1830 Templeton Reid Quarter Eagle, K-1, AU55
    America's First Private Gold Coiner
    Notable Mid-Condition Census Example

    1830 $2 1/2 Templeton Reid Quarter Eagle AU55 PCGS. K-1, R.6. Templeton Reid (ca. 1787-1851) was the first issuer of private gold coinage in the United States, striking quarter eagles, half eagles, and eagles in Hall County, North Georgia in 1830. Although the Templeton Reid coinage is classified as "Territorial" gold (since many private gold issues were struck in pre-statehood California, Colorado, and Oregon, among others), Georgia was long since a state by the time Reid struck his gold coins (Georgia ratified the U.S. Constitution on January 2, 1788).

    The first recorded instance of the discovery of gold by non-native Americans (native Americans are thought, with good reason, to have diverted European explorers from earlier finds) in the United States was an enormous 17-pound gold nugget that 12-year-old Conrad Reed fished out of Little Meadow Creek in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (near Charlotte), in 1799. For three years the lad and his father, unaware of the nature of the find, used it for a doorstop. Then he was informed it was nearly pure gold -- and reportedly sold it for $3.50, the subsequent seller receiving about $3,600. Reed, his partners, and others continued scouring the area for gold for more than 20 years, through the early 1820s.

    In 1828 gold mining picked up noticeably in North Carolina and Georgia, with finds in Burke County and more in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. The first finds recorded for the Georgia gold rush are anecdotal. John Witheroods reportedly found a three-ounce nugget along Duke's Creek in Habersham (today White) County; another report is of North Carolina prospector Jesse Hogan finding gold on Ward's Creek, near Dahlonega. Yet another anecdote (but one clearly with a factual basis) has North Carolina native Benjamin Parks finding a nugget west of the Chestatee River, near the area that would become known as Dahlonega.

    Every gold bug has heard of the Forty-Niners, but did you know there were Twenty-Niners?

    The first documented evidence of the discovery of gold in Georgia comes from the Georgia Journal newspaper in Milledgeville (then the capital of Georgia), which published this article on August 1, 1829:

    "GOLD.-A gentleman of the first respectability in Habersham county, writes us thus under date of 22d July: 'Two gold mines have just been discovered in this county, and preparations are making to bring these hidden treasures of the earth to use.' So it appears that what we long anticipated has come to pass at last, namely, that the gold region of North and South Carolina, would be found to extend into Georgia."

    By late 1829 North Georgia, then the home of the Cherokee Nation, was overrun by thousands of prospectors. Many years later Benjamin Parks, by then an old man in his 90s, would recount the "Great Intrusion," as it was called, for the Atlanta Constitution in 1894:

    "The news got abroad, and such excitement you never saw. It seemed within a few days as if the whole world must have heard of it, for men came from every state I had ever heard of. They came afoot, on horseback and in wagons, acting more like crazy men than anything else. All the way from where Dahlonega now stands to Nuckollsville [Auraria] there were men panning out of the branches and making holes in the hillsides."

    Al Adams, owner of the Gold Rush Gallery in present-day Dahlonega and noted expert on the Georgia gold rush, writes:

    "Actually the first gold rush town in Georgia was called Nuckollsville, later becoming Auraria (from the Latin, meaning 'gold'), which was located about six miles from present day Dahlonega. The gold discovery caused a near stampede of those seeking a quick fortune. The region near Auraria lay claim to one of the richest parts of the gold belt and many miners sought their fortune there. The area was named Lumpkin County in 1832 and Dahlonega was selected as the county seat in 1833, denying Auraria her claim to the title, and initiating the decline of the state's first gold rush town. This area had been home to the Cherokee for many generations. They were later forced by the government to leave their land for reservations in Oklahoma, a journey that became known as the 'Trail of Tears.' "

    Adams writes that "Dahlonega was aptly named, being derived from the Cherokee language, meaning 'yellow money.' ... Dahlonega soon became a boomtown, supporting a surrounding population of about 15,000 miners at the height of the gold rush."

    In a scenario that would repeat two decades later in California, there was a need for local coinage in preference to gold dust. The Philadelphia Mint was a perilous journey of 750 miles each way, but Adams notes that, nonetheless, the Philadelphia Mint did receive more than $1.7 million in Georgia gold between 1830 and 1837.

    Templeton Reid struck coins out of freshly mined Georgia gold for a short period of time -- no more than a few months -- in 1830, first in Milledgeville, then in Gainesville, Georgia, closer to the gold fields. Of the three denominations, the quarter eagles are the most available, while still very rare. Given the great rarity of the Reid coinage overall, many numismatists may be only vaguely aware of his name and the importance of his numismatic output. Don Kagin writes in his reference on private gold that "Reid's novel concept of privately coining money from gold dust opened the door through which more than forty different individuals and companies eventually followed, attempting to provide their communities with a viable alternative to the inadequate Federal currency."

    Reid's coinage output was limited by his own capabilities, by doubts concerning legal interpretations of whether his new private coinage enterprise was even lawful, and by detractors in the local newspapers of the day. Estimates of his total mintage vary widely and are uncertain. What is certain is the rarity of all the remaining Templeton Reid coinage.

    PCGS and NGC between them have certified 14 submissions of the quarter eagle in all grades (12 at PCGS, two at NGC); four of the half eagle (three at PCGS, one at NGC); and two of the eagle (one at each service), counting likely resubmissions (2/14). The present Choice AU PCGS-graded piece is exceeded in grade by two coins at PCGS, one each in AU58 and MS60. This coin is likely third-finest known, or in the mid-Condition Census for the issue, and it is a piece of remarkable beauty and quality. The surfaces are reddish-orange on each side and free of contact marks of any consequence; even small surface ticks are minimal. The strike is not perfectly centered on the planchet, but neither is it too far off. A few of the peripheral letters on the obverse, the first two in T. REID and the first three in ASSAYER, are a bit softly struck, as are the IA in GEORGIA.

    All of these are nonetheless minor quibbles on a coin that is one of the finest Templeton Reid coins to appear on the market in many a year. The larger-denomination Templeton Reid coins are so elusive as to be essentially uncollectible, so advanced numismatists should view this offering as one that may not repeat for many years. The Chestatee Collection coin -- an AU55 PCGS example that we believe to be a different coin, despite being in the same grade as this piece; perhaps it has now been upgraded -- brought $62,100 as lot 7706 in our 1999 FUN Signature. More recently, an MS61 NGC example in our ANA Signature (Heritage, 7/2008), lot 1859, failed to meet its reserve and was bought in.

    Even though Templeton Reid's operations in Georgia only lasted a few months at most, Reid appears to have been the eternal optimist. He clearly planned to strike California gold coins as well, given the existing evidence in the form of two 1849-dated patterns (likely struck in Georgia) bearing the legend CALIFORNIA GOLD. The ten dollar 1849 pattern is unique, and its present whereabouts are unknown to us; the twenty-five dollar 1849-dated pattern, also unique, was stolen from the Smithsonian Institution in 1858 and never recovered.

    Listed on page 375 of the 2014 Guide Book.
    From the Collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation. (NGC ID# 2B8W, PCGS# 10320)

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    Auction Dates
    March, 2014
    20th Thursday
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