 2008, Stack’s auctioned a PCGS graded Very Fine-35 piece for $103,500.
As of the middle of 2006 and certainly until April 1, 2007, the PCGS reported eleven Templeton Reid $2½ gold coins as having been PCGS graded, not all of which are different coins. By July 1, 2008, the PCGS had graded just twelve. The one that was evaluated sometime during 2007 or early 2008 received a grade of Extremely Fine-45.
The current total of PCGS graded Templeton Reid $2½ gold coins is also twelve, though not the same twelve that were listed in 2007 and 2008. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, and maybe even later, there were two that were listed as PCGS graded AU-55. Now, there is just one so listed.
The PCGS graded AU-58 Seymour piece is a new listing and it was probably never PCGS graded AU-55. My tentative impression is that Seymour acquired it before the PCGS was founded in 1986 and that it was not submitted for grading until his collection was recently consigned to Stack’s-Bowers.
The removed listing for a PCGS graded AU-55 Reid $2½ could be a correction of a duplicate listing of the same coin or, more likely, it is one of the two that are now NGC graded “MS-61.” Grading criteria for Templeton Reid coins were never firmly established, and it is probably best not to take the assigned grades too seriously. A cataloger at Stack’s in 2006 suggested that a Templeton Reid $2½ coin that is (or was) listed as being NGC graded “MS-61” is the same as the coin that the NGC has certified ‘MS-62 Prooflike.’
There are non-gradable Templeton Reid $2½ gold coins that have really serious problems. The Seymour piece is vastly superior to these. The Eliasberg piece, for example, is non-gradable.
Despite the fact that it has been extensively doctored, the Eliasberg piece does not ‘look that bad.’ I have seen many territorials that appear to be and/or really are much worse. For a non-gradable coin, it is attractive, with much original detail. “Actually EF-40,” though “Net VF-20,” said the B&M cataloger in 1996.
The Eliasberg Collection, Reid $2½ coin then brought $16,500. It would probably be worth more than $45,000 now.
III. Reid $5 and $10 coins
There exist at least five Templeton Reid $5 gold coins. There are two varieties of 1830 Templeton Reid $10 coins; one does not mention the year, 1830, “No Date”! Breen lists three of these ‘No Date’ tens, while the Hancock & Harwell website lists just two, both of which are in the Smithsonian. Breen lists one that was offered at auction in the 1960s. I asked Don Kagin, who is certain that “there are three.”
A small number of 1830 dated Templeton Reid $10 coins survive. I have seen the Norweb piece, which B&M auctioned in Nov. 1988 in New York. It is in a private collection in the Middle Atlantic States.
The Duke’s Creek Collection had a set of all three Templeton Reid gold coins, including the Brand-Milas $5 and Brand-Milas $10 pieces. These were sold in 1984 when B&M (New Hampshire) auctioned a portion of the Virgil Brand Collection. The late Ed Milas acquired these two Brand pieces at some point in the 1980s, possibly at the just mentioned auction in 1984. Ed was very proud of his set of Templeton Reid coins.
Has a private collection ever contained a genuine, Templeton Reid coin dated 1849? Gold pieces dated 1849 feature Reid’s name and oddly state “California Gold”! Such a coin denominated $25 was stolen from the collection of the U.S. Mint in 1858. An 1849 Templeton Reid ‘California Gold’ $10 piece is currently in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. How was this piece authenticated?
Did Reid in the South make coins from “California Gold” in 1849, about the time that the California Gold Rush began, more than eighteen years after he produced coins for circulation in Georgia? In 1849, gold was still being mined in Georgia and in the Carolinas.
According to Seymour’s research, in 1849, Reid was about sixty years old and was suffering from health problems. He probably could not have left the South. Why would Reid even seek to acquire “California Gold” and why even consider producing coins in 1849 with or without gold from California? By 1849, Reid had become known for his career in developing machines for processing cotton.
Some key questions regarding Reid’s activities will never be fully answered. It is amazing that Dexter Seymour was able to unearth so much information about Reid. In 1911, Edgar Adams, the leading researcher during the early 20th century, publicly stated that all he knew about Templeton Reid related to his familiarity with Reid’s coins.
In conclusion, Templeton Reid is one of the most interesting people in the history of American coinage. Generally, territorial gold coins played important roles in the economic history of the United States. Such gold coins greatly facilitated commerce and markedly contributed to economic growth.
©2013 Greg Reynolds