The New Orleans Mint
The New Orleans Mint is a unique part of history which helped further the advancement of U.S. coinage by writing the history of money in the South, being a critical part of the functioning and history of the Confederate States of America, and it affected the post-war era through not only the money in your pocket, but in everyday life.
The New Orleans Mint helped write the history of coinage and currency in the Southern states. The story starts in the year 1718, when the city of New Orleans was founded. It was the fifth largest city in the colonies at the time and processed more gold than any other city in the colonies. New Orleans was the largest business hub in the South – it had borders on the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. A lot of gold came into the city through Mexico and South America.
During both colonial and post-colonial times, Philadelphia served not only as the capital of the country for a time, but also as the primary location for the first U.S. Mint. Not many coins were minted or needed during colonial times because many foreign coins were circulated.
In the year 1799, gold was discovered in Southwestern North Carolina, along a riverbank. The gold was kept undisclosed until the year 1820, when the information leaked – the Carolina Gold Rush had begun. Many people started searching for gold in the area. Another strike was discovered in the year 1828 in Northern Georgia. As a result of this gold strike, many private mints, such as the Templeton Reed Mint, popped up in the area.
With the abundance of gold in the Southern region of the United States, a problem arose. For the gold to be transported to Philadelphia to be coined, it would have to be taken on a 750-mile treacherous journey. There was rough terrain and the risk of robbery. The trip was also expensive.
In the year 1831, miners sent a petition to the United States government to put a branch mint of the U.S. in either North Carolina or Northern Georgia. Then, finally, in 1835, President Andrew Jackson, an advocate for precious metals coinage, signed into law orders to place U.S. branch Mints in Dahlonega, GA; Charlotte, NC; and New Orleans, LA. These three mints would absorb and coin the precious metals discovered throughout the region. However, the mint locations in Dahlonega and Charlotte were only gold-striking mints.
It was decided upon New Orleans to strike both gold and silver coins. On March 8, 1838, the New Orleans Mint was officially opened. The first coins struck at the New Orleans Mint were 30 dimes. The production of silver coinage from the half dime all the way to the dollar were struck at the New Orleans Mint, with the exception of the trime for the year 1851. The New Orleans Mint was also a large producer of gold coinage as well. At one time or another the mint produced every denomination of gold coinage save for the $4 “Stella” coin.
This mint also made some Mexican bullion coins, since New Orleans was one of the largest trade cities on the Gulf of Mexico and there was a lot of precious metals coming from Mexico and South America.
The New Orleans Mint was extremely important to the early coinage system of the United States because no dollar coin had been produced since 1804. The New Orleans Mint was a remedy to the early coin shortage in the United States. One other point is that the mint provided for maximum growth during the Second Industrial Revolution when an abundance of coins were needed.
Between the years 1835 and 1853, the New Orleans Mint was the second most important Mint to the United States under the head mint in Philadelphia. However, in 1854, the San Francisco Mint overtook New Orleans’ second most important status due to the California Gold Rush and the abundance of gold in that region.
The New Orleans Mint was designed by William Strickland, who was also the designer of the other mints in Dahlonega and Charlotte, and the Philadelphia Mint.
“The New Orleans Mint proved to be an important part of our coinage system during the two decades leading up to the 1860s. The specie that it minted help establish faith and belief in the power of the federal government. While the mints churned out millions of coins and boost the economy, they were not immune to the tenor of the times.” (PCGS, Michael Garofalo February 6, 2020)
The state of South Carolina seceded from the Union in December of the year 1860, and six other states soon joined. Finally, on April 12, 1861, the final spark was ignited – Fort Sumter was under attack and the Civil War had begun.
The New Orleans Mint operated faithfully for the federal government of the United States from March 8, 1838 until January 26, 1861, when the state of Louisiana seceded from the Union. From then on, the New Orleans Mint had become a State sanctioned asset of Louisiana. This meant that the Federal employees were still granted their positions at the Mint but they were State employees. When the state of Louisiana drained the Mint treasury they found approximately $500,000 in precious metals. Even through the short period under state rule, the New Orleans Mint continued to produce coins that would have been made for the “Union.”
In March 1861, the state of Louisiana joined the newly formed Confederate States of America. This meant that the New Orleans Mint was under both state and confederate rule. The mint continued coining money in 1861. This would have been an extra flow of currency in the Confederacy that did not possess negative or atrocious effects for the economy. Many of the ides used to produce coins during Confederate rule were the same as previously most of these were undistinguishable.
One key detail attributed to the Confederacy is a die crack located from Liberty’s nose to the edge. The cause of this is because the dies were older and worn which means it happened later in the year, so, this means that the crack could only have come from when the mint was under confederate rule. Besides, the Confederates would not have the resources to acquire a new, better, die.
To conclude, this means that the New Orleans Mint was under the authority of the United States of America, the state of Louisiana, and the Confederate States of America.
The New Orleans Mint was also a critical piece of the economy of the Confederate States of America. One way this is portrayed is that the Confederacy printed some of their own currency there to try and stimulate the economy during the Civil War period.
It was not believed that the Confederacy had attempted to strike coinage. However, later, Dr. B. F. Taylor, Chief coiner for the CSA said that the Confederacy, in fact, did strike a limited amount of coinage. In April of the year 1861, C. Memminger, the secretary of the Confederate Treasury, ordered the design of a half dollar for the newly formed Confederate States.
The half dollar depicted an obverse similar to that of the Union currency at the time, with a seated Liberty and 13 six-pointed stars. The reverse, however, pictured a shield and seven stars which represented the seven Confederate States at the time. There also was a depiction of sugarcane and cotton, ver
y lucrative crops in the South, around the shield.
In the end though, the Confederacy minted very few coins, not really enough to stimulate the economy at the time either. It is debated whether or not this venture was a failed mission.
The New Orleans Mint is a unique part of history which helped further the advancement of U.S. coinage by affecting not only the coinage, but life after the Civil War as well.
There were many effects – positive and negative – of the war on the New Orleans Mint. One of them simply being that the New Orleans Mint did not re-open until 1876, and just as an assay office. One reason they did not immediately start striking coins after the war is because new equipment needed to be ordered after it was destroyed during the war. Production of coinage commenced in 1879, when it started striking the Silver Dollar. Another effect is that the coinage from the Mint post Civil War is not known as the most pristine. “But during its existence, the New Orleans Mint struck more than 427 million gold and silver coins with a cumulative face value of over $307,000,000,” says PCGS.
Near the end of the New Orleans Mint period in 1907, the New Orleans Mint was assigned to coin 5.5 million bullion coins for the Mexican government. Then, finally, in 1909 the Mint in New Orleans stopped striking coins because there was little need for it because the Mints in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco were expanding their minting quantities. The New Orleans Mint officially closed in 1911, the machinery there was transferred to the Philadelphia Mint.
The building continued to assist the public as an assay office until 1932, then as a prison until 1943. It also operated as a Coast Guard facility, and a fallout shelter in the 60s. Since 1981 though, the building has been a branch of the Louisiana State Museum.
In conclusion, the New Orleans Mint is a unique part of history and it helped further U.S. coinage and write the history of the country by composing the history of the South, being critical to the functioning and history of the Confederate States of America, and affecting the coinage and life of Americans after the Civil War.