Bob Harwell has turned his childhood pastime of collecting coins into a profession, and now coins he collected are on display at a University of Georgia library.
The display includes a complete set of gold coins produced at the U.S. Dahlonega Mint prior to the Civil War. The coins are “the most important artifact to Georgia history,” Harwell said.
Harwell, a coin dealer, pulled together the set of gold coins for Atlanta collector John McMullan. McMullan later decided to donate them to UGA because he is a “very strong supporter of getting young people interested in Georgia history,” Harwell said.
The coins are displayed at the university’s Special Collections Library, which houses archives and provides several ongoing exhibits. The library is often visited by children on school trips, which McMullan saw as a way to share his collection with young Georgians, Harwell said.
Harwell collected the coins for McMullan over eight years. He found sources among collectors in Europe and auctions. The 62-count set, which includes all the types of coins produced at the mint, is valued at nearly $1 million.
McMullan named the collection the Reed Creek Collection, after a creek on the property where he was born.
Harwell has been collecting gold coins for 40 years. After reconnecting with a childhood friend he’d collected coins with, the two opened Atlanta’s Hancock & Harwell Rare Coin and Precious Metal Company, which is located in Buckhead at 3155 Roswell Road. The McMullan collection isn’t the first set of Dahlonega gold coins they’ve assembled. Harwell also put together a complete set of uncirculated Dahlonega gold coins.
The Dahlonega mint opened in 1838, 10 years after the first discovery of gold in Dahlonega, which was the first discovery of gold in the U.S.
To Harwell, the coins are an important artifact of Georgia history. By the time the mint closed in 1861, it had produced almost 1.5 million gold coins with a face value of more than $6 million.
The gold rush also created an economic and population boom in Georgia in the 1800s, Harwell said.
Jean Cleveland, a public relations specialist at UGA’s Hargrett Library, said the donation of the rarely seen full set gave the library a chance to showcase other artifacts in their collection, including maps, rare books, letters and photographs.
“It’s not generally well known that the Georgia Gold Rush happened 20 years before the California Gold Rush,” Cleveland said.
Cleveland also noted this exhibit affords an opportunity for education about the damage to the environment caused by mining for gold in Dahlonega. Stream beds and hillsides were damaged and miners cut down forests to build wooden shacks, she said.
Also, the gold rush was a main factor in why Native Americans were forced off lands, Cleveland said.
It also is one of the first examples of the south becoming industrialized, with both U.S. mint and private mints opening to transform the gold into currency, Cleveland said.
The coins are on display in an exhibit named “Gold-Digging in Georgia: America’s First Gold Rush” in the university’s Richard B. Russell Special Collections Library in Athens, Georgia. It will be on display until Dec. 5.
For more information about Hancock & Harwell, see raregold.com.