Designer, James Barton Longacre, Engraver, Longacre, with help of P. F. Cross. Mints, Philadelphia (no mintmark), New Orleans (mintmark O), Charlotte, N.C. (C), Dahlonega, Ga. (D), San Francisco (S). Mintmark below wreath.
Composition, gold 0.900, silver not over 0.050, rest copper. Weight, 25.8 +- 0.25 gras. = 1.672 +- 0.016 gms., Containing 0.04837 oz. Pure Gold. Diameter 1/2" = 12.7 mm. Reeded edge. Authorizing Act, March 3, 1849; composition conformable to Act of Jan. 18, 1837.
Grade range, POOR to UNC; not collected in low grades. FINE: Half hair details; about half coronet beads.
VERY FINE: Partial details on roll of hair above ear to above brow; most coronet beads clear; partial internal leaf details.
EXTREMELY FINE: Tiny isolated rubbed spots only, mostly just above and behind ear, at bun behind head, at lowest edges of curls just above truncation, and on some leaf tips. Partial mint luster.
Mint State: No trace of wear.
NOTE: Beware coins with local porosity, rim discolorations, interrupted edge reeding, or other traces of solder mounts.
EXCEPTIONS: Many C and D-Mint coins show central weakness; sharp strikings are unusual and on rarer dates may suggest fraudulently affixed mintmarks; authentication strongly recommended. Cast counterfeits of 1850-1854 were made in quantity since 1950 for investors, dealers, and the public.
28 obverses, 20 reverse.; Minute positional vars.; Date lighter or heavier, high, low, or slanting down to "r." Sometimes with extra outlines on stars like many C- and D-Mintcoins.
Though a gold coin of the denomination of one dollar had been an integral part of Alexander Hamilton's original scheme for our national coinage (1791), no design for an actual coin of this kind was talked of until about 1831, and then private interests made the first move.
Alt Christoph Bechtler (who later anglicized his name to Christopher, Sr.), head of a family of immigrants from Baden (Germany), opened a jewelry shop in Rutherfordton, N.C., in 1830. Discovering gold on his hands, and learning that the main local medium of exchange was gold dust and nuggets from nearby mines, Bechtler decided to take advantage of the situation. Owing to bandits and hostile Indians, transporting gold to the Philadelphia Mint through 500+ miles of wilderness was risky. Only driblets of Carolina gold bullion reached the Mint, despite Rutherford County's then being one of the major gold-producing areas in the country. Accordingly, Bechtler advertised in the North Carolina Spectator and Western Advertiser for several weeks, beginning July 2, 1831, that he would coin gold dust and nuggets for nominal fees. No law forbade the pratice; only debased fraudulent imitations of federal gold and silver were outlawed. From then through 1840, the Bechtler family's output of coins exceeded $2,241,000, probably half of it in gold dollars. Production from 1841-1846 was still larger, but amounts are not exactly known. Many of Bechtler's earliest gold dollars, issued 1832-1834, reading C. BECHTLER. RUTHERF: 30 G(rains.)/*N. CAROLINA GOLD ONE DOLLAR, began to reach the Philadelphia Mint during the immense meltings of old-tenor gold beginning Aug. 1, 1834. The Mint's assayers found that Bechtler's coins were worth within a few cents each of stated values. Compensating for variable bullion fineness, each dollar weighed about 15% above federal standard, i.e., totaling well over 1/5 of the legal weight of a half eagle.
This official vote of confidence was repeatedly published, helping natives to feel that Bechtler's gold was a good as the federal product, and actually preferable because made by a local family everyone trusted. As late as the Civil War, many contracts were specified as payable in Bechtler gold; and for decades after that, many Southerners never saw any other kind. Public attention to Bechtler's gold coins had two consequences: Beginning in 1835, the Treasury began making plans to build branch mints in Charlotte, N.C., and Dahlonega, Ga., exclusively to coin gold (which mints duly opened in 1838); and from 1836 on there was talk of making federal gold coins of $1 denomination. Congressmen, especially from the southeastern seaboard states, doubtless realized that the Bechtlers were prospering from this enterprise. Apparently ignoring this fact, and instead alleging a proposal for an international gold coinage (the gold dollar was, not coincidentally, close in value to a dozen European monetary units, and might be usable in international trade), they interpolated a clause authorizing mintage of gold dollars into an 1836 bill. Mint Director Robert Maskell Patterson adamantly opposed it; and all that remains of this proposal is a tiny handful of patterns designed by Christian Gobrecht, dated 1836, showing a liberty cap in rays (echoing a Mexican motif). These have dies aligned head-to-toe as usual with U.S. coins; edges are plain, weight standard 25,8 grs. (proportionately to the larger gold denominations).
Alt Christoph Bechtler continued to coin gold in $1, $2,50, and $5 denominations, assisted by his son August and his nephew Christoper, Jr., until 1842, when the old man died. August continued the business, at first for a year or so in his own name, then succeeded 1843-1846 by Christopher, Jr., who went on using August's dies. Output was enormous. Most of their later coins were gold dollars reading A.BECHTLER. 1 DOL.*/CAROLINA GOLD. 27G(rains). 21 C(arats). Thousands of these survive, in all grades of preservaton; ill. They were promptly counterfeited in brass, and both the genuine and the fakes began finding their way to the Mint among foreign coins deposited for conversion into federal issues.
Assays determined that August and Christopher, Jr.'s, gold dollars were much more variable and of generally lower value than Alt Christoph's earlier coins. Christopher, Jr.'s, alcoholism doubtless contributed to the collapse of his enterprise; but his coins stayed in circulation. Again not coincidentally, the House Ways and Means Committee reintroduced a proposal to make gold dollars, Jan. 1844. Patterson, still vehemently opposed, furnished a few more patterns (from the 1836 dies but with rev. turned the other way), and told the congressmen that these could be readily counterfeited in gilt silver. For evidence, Patterson went so far as to furnish gold-plated samples struck in silver from the 1836 dies. This was deliberately misleading; gold coins passed only by weight, worn ones being accepted only at a discount, if at all. No storekeeper would be so trusting as to accept unfamiliar gold coins from a stranger without tests somewhat more rigorous than those today demanded of strangers out of state checks! Patterson's denunciation alleged falsely that no public demand existed for such coins, as the Spanish and Colombian half escudos of similar value had not been made for over 20 years; he deliberately ignored the large domestic circulation of Bechtler dollars. His dishonest tactics quashed the 1844 bill.
Nevertheless, five years later a similar proposal again came up. During the "Hard Times" period of 1837-1844 (much like the Great Depression of 1929-1937, coins of all kinds were hoarded, and pay envelopes if one was so lucky as to have any during the massive unemployment were stuffed instead with private scrip and "wildcat" bank notes, many acceptable only at a discount, if at all. But beginning in 1848, immense supplies of gold bullion from the newly opened California mines started to reach world markets, lowering the value of gold in terms of silver dollars conversely raising the price of silver reckoned in terms of gold eagles. This trend escalated enough to induce bullion dealers to buy up silver dollars and half dollars (eventually smaller silver as well) for melthing and export, exactly as would occur in 1965 and later years: Silver coins were worth more than face value as bullion. Rep. James Iver McKay (D.-N.C.) introduced a bill on Jan 25, 1849, to authorize mintage of gold dollars; in February, he amended it to authorize $20 coins as well. Over continuing opposition from Mint Director Patterson, Congress passed the bill, and it became law on March 3, 1849.
Patterson's opposition proved to be for reasons partly political, partly venal. After Gobrecht's death in 1844, James Barton Longacre obtained the Mint engravership through his friend John C. Calhoun a name anathema to the Pennsylvania dynasties then running the Mint. Patterson wanted o Engraver at all, lest such an outsider interfere with the lucrative medal making business then operated within the Mint by his crony Franklin Peale. So long as no new denominations were needed. But Congress would not be deterred. Something had to take the place of the vanished silver and dishonest paper currency; the only logical candidate was the gold dollar.
Despite Peale's officious opposition and attempted sabotage, Longacre (with the help of an assistant, Peter F. Cross( managed to complete master dies for the gold dollar on May 7, 1849. On May 8, a few proofs and some 1,000 business strikes were coined, the first of over 11,719,000 of this design to be issued from Philadelphia and four branch mints through June 17, 1854. During most of that period, gold dollars formed the bulk of the nation's legal circulation medium between the 3c and the $2,50 denominations, managing to replace a few drops of the flood of worthless bank notes and scrip.
After the issue of larger, thinner ("Type II") gold dollars began in Aug. 1854, banks were under orders to return the small-size dollars to the Mint or the New York Subtreasury. By 1861, some eight million of the original 11 million coined had reached the Subtreasury. Mint Director James Ross Snowden ordered them shipped to the Philadelphia Mint, where they were melted down and recoined into "Type III" gold dollars, quarter eagles, and double eagles. Many of the survivors have been converted into jewelry or included in later meltings. Possibly 1% of the original mintage remains today in numismatically acceptable condition. (Numismatists normally reject gold coins with any traces of solder; look on edges for any discoloration, any lump or other interruption of edge reeding, or any indication that reeding has been simulated by hand tooling. Local porosity is also grounds for suspicion.) It follows that many of the lower mintage from Charlotte and Dahlonega have become rarities; some of the C and D-Mint coins are almost unobtainable in or near mint state. Data on striking characteristics of C-Mint coins derive partly from unpublished researches by Douglas Winter.
The rarest coin of this design is 1849 C Open Wreath. Only one genuine var. Short r. point to star opposite tip of nose; hollow leaf below 1 of date, partly detached leaf tip below 9, incomplete ribbons (lapped die), and a tiny die chi or file mark above RI (this last fades out). These criteria will instantly enable rejection of forgeries made by affixing C mintmarks to genuine Philadelphia coins or by scraping top leaf groups off genuine C-Mint dollars.
Note that on most branch-mint dollars through 1854, obvs. normally show varying degrees of extra outlines on stars and central devices. This is less often true of Philadelphia coins, whose dies had these extra outlines removed through polishing. Their presence depended on how many blows from the hub were needed to sink a working die; such coins are not Mint errors.
Cast and struck conterfeits have been made in quantity since WW II, in (among other locales) Italy, Lebanon, and most Middle Eastern nations. Their intended buyers included troops, tourists, jewelers, bullion hoarders, and naive collectors; dates are primarily 1850-1854 without mintmark. They are in gold of legal weight or near it, unlike the more easily identified earlier counterfeits made to spend, which were mostly in base metals. Authentication recommended.
Director's Reports long claimed that four 1854 C gold dollars were struck: a dummy bookkeeping entry covering four dollars and eight half eagles of 1853 that were stolen by bandits, in transit to Assay Commission, Feb. 1854. Beware 1854 Philadelphia dollars with C mintmark fraudulently affixed.