Dahlonega, Georgia: The Other "D" US Mint

Date of Service: 1838 to 1861
Mint Mark:  "D"

Gold was discovered in Georgia in the 1820's. Dahlonega, Georgia quickly became a gold rush boomtown, and within a few years was selected as an ideal site for a US branch mint, to convert mined gold into coins.

The history of the Dahlonega Mint is one filled with tragedy and mystery. This chapter takes a closer look at one of the lesser-known US mints.

Hit the "Saga of the US Mint" link at the upper right to choose other US Mint facilities to study. The headings directly below are units of the Dahlonga Mint chapter.

United States Mint Facilities
Philadelphia Charlotte Dahlonega New Orleans
San Francisco Carson City Denver West Point

Treasure and a Trail of Tears
Georgia Gold Rush miners
The earliest Georgia miners found lots of easy picking gold along streams, washed out from mountainsides above. Public domain image.

In 1828, gold was found on Cherokee Indian land in northeastern Georgia. Word spread quickly of the vast deposits being mined, and soon the region was swarming with prospectors in search of riches. The rip-roaring start up community of Dahlonega became the boomtown of the gold mining industry in Georgia, its name originating from the Cherokee word meaning "yellow money".

Despite the successes of the miners, the problem remained how to convert their gold into legal tender for spending. The lone US Mint at the time was located in far away Philadelphia, where the raw gold could be processed and coined into money. Unfortunately, there was no easy, safe, or inexpensive method to move the gold bullion to Philadelphia, and then back again to the South in the form of coins. The trails were rugged and filled with danger. For many, the obvious solution was for the United States Mint to establish a branch facility in the place where the gold was being unearthed. Similar action was being sought by North Carolina, for the same reasons.

While the the Georgia gold discovery brought excitement and wealth to some people, it caused misery and disaster for others. The Cherokee Nation, on whose ancestral lands many of the most profitable mines were located, were ordered away from their homes by the state of Georgia in 1828. Rather than simply obey or organize physical resistance, the Cherokees fought in the courts against their expulsion. In two decisions, the US Supreme Court sided with the Cherokees, declaring that forcibly removing the Indians from their lands violated their rights. Tragically for the Cherokees, the Supreme Court ruling was largely ignored. President Andrew Jackson, in what could have set a dangerous precedent for the American system of shared power between the branches, openly defied the Supreme Court. Jackson reportedly said "John Marshall [the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court] has made his decision; now let him enforce it".

Trail of Tears
"The Trail of Tears", by Robert Lindneux, illustrates some of the hardships suffered by the Cherokee during their forced 800-mile journey from Georgia to what is today Oklahoma. Image courtesy of Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

The Cherokee land seizures continued unabated until 1838, when Georgia rounded up the remaining 20,000 or so Cherokees and sent them packing west, under military escort.

Along the difficult journey, the Cherokees lost nearly a quarter of their population to starvation, exhaustion, disease, and other afflictions. At the end of this somber "Trail of Tears", the Cherokee Nation settled in what is now present day Oklahoma, on land far inferior to that which they had been forced to vacate. Even though the Cherokee had played by the white man's rules and won, they still lost the game because the outcome was fixed. Americans have much history to be proud of, but the unfair treatment of the Cherokee Indians is one of the most disgraceful chapters from the past.

Dahlonega, Georgia Gets a Mint
Dahlonega Georgia Mint Building
This engraving of the Dahlonega Mint building first appeared around 1872. Since then, it has been used in numerous publications, most notably by Andrew Cain in his 1932 work, "The History of Lumpkin County for the First Hundred Years 1832-1932." Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

The lack of minting facilities in the South near the gold fields led to Congressional action on March 3, 1835, establishing three branch mints: Charlotte, North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia, and in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the nation's primary seaports. After President Jackson's signature made the law official, plans were developed for the actual construction of the mint buildings. As we shall soon learn, the situation in Dahlonega proved to be a greater obstacle to the erection of a mint there, than to the effort needed to win authorization.

Dahlonega's wilderness setting did not lend itself well to an ample supply of building supplies or experienced construction labor. Administrative oversight changed hands several times before the facility was completed. In addition, the project was hampered by poor communication, shoddy construction, bad weather, and personality conflicts.

In spite of the setbacks, the Dahlonega Mint building was eventually completed. By any standard, the edifice was very impressive: a two-story, 27-room building sitting atop a granite basement foundation. Located near the town square on a hilltop, the new Mint building dominated Dahlonega's town profile. Inside, the mint was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, including steam powered rolling mills, milling machines, and coin presses. The steam engines were installed in the basement, connected by belts and pulleys to the first floor machinery above. The coin presses were engineered to strike about one coin per second.

Dahlonega gold coin
This 1838-D half eagle was one of the first coins minted at Dahlonega.  The "D" mintmark is above the date.  A few years later, the mintmark was place on the reverse.  The example above is worth a minimum of $35,000. Photo courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

On April 21, 1838, a total of 80 half eagles were struck, the first coins ever produced by the Dahlonega Mint. The "D" mint mark was clearly visible to denote a Dahlonega origin. Quarter eagles and gold dollars also became regular issues, with a tiny handful of three dollar gold coins minted in 1854.

Going into 1861, Dahlonega had struck gold coins approximating $6 million in face value. With the outbreak of the War Between the States in April of that year, continued coining operations at Dahlonega became greatly endangered.

The Civil War Years
Confederate soldier
Among the first to respond to Georgia's call to duty was Pvt. Sampson Altman, Jr. Altman fought at the Battle of Shiloh, but later died of disease April 23, 1863. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

On January 19, 1861, Georgia joined other southern states in seceding from the Union. The secessionist met in Montgomery, Alabama in February to form a new organization called the Confederate States of America.

Even though the Dahlonega Mint was a possession of the United States government, the Georgia Secession Convention claimed jurisdiction over it, as well as all other federal property within the state. At first, the Mint continued coining operations as usual, producing 1,597 half eagles in February. This was the quantity reported by Dahlonega Mint Superintendent George Kellogg to his superiors in Philadelphia.

In April, 1861, Superintendent Kellogg offered his resignation to the new US President, Abraham Lincoln. The Dahlonega facility remained open, however, as many in the surrounding community were hoping to see the Mint maintain coin production, perhaps with new designs emblematic of the Confederacy. This was not to be, as the Confederate Congress decided the best course of action was to close down the Dahlonega Mint by June 1.

After this decision by the CSA government, but before the official shutdown actually occurred, a small quantity of US design gold dollars, probably between 1000 and 2000, were unofficially struck by the Dahlonega Mint employees.

Dahlonega gold dollar
A small number of 1861-D gold dollars were struck by the Dahlonega Mint sometime after the takeover by southern forces. A great rarity with obvious historical connections, the slightly worn specimen above is valued in the range of $40,000. Photo courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

Today's numismatists are uncertain exactly how many of these clandestine gold dollars were made, but the timing and the circumstances under which they were struck is reasonably well documented. Given the combination of extreme rarity and historical significance, its no wonder the 1861-D gold dollar commands six-figure values for upper grade specimens.

The former Dahlonega Mint building operated as an assay office and bullion repository for the Confederate government until 1865. After the end of the Civil War, the facility was re-evaluated for elevation once again to mint status, or at the very least, continuation as an assay office. Ultimately, both proposals were rejected, leaving the citizens of Dahlonega with a large empty building.

A New School Takes Over
North Georgia Agricultural College
North Georgia Agricultural College, Class of 1878. The old Dahlonega Mint building provides the background setting. Image courtesy of Georgia Dept of Archives and History.

For several years, the former Dahlonega Mint building existed without a purpose. Through the resourcefulness of W.P. Price, the congressional representative in Washington for the people of the Dahlonega, Georgia district, the US government donated the facility to the state of Georgia, with the understanding that it would be used as an educational site.

In 1873, the old mint building was reopened to the public, this time serving as the North Georgia Agricultural College. The first class graduated in the summer of 1878. Unfortunately, a fire burned this historic structure down to its granite foundation on December 20, 1878. Tragically, that was the end of the Dahlonega Mint.

A new college building was constructed the following year on the surviving substructure, but it was very different in appearance from the old Dahlonega Mint. The only similarity to its predecessor was the outside dimensions, conforming to the perimeter shape of the original granite foundation.

Price Memorial Hall on Dahlonega Mint foundation
The main administrative building on the campus of North Georgia College & State University is stately Price Memorial Hall, built in 1879 upon the granite foundation where the Dahlonega Mint once stood. Image courtesy of markmusicgreen of Flickr.com.

This building, destined to become the school's administrative center, was dedicated as Price Memorial Hall, in honor of the W.P. Price, the man most instrumental in the founding of the college. The North Georgia Agricultural College was renamed North Georgia College in 1929, to reflect the broader range of courses offered. Price Memorial Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

The Georgia Board of Regents, in 1996, elevated the college to university status, and changed its name to North Georgia College & State University (NGCSU). In addition to many of its first rate qualities, the university is highly acclaimed for its premier ROTC program.

The Discovery of a Long Lost Photograph

For generations, historians had lamented the fact that no full view photographs of the Dahlonega Mint building were known to exist. This all changed in October, 1997, with the discovery of an authentic photo of the Dahlonega Mint building, taken in 1877 or 1878, a relatively short time before the structure was destroyed by fire. The 120-year-old photo had been hiding in a file called "Old Photographs", in the office of the president of NGCSU. It is commonly believed the file was transferred to NGCSU from the archives of the University of Georgia, sometime in the 1970s.

Dahlonega Mint photo
Above is the only known full view photo of the Dahlonega Mint building. At the time of this photo (1877 or 1878), the facility was operating as the North Georgia Agricultural College. Cadets of the school are lined up in formation in front of the former mint. Public domain image.

The precious photo portrays a frontal image of the Dahlonega Mint building. The absence of leaves on the trees indicates the photo had to have been taken in autumn or winter.

In formation in front of the old Mint are cadets of the college, decked out in dress uniforms and rifles. To the far left are two men, believed to be Lieutenant Joseph Garrard, the commandant of the cadets, and David W. Lewis, president of the college.

The Dahlonega Mint building was standing from 1838 until 1878. In the an age of photography, it is easy to fathom that other snapshots of the enticing subject were taken. If so, has only one photo survived to this day? Are there others? Somewhere, in the deep, dark crevices of forgotten archives, other photos of the historical Dahlonega Mint perhaps are perhaps lurking. Imagine the excitement when some lucky researcher stumbles upon another magnificent Dahlonega Mint finding!

Dahlonega the Neighborhood Mint
One of the finest books on Dahlonega Mint, this one will satisfy any student of numismatics thirsting for detail!

The history of the Dahlonega Mint is one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of numismatics. As we learned, however, the more you study the legendary structure, the more fascinating the topic becomes. Oh, to hop into a time machine and stroll through the old mint!

To that end, we can at least recommend a couple of fine references: Doug Winter's Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History & Analysis, is an appealing work that approaches the Dahlonega story with deep respect and devotion, suitable for beginners or advanced numismatists.

Then there is Neighborhood Mint: Dahlonega in the Age of Jackson is perhaps the most elaborate description ever written on the story of this southern mint. Only those readers who dine on intricate details should consider this book for their personal library.

United States Mint Facilities
New Orleans
San Francisco
Carson City
West Point

1 Dahlonega, Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
2 Head, Sylvia Gaily and Elizabeth W. Etheridge. Neighborhood Mint: Dahlonega in the Age of Jackson. Dahlonega, Georgia: Gold Rush Gallery, 2000.
3 Winter, Douglas. Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861.
Dallas, TX: DWN Publishing, 1997.

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