Southern Mint Half Eagles 1856-1861

Posted on 3/10/2016

The final installment of a date-by-date study of Southern gold coins struck in Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans between 1856 and 1861.

This installment completes our date-by-date analysis of Southern Gold coins struck at the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans Mints. Coins from these mints are extremely interesting to collect and have become quite popular in recent years. One of our clients recently completed a set of gold coins from the Dahlonega Mint and has donated the collection to the University of Georgia for an upcoming exhibit. The history of this period of America starts with the gold rushes of North Carolina and Georgia. The series ends with the start of the Civil War. The coins have character and no two are alike. There are many ways to collect this fascinating series. You could start with one great coin or try for the complete run. As usual, quality is extremely important and the market is currently assigning a high premium to originality. Much of the information used for these articles has come from my Encyclopedia of United States Gold Coins 1795-1933. The information has been updated with current population and auction records. Many collectors today seem enamored by high grade Registry sets. Do yourself a favor and explore coins in lower grades such as Southern gold. Collecting these interesting coins will be a rewarding experience!

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Mintage: 28,457
Graded NGC: 137 Total, Mint State 13, Finest MS 62 (3)

The 1856-C half eagle is a scarce coin in any grade. Most of the surviving examples seen are very low grade or damaged. The date is also found with matte surfaces caused by seawater submersion. The strike for the 1856-C half eagle can be very weak on some examples. The surfaces are also found to be grainy, with die-rust evident on some coins. The 1856-C half eagle is one of the US gold coins that was thought to be unknown in Mint State only two decades ago. The great collections of Harry W. Bass, Jr., John J. Pittman, and Ed Milas lacked an example in Uncirculated condition. A few high-grade specimens have surfaced over recent years. An MS 63 example sold in 2012 for $43,125. The Smithsonian possesses one of the finest known examples of the date we have seen, an MS 62.

Mintage: 19,786
Graded NGC: 105 Total, Mint State 13, Finest MS 65 (2)

Until the early 1990s, the 1856-D half eagle was very rare in full Mint State. Most of the coins seen were well worn or heavily cleaned. A rather large hoard of high-grade examples surfaced about that time in South Carolina. The coins traded hands among a few dealers and were slowly released into the marketplace. Most of the coins seen by author Jeff Garrett have been “scruffy” Uncirculated, with some sort of small scratches or damage. It is not known what the condition of the finest coins from the hoard would grade. The finest known example of an 1856-D half eagle is the Duke’s Creek Collection specimen that has been graded MS 65 by NGC. Many of the examples seen of this date are weakly struck in the central portions of the obverse and reverse. The current auction record for the date is an NGC MS 64 that sold in November 2007 for $46,000.

Mintage: 10,000
Graded NGC: 51 Total, Mint State 5, Finest MS 62 (1)

As the low mintage would indicate, the 1856-O half eagle is a rare issue. It is much more difficult to locate than many of the more popular Charlotte and Dahlonega issues of the 1850s. Most of the coins seen are low grade, and the number of coins offered at auction is skewed by the eight examples that were sold as part of the Harry W. Bass, Jr., Collection of US gold. These were all sold into strong hands, and they rarely appear for sale. Most of the 1856-O half eagles seen are well struck, and some of the few high-grade specimens known have Prooflike surfaces. The finest graded to date is a single NGC MS 62, and the coin last traded at auction in 2001 for $11,500.

Mintage: 31,360
Graded NGC: 168 Total, Mint State 27, Finest MS 65 (1)

As can be seen by the number of 1857-C half eagles offered at auction during the last two decades, this issue is one of the more readily available from the Charlotte Mint. Most of the examples seen on the bourse floors are heavily circulated or damaged. There have been a fair number of coins certified at the Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated levels. In Mint State the 1857-C is very rare, and there are probably just about a couple of dozen legitimate Uncirculated examples known. The finest example seen by the authors is the Elrod coin, which has been graded by NGC as MS 65. The Smithsonian example is fully Mint State as well and among the finest seen.

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Mintage: 17,046
Graded NGC: 100 Total, Mint State 15, Finest MS 63 (2)

The mintage of only 17,046 coins suggests an issue that is quite rare, and that is indeed the case for the 1857-D half eagle. Most of the coins seen for the date are only Very Fine or Extremely Fine. High-grade examples appear at auction with some regularity, but most are in the low range of About Uncirculated. The strike for the 1857-D half eagle is sometimes weak, mostly on the central portions. There have been about two dozen examples of the 1857-D half eagle graded by the major grading services. Many of these have been graded only recently and are only marginally Mint State. The finest example of the date is probably the Duke’s Creek NGC MS 63 coin. The Smithsonian also possesses a nice Mint State example of the issue.

Mintage: 13,000
Graded NGC: 84 Total, Mint State 3, Finest MS 61 (3)

The 1857-O half eagle is the last New Orleans issue of the No Motto type, and it is the last half eagle from the mint until 1892. As the very low mintage would suggest, the 1857-O half eagles seen, most are well worn, and some exhibit Prooflike surfaces. This is never a great surprise for a low-mintage issue. The 1857-O half eagle is exceedingly rare in Mint State. Just one or two examples have been offered at auction in the last decade. The finest known by far, being graded as MS 63. The coin sold for $40,250 in 2003.

Mintage: 38,856
Graded NGC: 193 Total, Mint State 23, Finest MS 64 (1)

A fairly large number of 1858-C half eagles have been offered at auction during the past two decades. Most of the coins offered for sale and certified by the major grading services have been in the Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated grade range. The date is scarce, but it is also one of the more readily available half eagles from the Charlotte Mint. There are probably only about two dozen examples of the date that are truly Mint State. Among the finest is an NGC MS 63 coin, which sold in 2010 at auction for $21,275. NGC has certified one coin at the MS 64 level, but the coin has not crossed the auction block.

Mintage: 15,362
Graded NGC: 121 Total, Mint State 11, Finest MS 65 (1)

Although the mintage for the 1858-D half eagle is less than half the mintage of the 1858-C, the coins are currently of similar rarity. A fairly large number of examples have been offered at auction during the last two decades. The reason many of these scarce coins have shown up in the last decade is the number of great collections that have entered the marketplace—names such as Bass, Pittman, Milas and others come to mind. The appearance of these coins on the market can sometimes give a false impression of availability. Most of these coins are sold into strong hands and are not seen again for years. The majority of available 1858-D half eagles grade Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated. Mint State coins are rare, with the finest known example being the single NGC MS 65 coin that was part of the great Duke’s Creek Collection of Dahlonega gold.

Mintage: 31,847
Graded NGC: 154 Total, Mint State 15, Finest MS 62 (1)

The 1859-C half eagle is an interesting issue in terms of appearance. All of the known examples of the date have a reverse that is very poorly impressed. It is thought that the reverse die was defective in some way. The 1859-C half eagle can be difficult to grade in many cases, as the obverse is usually sharp. Most of the 1859-C half eagles offered are in the Very Fine to Extremely Fine grade range. Examples of the date in About Uncirculated are scarce but are seen at auction on a regular basis. The 1859-C half eagle is very rare in Mint State, with most falling in the lower echelons of Uncirculated. The finest known example of the date is the incomparable NGC MS 66 coin that was at one time in the collections of John Clapp, Louis Eliasberg, Stanley Elrod and Ed Milas. The coin is the finest half eagle known from the Charlotte Mint. The coin last sold at auction in May 1995 for $104,500.

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Mintage: 10,366
Graded NGC: 110 Total, Mint State 14, Finest MS 65 (1)

The 1859-D half eagle has one of the lowest mintages of all Dahlonega Mint half eagles. The only coin with a lower mintage is the extremely rare 1861-D issue. The 1859-D half eagle is a rare coin in any grade, with most examples grading Very Fine or Extremely Fine. Most of the specimens seen are weakly struck on the central portions of the obverse and reverse. The rims are also broad and beveled in appearance on every example seen. Although quite a few 1859-D half eagles in About Uncirculated have sold at auction in the last few years, the date is difficult to locate in today’s environment. One of the finest 1859-D half eagles known is now a part of the Duke’s Creek Collection. The coin was formerly in the collection of John J. Pittman, who purchased it in 1956 for $42.50. It sold in 1997 for $60,500, which is more than 1,000 times the price Pittman paid!

Mintage: 14,813
Graded NGC: 118 Total, Mint State 20, Finest MS 64 (2)

The poor quality of strike is the hallmark of this issue. As with the 1859-C, the reverse is from a defective die that resulted in a very blurry interpretation of the eagle design. This was probably caused by the use of a rusty die. The obverse, though well struck, is sometimes seen with a planchet void from Liberty’s chin to the second stat. The 1860-C half eagle has one of the lowest mintages from the Charlotte Mint. Most of the coins seen for the date are heavily circulated. The average 1860-C half eagle is no better than Extremely Fine. High-grade examples are known, but seldom offered. Just a few examples of the 1860-C half eagle have been graded at the choice level. NGC has graded two examples at the MS 64 level, one of which sold for $46,000 in August 2012.

Mintage: 14,635
Graded NGC: 131 Total, Mint State 19, Finest MS 64 (3)

The 1860-D half eagle features one of the lower mintages from the Dahlonega Mint. There have been surprisingly many examples offered for sale at auction in the last two decades, and most graded in the range of Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated. Many of the coins seen are a bit weakly struck in the centers, and examples with genuine luster are rare. Mint State examples are very rare, with fewer than two dozen coins known, most of these being marginally Uncirculated. The finest example of the date resides in the Duke’s Creek Collection of Dahlonega half eagles. The coin has been graded by NGC as MS 64 and traces its pedigree to the Bareford and Milas collections. Another NGC MS 64 coin sold at auction in January, 2016 for $48,175. The Smithsonian retains four examples of the 1860-D, with the finest coin grading MS 62.

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Mintage: 6,879 (includes Confederate production)
Graded NGC: 77 Total, Mint State 6, Finest MS 63 (1)

The 1861-C half eagle has the lowest mintage of any $5 gold piece from the Charlotte Mint. It is also extremely popular as a Civil War issue, and it is of interest because of the speculation that a part of the mintage was produced by the Confederacy. The 1861-C half eagle is scarce in all grades, but there have been more examples offered at auction in the last two decades than would be expected for such a low-mintage issue. The typical coin is well struck in comparison to the 1859 and 1860 issues. The 1861-C half eagle is very rare in Mint State. There are just five or six coins known at that level, the finest being the MS 63 Stanley Elrod example that last sold at auction in 2000 for $59,800. Many experts believe the late-state examples that have a die break on the reverse through AMERICA could have been struck by the Confederacy.

Mintage: 1,597 (includes Confederate production)
Graded NGC: 37 Total, Mint State 4, Finest MS 64 (1)

The 1861-D half eagle is considered one of the great prizes of the Dahlonega Mint. Just 1,597 examples were struck under the control of the US Mint located in Dahlonega, Georgia. An additional number of coins, estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,000 pieces, was produced while the facility was in the hands of the Confederates. The 1861-D half eagle is one of the rarest half eagles from the Dahlonega Mint. Circulated examples, most in the Extremely Fine grade range, are seen for sale on occasion. The date is very rare in Mint State, with perhaps a half dozen or so coins known at that level. The finest known 1861-D half eagle is the incredible Duke’s Creek example, which has been graded MS 64 by NGC. The coin was sold by Mid-American Rare Coin Gallery and Robert Harwell in 2004, as part of a complete set of Dahlonega gold coinage.

Jeff Garrett bio

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