When we think of a Gold Rush, California immediately comes to mind. But fifty years before the Forty-Niners headed west, a North Carolina farmer’s son found a 17-pound yellow rock glittering in the family’s fields. He thought it was interesting enough to keep and brought it home where it served as a doorstop for three years. In 1802 a jeweler realized it was a gold nugget and bought it for $3.50, a week’s wages at the time. He neglected to disclose its true value—about $3,600—equivalent to over $70,000 today.
Wiser for the experience, John Reed began searching for more gold nuggets on his land, and in 1803 a slave named Peter found a 28-pound nugget. By 1804, word had spread and the Carolina Gold Rush was on. It would last for over 40 years until prospectors’ attention turned west.
A Mint for the Miners
Gold nuggets and dust were hard to spend and subject to wide variations in value depending on who was receiving it. Banks would buy them at discounts as high as 10% and send the gold to the US Mint to have it returned as coins, but the only federal mint at the time was in Philadelphia. That required a journey of several weeks each way through rough country full of bandits and hostile Indians.
Miners needed a way to have their gold reliably assayed and struck into coins of specific values. That led a private local company getting into minting gold coins in 1831. Under pressure by miners for a more convenient way to process Carolina gold into official US coins, Congress authorized the opening of three southern mints, and in 1835 President Andrew Jackson signed legislation for branch mints to be established in Charlotte, NC, Dahlonega, GA, and New Orleans. Production at the Charlotte and Dahlonega mints would be limited to minting gold coins from local ore.
The Charlotte Mint Opens
The first gold coins were struck at the Charlotte Mint on March 28, 1838 and bore a “C” mintmark. They were $5 “Liberty Head” gold pieces, followed later that year by $2½ dollar “Classic Head” coins. In 1849, Charlotte also began minting US gold dollar coins.
War Takes Its Toll
North Carolina seceded from the Union in May of 1861, but minting continued at Charlotte under Confederate operation until it was closed in October of 1861 after it became impractical. The building was converted into a Confederate headquarters and hospital for the remainder of the war. When the war was over, the Charlotte Mint was never reopened as a United States Mint facility.
Federal troops used the offices for a few years during the Reconstruction era, and in 1867, it was designated an assay office. In 1873, the General Assembly of North Carolina petitioned Congress to reopen the mint, but the request was denied.
The Assay office closed in 1913 but it served as a Red Cross station during World War I. When the building was slated for demolition, a group of private citizens acquired it and moved to a location south of downtown Charlotte where it was rededicated as the Mint Museum of Art. Along with other items, its contains a complete collection of all coins made at the Charlotte Mint.
Collecting Charlotte Mint Coins
Because of erratic supplies of local gold, mintage numbers for Charlotte are comparatively low. The most coins produced in a single year was just over 84,000 $5 Half Eagles. In all, eight coins were minted at Charlotte, some of which have additional varieties. They were:
- Classic Head $5 Half Eagle (1838 only)
- Liberty Head $5 Half Eagle, Obverse Mintmark (1839 only)
- Liberty Head $5 Half Eagle, Reverse Mintmark (1840-1861)
- Classic Head $2.50 Quarter Eagle (1838 and 1839)
- Liberty Head $2.50 Quarter Eagle (1840-1860)
- Gold One Dollar Type One (1849-1853)
- Gold One Dollar Type Two (1855 only)
- Gold One Dollar Type Three (1857 and 1859)
Larger denomination $10 Gold Eagles and $20 Double Eagles were not minted at Charlotte.
Due to its low production and short time of operation, Charlotte Mint coins are very rare and highly prized by collectors. Only a few coins are known to exist for some dates and have sold for well over half a million dollars.
Even coins on circulated condition can run into the thousands, so they’re out of reach of all but the most serious and well-heeled collectors. Because of their high value, Charlotte coins are also widely counterfeited, so if you decide to take the plunge, be sure to buy from a reputable dealer.