Charlotte is known for its banks but in some circles, it's known for its actual money. The gold coins that Charlotte's mint produced in the mid-19th century are desirable.
"When you're a coin collector, you don't worry sometimes the value. It's just desirability," coin collector Jerry Sajbel, who runs the Charlotte Coin Club, said. "Like you show it to somebody and they say, 'How much do you want for that?' 'Oh, it's in my collection. It's not for sale.'"
Early American copper coins are more Sajbel's thing, but he knows just how much people value the Charlotte gold coins with the distinctive "C" mint mark.
To understand why, we have to go back in time. In the early 1830s, North Carolina's gold rush was in full swing, but turning that gold into currency was hard.
"All you could do was send your gold up to Philadelphia because that was the only mint and shipments were risky because of thievery en route — stage coaches getting robbed," explained Sajbel. "There were certain shipping costs you had to pay. You could be paid at a lower rate, or [there were] long wait times for reimbursements to get paid back by the government."
The Bechtler Mint, a private mint, opened to fill the gap. But then on March 3, 1835 — 184 years ago Sunday — President Andrew Jackson signed into law a bill that created the first mint branches and Charlotte was one of the three cities to get one.
It stood on West Trade and Mint streets. The mint started producing gold coins in 1838, but not anywhere near the levels of Philadelphia's mint. Scarcity increases a coin's value.
For example, take the year 1857. Sajbel said Charlotte's mint produced $13,280, whereas Philadelphia's made $775,000.
"So if you look at a low grade, the 1857 [Philadelphia] dollar is worth about $250 and the Charlotte is worth about $1,350," Sajbel said.
The Civil War began and the Confederacy took over the Charlotte mint, turning it into offices and storage space. It never produced U.S. money again.
Today, it's not hard to find coins made in Charlotte, but a complete set is rare.
"There is – and I can say this with anonymity – there is a complete collection of Charlotte gold within a 100-mile radius of here," said Sajbel. "And by complete, it has one coin that hardly any collections have."
In 1849, the Charlotte mint produced a dollar coin that was just a bit different than most of its run – one with an open wreath pattern. Sajbel knows of only five of them and estimates it would now go for about $700,000 alone.
Don't ask who has it. If he told you, Sajbel said, he'd have to maim you.