The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
The 1849-C Open Wreath is truly the 'King of Southern Gold Coins' and is without peer in this category. In terms of rarity, few major variety coins can boast a surviving known population of just 5 pieces.
Breen and Winter note several diagnostic features that are present on all known examples of this issue. The weak star opposite Liberty's nose has a short right point, the leaf below the 1 in the date is hollow, and the leaf below the 9 shows a partially detached tip. (These last two features are likely caused by die polishing to prepare the dies for the initial coinage). The ribbons are also incomplete and there is a tiny die file mark above RI in AMERICA, again diagnostic features seen on all known examples. The color ranges from the usual bright yellow-gold with a dash of the greenish cast seen on most Charlotte gold of the period.
The discovery of gold in Rutherford County, North Carolina induced Christoph Bechtler to begin coinage of a gold dollar in 1831, as the remoteness of the North Carolina mines precluded safe shipment to Philadelphia of gold bullion for coinage. Recall that the Philadelphia Mint was the only operational Federal Mint at that time. Curiously too, is the fact that Bechtler's mine was one of the most productive and richest gold mines in America at that time. Bechtler did what any true American would do, he coined his own gold into dollars and other denominations which were widely accepted in that region. This competition did not go unnoticed by the Philadelphia Mint. By 1835, plans were hatched to open new federal branch mints in both Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia, both of which came to pass in 1838. When Christian Gobrecht joined the Philadelphia Mint in 1835 as Assistant Engraver to the ailing Engraver William Kneass (who soon died from complications of a stroke), Gobrecht designed his own version of a gold dollar. This design was struck in pattern form in March 1836 and they are listed as Judd-67 through Judd-71. These patterns were most likely struck on the older manual screw coining press, although it is not entirely out of the question that these pattern gold dollars may have been struck on the new steam press installed in March 1836. Medals commemorating the first coinage from the steam press were coined by the Mint and dated March 23, 1836. It is believed that these gold dollar patterns were struck on or before March 14, 1836 as one was sent in a letter so dated from Mint Director Robert Patterson to Secretary of the Treasury Levi Woodbury on that date (Breen and also Pollock).
A new coinage bill was sent through Congress for approval that included the new gold dollar denomination in late 1836, however, when the bill was passed with modifications, the authorization for a gold dollar had been removed. This bill became law on January 18, 1837. Apparently Mint Director Patterson adamantly opposed a gold dollar coin, and used his considerable political clout to have this clause removed from the revised coinage bill of 1837. When the House Ways and Means Committee again proposed to make gold dollars in 1844, Patterson responded that they would be easily counterfeited and went so far as to have silver planchet patterns made from Gobrecht's original 1836 pattern gold dollar dies, and have the gold plated. Patterson won again, and the gold dollar proposal was again shelved. However, the tide of history was about to turn against Patterson.
Gold was discovered in California in 1848, and by 1849 large quantities were being shipped to the Eastern mints for coinage. Silver coins were in great demand, and they increased in value when compared to gold because of the flood of gold coming from California. Representative James Iver McKay from North Carolina introduced a bill on January 25, 1849 to authorize coinage of a gold dollar. It was later amended to include a twenty dollar gold coin. Patterson again opposed this legislation. At that time, America had suffered from high unemployment, a lack of silver coins in circulation, and abundant wildcat banknote scrip, often of little value and accepted at a discount to face value at best. Congress had to do something, and they did. Congress passed McKay's coinage bill and it became law on March 3, 1849.
Mint Engraver James Barton Longacre designed the new gold dollar in early 1849. The initial design had the reverse wreath top ends well apart from the large 1 in the denomination, and these became known as the 'Open Wreath' variety. As the Philadelphia Mint was in charge of producing dies, each of the branch mints were?sent Open Wreath dies to begin coinage. Therefore, Open Wreath reverse dies were used in Philadelphia and sent to Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans. It is known that the master hubs were first prepared using the Open Wreath reverse, as well as proofs and the initial coins struck on May 8, 1849. For some still unknown reason, Longacre then changed the master hubs by adding a cluster of leaves and a pair of berries to the end of the existing branches, thus creating the 'Closed Wreath' reverse from dies made with this altered hub. Again, the facts behind this are currently lost to history unless future research discovers some evidence. But what we do know is that the Philadelphia Mint and the Charlotte Mint both produced Closed Wreath gold dollars in 1849 too. Apparently new Closed Wreath dies were shipped to the Charlotte Mint but not to the New Orleans or the Dahlonega Mints. Either that or the new Closed Wreath dies were not used for coinage by these other two mints in 1849. The Charlotte Mint apparently received the new Closed Wreath dies for gold dollars and used the new dies for virtually their entire production of 11,634 gold dollars that year. The Philadelphia Mint produced Open Wreath and Closed Wreath gold dollars in roughly equal numbers.
Historic evidence for the rarity of this coin continues. Congress again altered the gold dollar in August 1854 by changing the design to a larger diameter but thinner planchet. These earlier, smaller gold dollars were ordered returned to the mints or Sub-Treasury in New York for melting and were recoined into the new, larger diameter gold dollars and double eagles. By 1861, it is believed that 8 million gold dollars from the total mintage of 11 million issued until mid-1854, were melted (Breen). This thoroughly decimated the original gold dollar mintages. Perhaps just one percent of the original mintage remains in collectible numismatic grades, as those that do survive often show evidence of being used for jewelry purposes.
Comparable rarities to the 1849-C Open Wreath include the 1822 half eagle (three known, two in the Smithsonian), the 1854-S half eagle (also with three known, one of which is in the Smithsonian), and the 1913 Liberty nickel (five known, two of which are impounded in museums). Without a doubt, the 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar is one of the rarest American coins struck for circulation. It is a major type variety that has been listed in the Guide Book for many years, and as such is needed by a tremendous number of numismatists. Further demand comes from gold dollar date collectors, and the dozens of collectors who seek complete collections from the Charlotte Mint. Without obtaining an 1849-C Open Wreath, no specialized branch mint or Guide Book collection can be considered complete. This issue is so rare that even Harry Bass failed to obtain an example, in addition to Louis Eliasberg and Norweb. The list of numismatists who have owned an example of this coin is far shorter than the list of famous numismatists who lacked a specimen. This is one of the most important rarities in this sale, and perhaps of the entire year to cross the auction block. It is an American classic in every sense of the word.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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