How to Collect Dahlonega Gold Coins
One of the real pleasures to collecting Dahlonega gold coins is the variety of ways that the collector can pursue his avocation. Collecting these coins can range in levels of intensity from a mild flirtation to a complete obsession. As someone who has an abiding interest in these coins and who has helped many collectors with their purchases, I would like to present some suggestions on the way to collect Dahlonega gold coins.
The Introductory Three Coin Set
The most basic way to collect Dahlonega coins is to purchase a single example of the gold dollar, quarter eagle, and half eagle. This makes sense for the collector who is on a limited budget or who is not certain how deep his interest in these coins lies.
A basic three coin Dahlonega set should consist of nice, problem-free coins. It also makes sense to stick to the more common dates. The grade ranges for these coins will probably fall between Extremely Fine-40 and About Uncirculated-55.
The 1849-D is a logical choice for the gold dollar in this set, since it is the most common and the most affordable date in the series. A nice Extremely Fine coin can be purchased for $2,000-3,000, while About Uncirculated examples range from $3,000-5,000, depending on quality.
The best quarter eagles for this set are the 1843-D, 1844-D, 1846-D, or 1848-D. A nice Extremely Fine example of any these dates swill cost $2,000-3,000, while an About Uncirculated costs $3,000-5,000+ (since no Dahlonega quarter eagle can be considered “common” in the higher About Uncirculated grades, the collector of more modest means should stick with a coin in the Extremely Fine-45 to About Uncirculated-50 grade range).
There are a number of dates in the half eagle series which would fit well in this set. These include the 1843-D, 1852-D, 1853-D, and 1854-D. Any of these dates can be purchased in nice Extremely Fine for $2,500-3,000, while an About Uncirculated will be in the $3,000-5,000 range.
An alternative to this set would be to buy all three denominations with the same date. This is feasible for the issues dated 1849-D, 1850-D, and 1851-D. Sets from 1852-D, 1853-D, 1857-D, and 1859-D could also be assembled, but least one coin in each of these sets is a scarcer, somewhat more expensive issue.
The basic three coin set can be further expanded by adding an 1854-D three dollar gold piece. Only 1,120 examples of this date were struck, and 1854 is the only year in which a coin of this denomination was produced in Dahlonega. An acceptable Very Fine example of this popular and rare issue can be purchased for $15,000-20,000, while an Extremely Fine will cost between $20,000 and $30,000+.
The Basic and Expanded Basic Type Sets
A type set of Dahlonega gold coins includes one example of each major type struck at this mint. Such a set includes the following:
Type One gold dollar (1849-1854)
Type Two gold dollar (1855 only)
Type Three gold dollar (1856-1861)
Classic Head quarter eagle (1839 only)
Liberty Head quarter eagle (1840-1859)
Three dollar gold piece (1854 only)
Classic Head half eagle (1838 only)
Liberty Head, obverse mintmark half eagle (1839 only)
Liberty Head, reverse mintmark (1840-1861)
A set such as this makes for an extremely interesting display. The various designs employed in striking these nine major types provide a graphic illustration of the artistic and historic record of the Dahlonega Mint.
Most collectors who assemble a nine piece Dahlonega type set do so in grades that range from Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-55. It would be virtually impossible to complete this set in Mint State as two of these types – the Type Two gold dollar and the three dollar gold piece – are extremely rare in Uncirculated.
The specific coins included in a Dahlonega type set are generally the more common dates. Some collectors, however, use better dates in order to make their sets more interesting and potentially more valuable.
A nicely matched set of Extremely Fine-40 to Extremely Fine-45 coins will cost approximately $80,000 and $100,000. The two most expensive coins in this set would be the Type Two gold dollar and the three dollar gold piece. Together, these coins would account for at least half of the total cost.
A set with all of the coins grading About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-55 could be assembled for approximately $125,000-150,00. The cost of this set could be significantly reduced if the Type Two gold dollar and the three dollar gold piece were nice Extremely Fine coins, as opposed to About Uncirculated-50 or better.
This set can be further expanded if the Liberty Head, reverse mintmark half eagle is represented by an example with Small Letters on the reverse (i.e., a coin struck from 1840-1842) and by an example with Large Letters on the reverse (i.e., a coin struck from 1843-1861). The addition of this one extra coin would increase the cost of an Extremely Fine set by approximately $2,500-3,500, and an About Uncirculated set by $5,000-10,000.
Collecting by Denomination
Some collectors feel a certain affinity for a specific denomination. All three of the primary denominations struck at the Dahlonega Mint have their pros and cons.
The size of the gold dollar is a major turn-off to many collectors. It is hard to justify paying thousands – or even tens of thousands – of dollars for a coin that is about the size of an average adult’s thumbnail.
Another negative about the Dahlonega gold dollar series is the fact that many are among the most crudely struck coins ever produced in this country. They are certainly not pretty enough that they can be shown to admiring friends, and their crudeness puzzles most non-specialists.
The very reasons that cause some people to dislike gold dollars are the same reasons that others like them. Like the runt of the litter, they are so small and can be so ugly that this gives them a certain charm. Their crudeness adds to their allure as well. Just like a classic New England folk art portrait from the 18th or early 19th century, a Dahlonega gold dollar paints an accurate picture of the harshness and uncertainty of life in North Georgia in the decade leading up to the Civil War.
Another factor which attracts people to the gold dollar series are the small original mintage figures which many of these coins have. Only one of the thirteen has a mintage of over 10,000 coins, and five have mintages of 3,000 or less.
The Dahlonega gold dollar series is the most expensive of the three denominations to collect on a coin-by-coin basis. A complete set of thirteen coins in nice Extremely Fine grades will cost approximately $100,000+.
Every Dahlonega gold dollar is reasonably available in About Uncirculated grades, and the obstacles to completing such a set are available funds and the level of fussiness that a specific collector has. A complete set in grades ranging from About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 will cost approximately $150,000-200,000+. A complete set in Mint State is a formidable but not impossible challenge if the collector is patient, and if he works with a knowledgeable specialized dealer who can assist him in locating such rare issues as the 1855-D, 1856-D, 1860-D, and 1861-D.
The Dahlonega quarter eagles are the most challenging of the three denominations. They can also be the most frustrating. Many collectors seek immediate gratification as they build a set. Assembling a high quality, complete set of Dahlonega quarter eagles requires a great deal of patience. A number of dates in this series (such as the 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, and the 1854-D through 1856-D) are quite rare in any grade, and high quality examples are very challenging to locate. This is further compounded by the fact that many are found with crude strikes and poorly-prepared planchets.
The extreme difficulty of putting together a Dahlonega quarter set is what attracts many collectors. They appreciate the fact that they cannot assemble a set merely by making a few phone calls to dealers or attending an auction or two. They believe, correctly, that the best coins to buy are the ones that do not become available with any degree of frequency.
It is a realistic goal to assemble the complete set of twenty quarter eagles in Extremely Fine-40 to Extremely Fine-45 grades. Such a set should cost approximately $125,000-175,000. In About Uncirculated grades, this set becomes very difficult to assemble. A number of dates (such as the 1840-D, 1841-D, 1842-D, 1845-D, 1855-D, and 1856-D) are rare and costly in the upper ranges of About Uncirculated. The cost of such a set is approximately $200,000-300,000+.
The Dahlonega half eagle set is the most popular of the three denominations. One of the reasons is the relatively large size of these coins. Another is the fact that almost every date is fairly easy to obtain in medium grades. And finally, this is the most affordable of the three sets on a coin-by-coin basis.
A complete set of Dahlonega half eagles includes all twenty-four of the dates struck from 1838 through 1861, as well as the 1842-D Large Date and the 1846-D over D mintmark (for a total of twenty-six coins). A set of nice Extremely Fine coins costs approximately $100,000-150,000.
A complete set of half eagles in About Uncirculated is much more challenging. The 1842-D Large Date and the 1861-D are both rare in any About Uncirculated grade. Other dates, such as the 1840-D, 1846-D Normal Mintmark, and the 1850-D are very scarce, even in the lower About Uncirculated grades, and years may pass before an especially choice piece may become available. A set of Dahlonega half eagles grading About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 costs approximately $200,000-300,000+.
Assembling a Complete Set of Dahlonega Gold
Once people start collecting Dahlonega gold coins, they often get bitten by the bug and decide to assemble a complete set.
A complete set of Dahlonega gold is generally understood to contain the following:
Gold Dollars: A total of thirteen issues struck between 1849-1861.
Quarter Eagles: A total of twenty issues struck between 1839-1859.
Three Dollar Gold Pieces: A total of one issue struck in 1854.
Half Eagles: A total of twenty-six issues struck between 1838-1861.
For half eagles,this includes both major varieties struck in 1842 (Large Date and Small Date), and both major varieties struck in 1846 (Normal Mintmark and D Over D Mintmark).
This is a grand total of sixty different issues, covering four different denominations.
Assembling a complete set of Dahlonega gold coins is challenging but very popular. Unlike many other mints, there is no single unobtainable issue that is either prohibitively rare, or essentially unobtainable.
I would make the following suggestions to any new collector who is considering putting together a complete set of Dahlonega gold coins:
1. Be patient. You can complete a set in a few months, but the changes are good that by rushing you will make a number of mistakes. Wait for the “right coin” to come along.
2. Stretch for outstanding coins. Truly choice, high end, Dahlonega gold coins are very hard to locate – regardless of date or denomination. Don’t miss the chance to own an important coin merely because you think the price is a little too much. In the long run, the decision to buy high quality coins will pay for itself.
3. Buy the best you can afford. If you are unable to spend $20,000+ on an About Uncirculated 1842-D Large Date half eagle, then wait until you have the chance to purchase a nice quality $10,000 example in Extremely Fine-45. Figure out a budget for each coin, and try to use this as a basis in making your collecting decisions.
4. Buy the rarest coins first. For each denomination, there are certain Dahlonega gold issues that are extremely hard to find. As an example, the 1840-D and 1856-D are often the last two pieces collectors add to their Dahlonega quarter eagle sets. If the opportunity presents itself, try to purchase these coins before the more common issues – such as the 1843-D or the 1848-D. You should always assume the following when assembling a complete set: your opportunities to purchase truly rare coins will be infrequent, while your opportunities to purchase the relatively common issues should be more frequent.
5. Buy with eye appeal in mind. The overall value of a set of coins is greatly enhanced when the individual pieces have good overall eye appeal. As an example, the finest known collection of Dahlonega gold coins (the Duke’s Creek collection) was sold to an investor in 2003 for a figure in excess of four million dollars. Every coin in this set was extremely choice and had lovely, original coloration. This resulted in the collective value of the set being at least 15-20% greater than if the coins had been valued on an individual basis.
The final cost of assembling a complete set of Dahlonega gold coins is within the reach of many collectors. A set which has coins ranging from Extremely Fine-40 to Extremely Fine-45 costs in the area of $300,000-500,000+. A set which consists of coins grading from About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 costs approximately $600,000-800,000+.
As stated above, it would be extremely difficult (but not impossible!) to assemble a complete set of Dahlonega coins in Uncirculated grade. But a few people have managed to complete certain denominations in Uncirculated grade and the famous Duke’s Creek set was complete in MS60 and above.
Collecting by Die Variety
Certain types of United States coins, such as large cents struck from 1793 to 1814, and half dollars produced from 1794 to 1836, are avidly collected by die variety. There are very few die variety collectors who focus on gold coins. This could possibly change in the future as more information about these varieties becomes available.
There are already some significant die varieties from the Dahlonega Mint that have made their way into the mainstream. Two examples of these are the 1842-D Large Date half eagle, and the 1846-D Over D Mintmark half eagle.
There are a number of other Dahlonega varieties that have yet to become regarded as essential components of a set. Some are very important and will probably be accepted in the near future. They are as follows:
1. 1843-D Large Mintmark Quarter Eagle: Of the 36,209 quarter eagles struck at the Dahlonega Mint in 1843, only 3,537 used the Large Mintmark which was to be found on coins dates 1844 and later. This is a significant and easy to recognize variety, which is many times rarer than the 1843-D Small Mintmark. PCGS and NGC both recognize this variety.
2. 1846 D Near D Mintmark Quarter Eagle: A small number of 1846-D quarter eagles were struck from a reverse which clearly shows traces of an errant mintmark to the left of the “regular” mintmark. This variety has is recognized by PCGS and NGC and is already included by most advanced Dahlonega collectors in their sets.
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3. 1841-D Medium D Mintmark Half Eagle: Of the 29,392 half eagles struck at the Dahlonega Mint in 1841, only 4,105 used the Medium Mintmark which had been employed on coins dated 1840-D. This variety is quite rare and easy to recognize. It should sell for a significant premium over the 1841-D Small Mintmark. It is recognized by PCGS and NGC.
4. 1843-D Small Mintmark Half Eagle: This variety uses the same reverse as on the 1842-D Small Date half eagle. It is much scarcer than the 1843-D Large Mintmark, and may someday be recognized as such. This is another variety that PCGS and NGC both recognize.
5. 1848-D Over Low D Mintmark Half Eagle: This variety is similar in origin to the better known 1846-D Over D Mintmark half eagle, except that it is much rarer. On many examples, it is hard to see the first mintmark punch. Coins which clearly show the errant first punch are rare and desirable. This variety has recently been recognized by PCGS and is already included by most advanced Dahlonega collectors in their sets.