It had been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closures of many tourist destinations in my home state of California, and leisure travel had greatly diminished. Yet we only have one life to live, and with limited options a numismatic pilgrimage became part of my winter vacation to the great state of Georgia. On December 17, 2020, I drove to the city of Dahlonega to visit a numismatic landmark.
The Dahlonega Mint was one of the three original United States branch mints. Today, the mint building is gone, with the main structure having burnt down in 1878; the foundation of the original location still resides on the campus of the University of North Georgia. In lieu of this historical building having all but vanished, the Old Lumpkin County Courthouse built in 1836 has been converted into the Dahlonega Gold Museum, which was my intended destination.
Arriving in the city of Dahlonega will lead you to a beautiful town square with the Dahlonega Gold Museum in the center of a square-shaped roundabout. The streets around the old courthouse are filled with antique stores, gift shops, and a place that was cooking some great-smelling barbecue. The day I arrived; parking was in abundance before the storefronts surrounding the square. Admission prices for the museum upon my visit in 2020 was $7 for adults, $4 for youth (7-17), and $3 for children ages 6 and younger.
The quick dispatch of my money gained entry, and the museum at that time had two other visitors and a total of three staff. Front and center is a small gift shop filled with typical tourist trinkets, with the numismatic pieces of note being a postcard featuring some coins and a book about the Dahlonega Mint by Sylvia Gailey Head and Elizabeth W. Etheridge called The Neighborhood Mint – Dahlonega in the Age of Jackson.
Passing the gift shop there are two rooms on the bottom floor of the museum. One is dedicated to the Dahlonega Mint. The walls decorated with photographs and captions try to tell the story of the Dahlonega Mint and the processes of assaying and manufacturing coinage. Artifacts contemporary and reproduction are laid out to show many of the tools used in such production. Along one wall are enlarged photographs of the coins produced at the Dahlonega Mint and descriptions of each.
Yet, the highlight is the center of the room, which contains a display of gold nuggets, ore, and a set of Dahlonega Mint gold coins. The set includes the gold 1861-D Dollar, the last coin produced by the Dahlonega Mint. The hall adjoining the numismatic room contains walls with the story of money in the United States, however the room was being used as chair storage at the time of my visit.
Upstairs the museum continues with small exhibits on prospecting, the Trail of Tears, and the history of the courthouse. A video was shown to the audience of now six visitors, including my party. The movie tells the story of the discovery of Georgia gold and the removal of Native Americans from the lands by President Andrew Jackson to prepare the region for incoming prospectors and mining activity. Also covered was the establishment of the branch mints and the discovery of gold in California, which saw the migration of prospectors from Georgia to the West Coast. The film further discusses the Civil War, which led to the closure of the mint in Dahlonega and finishes with the continued mining and prospecting efforts in Georgia.
While I was there, I overheard a visitor ask, “Why is this coin was worth so much?” pointing to the reproduced page from the mint ledger book decorated on the wall; this page gave the tally of each date and denomination and the value of each produced. Since the date and denomination was followed by a dollar figure, the visitor was under the belief that it was the market value of the coin, not the total production in value. I walked over and explained it wasn’t the coin’s market value, but rather the total of the coins produced.
My visit to the Dahlonega Gold Museum lasted under an hour.
While the mint is gone, the Dahlonega Gold Museum is a better representation of numismatics than some other mint museums I have visited. The effort to educate and showcase the history of the Dahlonega Mint, regional gold history, and United States coinage history is worth the visit, especially if you come in with an understanding of numismatics. If you are in the region, I would make the effort to visit this numismatic and historical landmark for yourself!