Gold Rush Coins: CAL Quarter Eagle & Charlotte $5 Gold

Apparently the term “Coin Porn” is catching on – when I walked in after lunch this afternoon, Barbara Jean started yelling “Coin Porn!! Amanda, there’s Coin Porn!!”  as she directed me into Mal’s office to take a look at our newest treasure.  After all, it’s not every day one comes across a Charlotte gold coin and she knows I’m a sucker for a good story…

Charlotte

The original gold rush of the fledgling United States was not in California, but right on the east coast in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina in 1799.  The gold was so plentiful and the area so inundated with people and commerce from the gold rush that it wasn’t long before President Andrew Jackson signed a bill to establish branch mints outside of Philadelphia in 1835.  The new law authorized the construction of three new mints: Charlotte, North Carolina (to produce gold coins only), Dahlonega, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

These three new mints also brought about another first in the nation’s numismatic history: mint marks to distinguish which coins were struck outside of the original mint in Philadelphia.  C stood for Charlotte, D for Dahlonega, and O for New Orleans.

Charlotte-2

The Charlotte Mint only struck gold coins from the ore produced in the Carolina mountains, and only until 1861 when North Carolina seceded during the Civil War.  While in Confederate hands, the mint struck Confederate coins briefly before being abandoned altogether and turned into an Assay office before being shut down permanently.

All told, the Charlotte Mint struck about $5 million dollars of gold coins over its relatively short lifetime.  Interestingly, exact mintage figures exist for the coins produced:

  • Total Number of Gold Dollars Minted in Charlotte = 109,134
    • Face value of $109,134
  • Total Number of $2.50 Gold Quarter Eagles Minted in Charlotte = 217,833
    • Face value of $544,583
  • Total Number of $5 Gold Half Eagles Minted in Charlotte = 879,495
    • Face value of $4,397,475
  • Total Number of coins ever produced = 1,206,462
    • Total face value of $5,051,192

Today these coins are highly sought after, and even harder to find.  This AU 53 1850-C $5 retails for around $4,000.

While I was admiring the Charlotte gold (I haven’t seen one in years), Mal quips something to the effect of “I think I’ve got a CAL coin around here somewhere”.  No really, he said that.  A moment later, he hands me another  coin chock full of gold rush history … the famous CAL Quarter Eagle.

CAL

In 1848, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill sparked the California Gold Rush and sent some 300,000 people running to California to seek their fortunes.  230 ounces of California gold straight from Sutter’s Mill (likely among the first pulled from the earth) were sent to the Mint in Philadelphia to be struck into $2.50 quarter eagles, and accompanying the shipment were specific instructions to include on these coins a “distinguishing mark to be able to distinguish from regular issues”.

CAL-2

“CAL” for California was added to the dies, and the CAL Quarter Eagle was born.  A miniscule 1,389 of these special gold rush coins were struck, making them extremely rare and valuable today.  This particular CAL coin retails around $35,000.

And there we have it … two of the most famous and interesting Gold Rush era coins in numismatic history!  Holding these two coins in hand evokes images of covered wagons, gold pans, and the great frontier – one more little slice of American history made tangible!  #CoinNerd

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