Featured A History of the Dahlonega Mint, Part 2

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Jun 29, 2019.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    One of the great disappointments for the citizens of Dahlonega was that none of the local people were ever able to land one of the high paying positions at the mint. "Foreigners," as they put it, always ended up with the plum appointments, like Mint superintendent, assayer, coiner or clerk, who was the superintendent's assistant. The local citizens were lucky if they were hired as handymen. The superintendent's job, which paid $2,000 a year, was particularly vulnerable to local agitation and criticism because, unlike the assayer and coiner, it seemed to the citizens of Dahlonega that no specialized qualifications were required.

    The first superintendent was Joseph Singleton. Singleton was not a strong manager, and the people who worked under him showed him little respect. In addition there were long delays in converting bullion to coins, which angered those who deposited gold at the mint for coinage. A good part of the blame for the long delays went to assayer Joseph Farnum, who was a stickler for detail. Farnum would only process ore deposits when they reached a significant size. Superintendent Singleton also worked out a scheme to augment his salary. When the U.S. Treasury sent drafts to Dahlonega to cover expenses, Singleton cut a deal with certain local banks which allowed him to skim part of the proceeds when he deposited the drafts.

    The local people got wind of Singleton's financial scheme and sent petitions to Washington, DC asking for his removal. None of those efforts came to anything because the selection of the superintendent was dictated by the political party that held the White House, not the merits of a given public servant. When the Whigs took the White House in 1841, Singleton was out and a new man, Paul Rossignol was appointed under the spoils system. Rossignol came from a prominent Georgia family that had some wealth and influence, which did not sit well with the common folk of Dahlonega. He too ran into trouble because of bank drafts, but this time he had a legitimate reason. As a way to get payments to the miners more quickly, Rossignol arranged a deal with a local bank that allowed the gold depositors to get their payments immediately for a small discount. That arrangement didn't fly with the miners, and Rossignol was forced out of office.

    Rossignol's replacement would be the most successful of all of the Dahlonega Mint superintends, James Cooper. Cooper was a retired Army officer and a graduate of West Point. He won his position because he had an "in" with President John Tyler. Cooper's sister, Priscilla, was Tyler's daughter-in-law and was serving as the White House hostess because the First Lady had been felled by a stroke and was unable to perform her White House duties. Cooper immediately brought discipline to the mint operations and established a harmonious atmosphere among the mint employees. The local citizens came to respect him because he established a policy that all conversions of gold bullion to coinage would be accomplished within three business days.

    Cooper's success in office was aided greatly by a major gold strike at the O'Bar Mine and other locations in the 1840s. In 1843 the Dahlonega Mint would produce its highest mintage, 98,452 half eagles. The powerful and famous southern senator, John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina owned the O'Bar Mine and sent his son-in-law, Thomas Green Clemson, to manage the operation. Clemson was a skilled engineer who was well qualified for the position. Later Clemson would leave a trust fund in his will that would be used to establish the university that bears his name.

    The O'bar Mine was near the area where Benjamin Parks had stepped on the first gold nugget in 1828. Had he only been able to stake his claim there he might have been rich! It would be a story that he would tell his friends, neighbors and grandchildren about how gold prospecting was like betting money at a casino. Some, like Senator Calhoun, were lucky and struck it rich, while others, like himself, would just miss pay dirt.

    When Whig Zachary Taylor became president in 1849, the spoils system ended Cooper's career as Mint Superintendent. He was succeeded by a string of less capable men although making a success of the Dahlonega Mint operation would have been difficult for anyone. Gold production in the area fell sharply in the late 1840s and early '50s, and coinage production was dropping because of a shortage of bullion. Dahlonega became known derisively as "the neighborhood mint" because its production was not large enough to have an impact on the national economy. In fact very few Dahlonega mint coins were seen in circulation in the local area. They were mostly held in banks and in private hoards.

    1849-D Gold Dol O.jpg 1849-D Gold Dol R.jpg

    In 1849 Congress authorized the gold dollar as part of a bill that also created the $20 gold piece. The idea was to stretch the limited gold production in the southern region over a larger number of coins. The Dahlonega Mint issued its first gold dollars in the summer of 1849. These tiny coins have a distinctive appearance that sets them apart from their Philadelphia Mint counterparts because of their unusual die preparation.

    1853-D Half Eagle O.jpg 1853-D Half Eagle R.jpg

    The discovery of gold in California in 1848 prompted an exodus of miners from the Dahlonega area to the more promising pastures of the Golden State. Not all of those miners stayed in California. After finding some gold they returned with their treasure to Georgia where they deposited it at the Dahlonega Mint for coinage. Surprisingly a significant amount of the gold that was used in Dahlonega Mint coinage in the early 1850s came from California. In fact if you own an 1853-D half eagle, chances are the gold in that coin came from California, not Georgia.

    1854-D $3 gold 2 O.jpg 1854-D $3 gold 2 R.jpg

    In 1854 the U.S. Mint System introduced the Three Dollar Gold Piece to the U.S. economy. Dies for the new coin were sent to all three southern mints, but only the Dahlonega and New Orleans facilities chose to produce the new denomination. In August "the D Mint" struck 1,120 examples of the new coin, which would mark the only year in which the $3 gold coin would be produced at Dahlonega. Today about 300 examples of the 1854-D Three Dollar Gold Piece have survived, and it is a very popular and much coveted collectors' item. The grades range from damaged pieces to a small number of low level of Mint State coins.

    1855-D Gold Doll O.jpg 1855-D Gold Doll R.jpg

    In 1855 the Dahlonega Mint produced another greatly admired rarity when the facility struck 1,811 Type II Gold Dollars. The Type II Gold Dollar, which was a design failure, was issued for only three years, and is considered by collectors to be a scarce issue from any mint in any grade. It has been estimated that only 80, 1855-D gold dollars have survived in all grades.

    As the decade of the 1850s continued some members of Congress were looking for a way to close the southern mints in Charlotte and Dahlonega. Neither facility had produced enough coins to make those mints economically viable, and their output had had little impact on the U.S. economy. Other much more important events would determine the fate of the southern mints however.

    The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 was the last straw for many southern politicians. In December South Carolina became the first southern state to secede from the Union. South Carolina's departure from the Union was followed by the other southern states in rapid succession. Georgia would secede in mid January 1861, which left the last Dahlonega Mint Superintendent, George Kellogg, in a quandary. Although Kellogg agreed with the Confederate cause, he felt a sense of duty to the U.S. mint system. This prompted him to continue to send reports to the director of the Philadelphia Mint, and at one point he even sent a pay voucher to mint director, James Ross Snowden, for the Dahlonega mint employees. Snowden approved the request, but the treasury secretary Salmon Chase stopped it before the payments were made.

    During the early part of 1861 Dahlonega Mint produced a limited number of half eagles, which were technically made under Union auspices. In April, after the shelling of Fort Sumter, the Confederacy officially took control of the Dahlonega Mint and the facility produced coins for a short time under Rebel control. During this period the mint produced estimated 1,000 to 1,500 gold dollars and a small number half eagles.

    Ultimately the Confederate Congress voted to close all of the southern mints. Mint director Kellogg spent his final days in office selling off mint assets that could be sold, preserving mint records in the mint vault and mothballing as many of the unsold mint assets as he could. During the war Lewis W. Quillian, a former mint handy man, lived at the facility and conduced assays on the few bullion deposits that were made. His most active period came in the late summer of 1862 when he received a large deposit from the Confederate Government which yielded 17 gold bars, 196 silver bars and three bars that contained a mix of gold and silver.

    The Dahlonega Mint was not in the war zone, and Confederate troops stayed the facility for only a short time causing no damage. The same could not be said for Union troops who occupied the building after war and did considerable damage. They used the old mint as a barracks and a base of operations in their efforts to maintain order in the post Civil War South. Gold production picked up after the war, mostly due to hydraulic mining during which large water cannons blasted apart sections of the hills around Dahlonega. Congress was in no mood to re-open the mint for practical and political reasons.

    In 1869 the Treasury Department tried to sell the Charlotte and Dahlonega mints, but the highest bid for the Dahlonega Mint building, $1,525, was rejected. Ultimately Congress approved of a plan to convey the ownership of the building the trustees of the North Georgia Agricultural College. The building would service as a base for the college until December 1878 when a chimney fire burned the structure down to the foundation. Subsequently a new building was constructed on the same footprint, which is now called Price Memorial Hall. The present building features a steeple that is layered in gold leaf that was produced from the area.


    During its 24 years of operations, the Dahlonega Mint produced 1,380,757 coins. Putting that number into perspective, the mintage for the 1914-D Lincoln cent was 1,193,000 pieces. According to "Coin Facts," which is a PCGS sponsored numismatic information web site, 120,000, 1914-D cents survive today. Collectors have long viewed the 1914-D cent as a scarce, "key coin" in the Lincoln Cent set. Doug Winter, who is a recognized authority on the southern mints, has estimated that just over 15,000 Dahlonega Mint coins have survived. Given these estimates it is no wonder that any gold piece which carries the Dahlonega mint mark from is now a collectors' treasure.
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  3. wxcoin

    wxcoin Getting no respect for 65 years

  4. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Here is the only known photograph of the Dahlonega Mint.

    Dahlonega Mint Picture.jpg

    Here are a couple of photos of Price Memorial Hall, which the building that was constructed on the footprint of the old mint.

    Dahlonega Mint Side.jpg Dahlonega Mint Site.jpg

    Court & Steph.jpg

    This is the old court house, which is in the center of the town. It is the one structure in the center of town that stood at the same time as the mint was standing. The photo imposed is of M. F. Stephenson, who was the mint's assayer. He made an impassioned speech in the center of town, asking the miners not to go to California. Many of them went anyway, but some of them returned, bring California gold back with them which the mint converted into Dahlonega Mint coins.
  5. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

    Great post.
  6. Kasia

    Kasia Got my learning hat on

    Great read
  7. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Well-Known Member

    Nice write up. Thanks.
  8. Ike Skywalker

    Ike Skywalker Well-Known Member

    Fantastic write up, @johnmilton. I’m going to save these threads as a single Word document. ;)
    GoldFinger1969 likes this.
  9. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder

    thanks for the history of the D-Mint, JMilton, and for the photos of the beautiful coins in your collection!
  10. coin_nut

    coin_nut Supporter! Supporter

    Good job, thanks! I visited there some years ago, and gazed lustfully at the few D marked gold coins I saw.
  11. Mainebill

    Mainebill Wild Bill

  12. Murphy45p

    Murphy45p Active Member

    Thanks! Sorry I didn't see this post earlier, I only saw the Charlotte piece. my maternal grandfather and his extended family were from Dahlonega. Great writeup! Love that $3 coin!
    GoldFinger1969 and johnmilton like this.
  13. Cheech9712

    Cheech9712 Every thing is a guess

    Now do Charlotte and new orleans. Great read. I thank you
    GoldFinger1969 likes this.
  14. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    I have already done Charlotte; you can do New Orleans :angelic:
    Cheech9712 and GoldFinger1969 like this.
  15. Murphy45p

    Murphy45p Active Member

    He has a talent and skill when it comes to eye appeal for sure and a ton of dream coins. Very trained eye and he seems to always purchase the coin and not the holder. What a great way to teach history and learn more about the hobby!
    johnmilton likes this.
  16. SchwaVB57

    SchwaVB57 Well-Known Member

    Very good information! Thank you!
  17. almostgem

    almostgem Junior Member

    Great Article, Thanks so much !
    My wife collects gold, and I've always wanted to get something from Dahlonega and Charlotte too.
    Douglas Winter's book goes into a lot of detail on the Dahlonega mint, including rarity, die varieties, and mintages for each year.
  18. Southernman189

    Southernman189 Active Member

    Thanks for that history lesson. I always had a hard time trying to pronounce that name correctly.
  19. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member


    Just say that fast. o_O
  20. Santinidollar

    Santinidollar Supporter! Supporter

  21. Southernman189

    Southernman189 Active Member

    Thanks John I finally can say it (even though my dog looked at me strange as I read and pronounced it three times)
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