The first US gold deposit was found by a farm boy named Conrad Reed in North Carolina in 1799, but the 17-pound nugget would sit unnoticed (it was used as a doorstop!) until 1804 when a visiting jeweler realized what it was. Word spread and soon farmers were scouring their land for gold scattered about their property.
Those easily found nuggets eventually played out but by the 1820s shafts were being cut to explore for underground deposits. When gold was discovered in a quartz vein in 1825, mining activity increased and by 1830 the Carolina Gold Rush was on. Mining eventually concentrated in the southern Blue Ridge foothills across the Georgia line with Gainesville as its commercial hub. Overnight towns like Dahlonega and Auraria sprang up north of Gainesville to support the miners.
A Local Solution to a Local Problem
Because gold nuggets and dust aren’t always pure, it was difficult to value them for commerce so local merchants often devalued them considerably. Even when refined, weights and purity weren’t uniform, adding to the problem. To ger reliable assays and accurate values, gold needed to be sent to the US Mint in Philadelphia where it could be converted into official coinage. But Philadelphia was a long journey through rugged terrain full of bandits and other dangers.
A Georgia blacksmith named Templeton Reid had a solution. He would set up a private mint to coin gold into “official” US money.
Who Was Templeton Reid?
In addition to his blacksmithing, Templeton Reid (no relation to the Reed family on whose property gold was first discovered) was a gunsmith, watchmaker, silversmith and jeweler from the small Georgia town of Milledgeville. An entrepreneurial man, he saw an opportunity and seized it.
By July of 1830 Reid had moved to Gainesville and announced in a local newspaper that he was coining mined gold into existing US denominations of $2.50, $5.00, and $10.00. The coins were stamped on one side with “Georgia Gold” and the year 1830 and “Templeton Reid, Assayer” along with the denomination on the other.
A Matter of Controversy
No sooner had Reid’s coins appeared than an anonymous critic who called himself “No Assayer” claimed Reid’s $10.00 coins contained only $9.38 worth of gold. The allegation was supposedly based on an assay by the Philadelphia Mint, a questionable claim given the amount of time such a test would have taken.
But rumors spread and local banks and merchants began devaluing Reid’s coins. “No Assayer” added the claim that Reid’s coins were illegal under the US Constitution. This put an end to Reid’s 1830 coinage. Only about 1,500 coins were minted, primarily $2.50, most of which were eventually returned to Philadelphia where they were melted down and reissued as official US gold coins.
Reid probably lacked both the equipment and skill to properly assay gold, but ironically when some of his coins were tested at the Philadelphia Mint in 1842, they were found to be 94.2 percent fine gold, a higher quality than official US coins.
Reed Retires from Minting—Maybe
His minting venture a bust, Reed turned to making cotton gins. But some undated Reid-style coins appeared about a decade later, and some coins were found stamped “California Gold,” fueling speculation that Reid had moved to California in the 1849 Gold Rush, or at least intended to do so. However, contemporary records of Reid make it unlikely he ever went west. Regardless of his intent or location no California gold coins were made for circulation. One of the only known examples, a $25 coin, was stolen from the Philadelphia Mint in 1858.
Valuing Georgia Gold Coins
Between their low mintage and the number ultimately melted down, Templeton Reid Georgia Gold coins are extremely rare and expensive. There were the three 1830 denominations, one undated $10 product, and California $10 and $25 samples. Only a few are known to survive. Even lower grade coins carry six-figure price tags and according to the Southern Gold Society a three-coin set recently sold for $1.2 million.
But the Treasury saw the wisdom of Reid’s idea and opened branch mints in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia in 1838 to process the local gold. Both mints remained operational until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.