Charlotte Mint has 'golden'
Area gold discovery prompts coinage
By Cindy Brake
COIN WORLD Staff
Discovering gold in the Piedmont Hills of
North Carolina was easy. Minting the gold was much more of
The Reed Mine was the first gold mine in the United States,
writes Anthony J. Stautzenberger in his thoroughly documented
book, The Establishment of the Branch Mint: A Documented History.
Stautzenberger writes that according to a January 1848 account
by Col. George Barnhardt, a 17-pound piece of gold was discovered
by 12-year-old Conrad Reed in Meadow Creek on a Sunday when
he and his two siblings were shooting fish with a bow and
arrow. Barnhardt was reportedly a miner of Rowan County in
North Carolina and a friend of the Reed family.
In 1802, a jeweler told Conrad's father, John, that the stone
was gold and paid him his asking price of $3.50. John Reed
returned home and found more gold on the creek bed for nearly
a mile. With the help of friends, in 1803 he found a piece
of gold that weighed 28 pounds.
Gold was found by others during the ensuing years. Many would
come to the area in search of their own fortunes. Stautzenberger
writes that "an eminent professor of chemistry and geology
at the University of North Carolina," Denison Olm-sted,
states in an 1824 report on the gold mines of North Carolina
that "by 1821 the known area over which gold was being
produced ... covered 1,000 square miles." At least 56
mines were in operation in North Carolina by 1830.
By 1829, legislators began proposing the need for a Branch
Mint in North Carolina.
"The miners had good reasons for petitioning that a United
States facility be built in their midst," Stautzenberger
Options to dispose of the unrefined gold at that time in North
Carolina were limited:
1. A miner could
send the gold to the Philadelphia Mint, paying transport
charges and risking theft, and then wait months for payment.
2. Personally taking the gold to the Philadelphia Mint
on the stagecoach would cost five to 10 cents a mile.
Stautzenberger writes that it became necessary to arm
drivers to protect the passengers and valuables. Another
negative was that the miner had to take time away from
his mining ventures.
3. Selling the gold to banks and local merchants incurred
a loss of as much as 6 percent or more.
By 1831, the first piece of federal legislation was introduced
to establish assay offices in North Carolina and Georgia,
although H.R. 630 never advanced from a second reading.
THE SMALLEST denomination gold coin
struck at the Charlotte Branch Mint was the gold dollar.
It was also the smallest diameter U.S. coin issued.
The Coronet type appears at its actual size, 13 millimeters,
center, and enlarged about four times.
By this year, a German immigrant, Christopher Bechtler Sr. began
operating a private mint and assay office.
Douglas Winter writes in Charlotte Mint Gold Coins 1838-1861
that Bechtler was an "exceptional businessman" with
a reputation of minting coins of the highest purity. He struck
$800,000 in gold coins from January 1831 to December 1835 and
they became a standard for the area.
The Bechtler reputation would suffer with later generations
reportedly producing underweight coins of questionable fineness,
according to Clair M. Birdsall in The United States Branch Mint
at Charlotte, North Carolina: Its History and Coinage.
Prospects of building an assay office or Branch Mint were stymied
from several angles. Bureaucrats squabbled about regionalism.
All coin images courtesy of HeritageCoins.com.
THREETYPES OF gold dollars were issued by the Charlotte
Mint, the Coronet,, and the Small Head and Large Head
Indian Head types. An 1857-C Indian Head, (Large Head
type) is shown. The Charlotte Mint struck only gold
coins during its nearly 25-year life before the Civil
War halted production.
Silver interest were concerned that
gold would replace their livelihood. Others wanted to
prevent gold currency so as to create a necessity for
a national paper currency and resurrect the Bank of
the United States. Bill after bill was introduced in
the United States Congress and died. In 1834, the tide
of opinion turned with the passage of the Gold Coin
Law. H.R. 313 increased the value of gold 6 percent
by reducing the weight of gold coins and fineness, thus
making it a more economically viable resource for coinage.
Legislators by this time had also
come to realize, as Stautzenberger writes, the "bottom
line was that branch mints, not assay offices were the
answer" to the needs in the gold region.
A federal Mint
Legislation passed Congress, and on March 3, 1835, President
Andrew Jackson signed Branch Mint legislation authorizing
branches of the United States Mint in Charlotte, N.C.; Dahlonega,
Ga.; and New Orleans. Only gold coinage was to be minted in
Charlotte and Dahlonega.
An appropriation of $50,000 was to cover the purchase of the
building site in Charlotte, erection of the building and purchase
Charlotte, in Mecklenburg County was a village of 730 people
in 1830 and considered the geographical center of the gold
producing district. Annual gold output reached $900,000 by
1834. Charlotte is named after the wife of King George III
and is sometimes referred to as the "Queen City."
Mecklenburg County was named after the queen's homeland.
Secretary of Treasury Levi Woodbury appointed Maj. Samuel
McComb as commissioner of the Charlotte Mint. McComb was sheriff
at the time of his appointment and is reportedly the first
landowner to attempt to follow a gold vein on his farm. He
was also not Woodbury's first choice to serve as commissioner.
James M. Hutchison was first offered the position, but apparently
turned it down because of political reasons. McComb was a
resident of Charlotte, and had been a one-time state representative.
McComb selected a four-acre site on West Trade Street in Charlotte,
and purchased the full square for $1,500 from William Carson
and F.L. Smith, according to a March 1938 article in The Numismatists
based on a bulletin printed by the Mint Museum of Art celebrating
the Charlotte Mint's 100th anniversary.
Perry and Ligon
of Raleigh, N.C., were awarded a contract to construct
the building for $29,800 in the fall of 1835. Work was
to be completed by Jan. 1, 1837.
Architect William Strickland designed the plans for the
T-shaped brick building with a front measuring 125 feet
by 33 feet 6 inches with a projecting building in the
rear of the center, 53 feet in length by 35 in breadth.
The two-story building was to rest on a sub-basement of
5 feet in height with the principal and second story each
15 feet in height. The whole was to be covered with a
THE MINT MARK"C" first appeared
above the date on Charlotte gold coins, as shown on
the 1839-C Classic Head quarter eagle.
The first cornerstone was laid Jan. 8, 1836. with fanfare.
However, a severe December windstorm set the construction
schedule back when a portion of the building's roof was torn
The Charlotte Branch Mint's first superintendent, John Hill
Wheeler, was appointed in January 1837. Other officers were
named in the pursuing months. They included John H. Gibbon,
assayer, melter and refiner; John R. Bolton, chief coiner;
and William F. Strange, clerk. For their labors, each respectively
received an annual salary as follows: $2,000, superintendent;
$1,500, assayer and coiner; and $1,000, clerk.
By April 1837, machinery including a steam engine was shipped
from Philadelphia aboard the Langdon Cheves bound for Charleston,
S.C. The journey took days. The equipment was then reshipped
by steamer and transported by land to Charlotte, N.C.
The first deposit of gold was received at the Charlotte Branch
Mint on Dec. 4, 1837. from Irwin & Wilms. The 11 ounces
of gold in six bars was valued at $1,973.98.
Coining began either March 27 or 28, 1838. with a gold $5
half eagle made by Bolton. Winter and Stautzenberger set the
date at March 28. Birdsall sets the date as March 27. Coins
issued by the Charlotte Branch Mint bear the C Mint mark.
Birdsall states that the initial production of the 1838-C
half eagles resulted in the coining of 678 pieces, which was
a mere start. Research suggests that the total mintage of
the 1838-C Classic Head half eagle was 17,179; 10,959 were
1838 and another 6,220 were struck in 1839 but were dated
The 1838-C Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles and
the 1839-C Coronet half eagles bear a C Mint mark on the obverse.
Beginning in 1840, the Mint mark was moved to the reverse.
Because of space limitations, the Mint mark on the $2.50 quarter
eagle is often found punched partially overlapping in the
eagle's tail feathers.
Coins minted at the Charlotte Branch Mint include three types
of gold dollars -Coronet, Open Wreath and Coronet, Closed
Wreath; Small Indian Head; and Large Indian Head. The facility
also struck Classic Head and Coronet quarter eagles, and Classic
Head and Coronet half eagles.
The quarter eagle was struck almost continuously during each
year the Charlotte Mint operated.
Birdsall states, "The number of coins minted at Charlotte
in various years of operation [has] been difficult to determine
with the exactness that one would wish." He notes differences
between numbers reported by the coiner and superintendent
for the same coinage run.
No half eagles were struck in 1845 after an extensive fire
stopped operations. The fire destroyed most of the Charlotte
building, furnishings and machinery on July 27, 1844. According
to Birdsall, an Aug. 1, 1844, article in the Charlotte Journal
reported that the fire began near the room housing the coining
presses and "could have been easily extinguished by water
from reservoirs on the top floor of the building."
The cause of the fire was not discovered.
One rumor circulated that students had been seen in the building
smoking, while a letter by the superintendent stated that
he believed the fire had been deliberately set.
State Judge Richmond M. Pearson reviewed
the evidence and found neither negligence on the part
of Mint workers nor accidental causes had contributed
to the fire. He also found that while students had been
on the roof of the building at 2 p.m., Mint workmen
had been on the roof hours later and did not detect
smoke. The judge ruled that the fire was of "incendiary
origin," but admitted that "at first glance
the circumstantial evidence against a servant was strong."
The servant had reportedly resented
the removal of his employer who worked at the Mint.
Birdsall reports another roof fire occurred in December
THE HALF EAGLE, or gold $5 coin was struck
in more years than the other gold coin denominations
at the Charlotte Mint
Mint begins losing luster
George S. Hooper was the last customer of the facility under
the U.S. government before the start of the Civil War, states
Ralph Donnelly in a November 1966 article in The Numismatist.
The North Carolina Militia, under orders of
the governor, placed the U.S. Branch Mint at Charlotte under
state control on April 20, 1861. Final coinage of 887 half
eagles by chief coiner Emmor Graham occurred on May 31, 1861,
Birdsall states. Donnelly writes that 20 deposits were made
between May 1 to 21, 1861, while the facility was under new
By Sept. 30, 1861, the Charlotte Mint ceased
to exist as a staffed entity. Most of the gold and silver
coins and bullion it held were turned over to the Confederate
States "presumably for shipment to Europe to pay for
war supplies." Donnelly lists the amount at $51,936.86.
He adds: "The services of the Charlotte
Mint for coining Confederate money were offered [by] President
[Jefferson] Davis, but it was not the intention of the Confederate
government to institute coinage."
A report dated Dec. 21, 1864, and prepared
at the request of the Confederate Congress, states that the
facility's assay office was closed at the request of the war
department so nitric acid, used in the assay process, could
be used instead to manufacture explosives. The secretary's
opinion was that the coinage of hard money was a waste of
means and money, according to Donnelly.
Reports vary as to the use of the facility
during the war years. Donnelly states that rolling copper
was the main activity. A Museum of Art bulletin reprinted
in the March 1938 The Numismatist states that the building
was used as naval offices for the Confederates, and that after
the war, federal armies used the offices during reconstruction.
According to Winter, the Charlotte Branch
Mint was used as headquarters for a regiment of Confederate
troops and by Charlotte citizens for parties and social gatherings.
One fact is not questioned: The Charlotte
Branch Mint never reopened to issue coinage. A United States
Assay Office was established in the former Branch Mint building
on March 19, 1867, with Dr. Isaac W. Jones serving as assayer.
Inventor Thomas A. Edison reportedly came
to the facility in 1901 to conduct experiments for two years
on separating gold from ore by means of electricity.
During World War I, the building was used
as headquarters for the Red Cross Society and later as a meeting
place for the Charlotte's Women's Club.
The assayer's office closed without fanfare
July 31, 1931. By 1932, the government ordered the building's
demolition for an expansion of the city's post office. A citizens'
group was then formed to preserve the building in the midst
of the Depression.
The group, called the Mint Museum Society,
purchased the Mint building material as it was being torn
down and placed it on a donated lot in the Eastover Section
The building was rebuilt, through the assistance
of the Public Works Program of the U.S. government, and opened
Oct. 22, 1936.
Today the structure is an art museum. It houses paintings,
sculpture, ceramics, books and Charlotte gold coins.