Stack’s Bowers Galleries

Coin Resource Center

The New Orleans, LA Mint (O Mintmark)

The Mint Act of April, 1792 had set the silver to gold ratio at 15:1, which by the second decade of the 19th century had undervalued gold relative to silver on the world markets. This resulted in the mass exportation and melting of nearly all U.S. gold coins during the 1820s and early 1830s, and their almost complete disappearance from circulation. To remedy this, the Mint Act of June, 1834 reset the ratio at 16:1, and the need now arose to strike a large quantity of gold coins to replace those lost in the earlier part of the decade. Up to this point, the only mint in the United States was located in Philadelphia, a good distance from the primary source of gold bullion at the time, which was located in the Southeastern part of the country – North Carolina and Georgia in particular.

In March 1835, an act was passed authorizing the establishment of three new mints, all located in the Southern United States. The first two were exclusively for the production of gold coins, located in Charlotte, NC and Dahlonega, GA, and starting in 1838, quarter and half eagles were struck at those facilities. The third mint was in New Orleans, LA. New Orleans at that time was the nation’s fifth largest city, and its strategic location at the mouth of the Mississippi made it a major port city through which a great deal of trade passed.

The mint building itself was constructed of red brick and was designed by William Strickland in the Greek Revival style. Interestingly, Strickland was also responsible for the design of the Second U.S. mint in Philadelphia and both the Charlotte and Dahlonega facilities as well. Operations began in early March, 1838, with the production of the new Liberty Seated half dimes and dimes, without stars on the obverse. Some 20 Capped Bust half dollars dated 1838 (with an obverse mintmark above the date) were also made, resulting in one of the great rarities in U.S. numismatics. Production of half dollars began in 1839, and production of quarters began the following year in 1840. Gold coinage rolled out slowly, beginning with quarter eagles in 1839, followed by half eagles in 1840, eagles in 1841, gold dollars in 1849, double eagles in 1850 and finally three-dollar pieces in 1854.

The New Orleans Mint remained in continuous operation until late January, 1861 when Louisiana seceded from the United States. Mint employees were retained, but now as employees of the state of Louisiana rather than the U.S. Federal government. By March, Louisiana had ratified the Constitution of the Confederate States, and the facility came under the control of the Confederate government. Minting of coins continued until the supply of bullion was exhausted, and consisted mostly of half dollars bearing the 1861-O date. By late April, no more silver was available for coining operations, and the building was used for the quartering of troops until its recapture a year later by Union troops under the command of Admiral David Farragut.

After the war, the facility served briefly as an assay office, but following the passage of the Bland-Allison Act which required the purchase and coining of large quantities of silver, the need for the New Orleans mint to return to operation was evident. The mint was refurbished and new equipment installed, and beginning in 1879, coins were again flowing out of New Orleans. Charlotte and Dahlonega would not be so lucky.

From 1879 through 1890, nearly all of the output from New Orleans was in the form of Morgan Dollars (along with a few gold Eagles and Double Eagles) but beginning in 1891, coinage of dimes and quarters resumed followed by halves in 1892. In 1907, some five and a half million twenty-centavo coins were struck in New Orleans for the government of Mexico.

Coinage of the Morgan dollar was suspended in 1904, and with the new mint in Denver beginning coinage operations in 1906, it was felt that the nation’s needs could be met with three mints in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver. 1909 was the last year of operations for the mint, which was formally decommissioned two years later.

During its 71-years of operation (with a break from 1862 to 1878) the New Orleans mint produced just over 427 million coins in all silver and gold denominations. (All copper and nickel coinage would remain exclusively in Philadelphia until 1908, when the San Francisco mint began striking Indian cents.) Some of the greatest rarities in U.S. numismatics were struck there including the aforementioned 1838-O half dollar, the 1854-O and 1856-O double eagles, 1841-O eagle and in high grade, the 1895-O Morgan dollar. While not ultra-rarities, the 1895-O dime and the 1909-O half eagle are among the keys to their respective series. Of course, the last strikings of 1861-O half remain of historical interest as well, being struck under the flag of the Confederacy.

Following its closure, the mint building has led a very active and varied life, serving as an assay office until 1932, a federal prison until 1943, a Coast Guard storage facility until 1965 at which time it was transferred to the State of Louisiana. Since 1981, the building has served primarily as a museum, devoted to such varied fields as numismatics, Mardi Gras, jazz music, Newcomb pottery, maps, documents and colonial history. Despite suffering some water damage in Hurricane Katrina, the old mint building remains an open and active Museum, with a focus on jazz music (including live events), Louisiana history, sports, and of course, coins!

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