THE CHARLOTTE MINT
A HISTORY ENDED and BEGUN IN 1861
Bobby Esparza: January 15, 2020
Front of postcard, U. S. Mint and Assay Office, Charlotte, N. C. Printed 1907 - Bob Merchant Collection of U.S. Numismatic Postcards via Wikipedia
Imagine with me: The year is 1861. North Carolina has been mostly ignored by both the Northern Union Army and the Southern Confederacy. Since the first real American gold rush in the late 1700’s, gold mining has been nearly akin to farming. Many in the South depend on mining gold to fead their families. The one lingering problem remains: how to refine this raw precious metal into coins for commerce and trade.
A Dangerous Road to Travel
As a gold miner in North Carolina in the early to mid-1800’s, you are faced with very few options to turn your hard-earned gold nuggets into “food on the table”: pay high transport costs to send it to the Philadelphia mint, risk the journey to Philadelphia via stagecoach, or sell the product to local banks at a discount. All were viable, widely used options, but what if there was another, safer and more profitable way?
Image credit: www.howtofindgoldnuggets.com
Who Started the Charlotte Mint?
Enter the Bechtler family. The Bechtlers launched a private mint in the Carolinas to mint gold coins out of the gold supplied by local miners and prospectors, which operated from 1831 to 1857. These coins were highly accepted in local trade, but an official U.S. Mint was needed. By 1835, then-President Andrew Jackson authorized the opening of the official Charlotte, North Carolina branch of the United States Mint, and on March 28 of that year, the first gold coins with the infamous “C” mintmark were struck.
Image credit: www.pcgs.com/coinfacts
Did the Charlotte Mint Make Coins During the Civil War?
With the start of the Civil War, North Carolina seceded from the Union in May of 1861. The Charlotte Mint continued to make gold coinage until October 1861, when the mint’s production of gold coins stopped forever. During the remainder of the war, the Confederacy used the Charlotte Mint briefly as a military hospital and office space, then Federal troops took advantage of the office space during Reconstruction. After a rejection to reopen the Charlotte Mint by Congress in 1873, the mint remained a simple assay office. From 1913 - 1931, the mint took on many roles from a Red Cross station in World War 1, to hosting community groups like the Charlotte Women’s Club.
Is the Charlotte Mint Still Open?
In 1931, the Charlotte Mint building was set to be taken down to make room for an expansion of the post office located next door to the mint. Thanks to a private coalition of concerned citizens, the structure was bought from the U.S. Treasury in 1933. The structure was relocated to a historic neighborhood a few miles South of downtown Charlotte, N.C. called Eastover, where it remains to this day as an art museum. Schedule a visit to the Charlotte Mint building today by visiting the museum's website here, or click the image below!
“Located in what was the original branch of the United States Mint, Mint Museum Randolph opened in 1936 in Charlotte’s Eastover neighborhood as North Carolina’s first art museum.” Image via: www.mintmuseum.org
Why Are Charlotte Mint Coins So Rare?
There are many attributes that can make a coin “rare”. Technically speaking, any coin minted at the Charlotte Mint is considered at least “scarce”, due to the low mintage numbers from the relatively small Charlotte Mint. For example, the first coin minted at the Charlotte Mint was the 1838-C $5 Gold Liberty Half Eagle (see image on page 2), of which Treasury records show only 17,179 pieces were struck that year. Compare that mintage with the number of pieces struck the same year at the Philadelphia Mint: 286,588. You can see from the very first day that Charlotte Mint coins were relatively scarce to their cousins from other Mints. In fact, according to Charlotte Mint Gold Coins 1838-1861: A Numismatic History by Douglas Winter, “Research suggests that of the total mintage of 17,179, 10,959 coined in 1838; another 6,220 were struck in 1839 but were dated 1838.” Due to “die pairings” which provide a “history” of each coin, trained Numismatists can track which coins were actually struck in 1838, versus 1839 using 1838 dies.
How Can I Learn More About Charlotte Mint Coins?
The best way to learn more about any coin or coin series is to view them. PCGS.com provides a lot of very good information to get you started on the path to being a Charlotte Mint expert, but the most concise and thorough resource I have found to read up on specific Charlotte Mint coins by date is: Charlotte Mint Gold Coins 1838-1861: A Numismatic History by Douglas Winter, which provides “information about strike, surface texture, significant varieties, diagnostic criteria, etc.” for each date and denomination of Charlotte Mint coins. You can pick up a copy of this great resource on Amazon.com for roughly $30.00.
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