Gold $5 Offers Allure of Scarcity By Paul M. Green
Numismatic News May 8, 2007
Item of the
The average person probably did not notice
the "C" above the 1838 date on this Charlotte
$5 gold piece. Nowadays collectors sure do. The coin
is highly desirable in any grade.
Top grades are scarce and have prices to prove it.
Most historic coins are pretty well known,
but every so often there is a very historic coin that
seems to fall through the cracks in terms of interest.
That description might well fit the 1838-C quarter eagle
as this is a very historic issue that seems to be known
by very few.
The 1838-C was something no one had ever seen before as
it was a quarter eagle of the United States that was not
even made in Philadelphia. The fact is had many persons
seen the small "C" on an 1838 quarter eagle
at the time, the odds are pretty good that they would
not have known why it was there or what it meant.
The situation in 1838 had to be exciting for the Mint.
For the first time in the history of the United States
there were going to be coins produced outside Philadelphia.
It was not just the gold quarter eagle, as there were
facilities opening at Charlotte, N.C., Dahlonega, Ga.,
and New Orleans, La.
The whole idea of branch mints had been sparked
by the discovery of gold in the hills of Georgia and North
Carolina. The gold was great news. The supply of gold and
silver over the years had always been a problem for the Mint.
To suddenly have a reliable supply of gold was the answer
to the dreams of some Mint directors in those early years.
The only thing that could have made things better was if the
gold had been discovered in a suburb of Philadelphia. The
decision was made that it was better to deal with the gold
on the spot rather than to try and send it all the way to
Philadelphia. That saw the approval of the Charlotte and Dahlonega
facilities to produce only gold coins.
There was something of a delay. Outfitting a mint in a place
like Dahlonega or Charlotte back in the 1830s was not the
easiest task. It took time to get what was needed to the area.
Then everything had to be set up. By the time either facility
was ready to produce its first gold coins, it was 1838.
In New Orleans in 1838 they opted for silver. At the new facility
in Dahionega, the first mintage was of half eagles. At Charlotte
there would also be a half eagle mintage of 17,179 pieces,
but Charlotte would also mint quarter eagles to the tune of
The smaller mintage and the fact that only Charlotte tried
quarter eagles in 1838 should not be too surprising. The quarter
eagle was still really getting established in circulation.
The denomi¬nation had been authorized in 1792, but it
had never been widely used. Only since 1834 had there been
quarter eagle mint¬ages of more than 10,000, so while
low, the 1838-C mintage was not unusual.
It would be safe to suggest there was very little saving of
the 1838-C quarter eagle. As a result, what we have today
are basically circulated examples with the price of an F-12
being $1,700, while an MS-60 lists for $27,000.
In fact, it appears that someone must have been excited as
at NGC they report a total of 46 examples graded, but 11 of
the coins were Mint State, although none was above MS-63.
At PCGS the total graded was 77 coins. Only six were Mint
State, with the best being MS-64.
In any grade, however, the 1838-C is a special coin and at
today's prices a good deal on a coin that combines both a
low mintage and an important place in history.