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
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
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
1851 D Small "D". [ 9,882
5 reverses, shipped,
at least 2 used till both cracked; 3 leftover obverses. One
reverse has repunching below central base of 1 and 1. of 5;
the other, repunching at "r." foot of first 1. These may correspond
to deliveries of [ 3,147 ] Feb., and [ 6,735 ] June.
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.
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.
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