New Orleans Mint

Information and History About The New Orleans Mint

In 1835 Congress passed legislation for the establishment of three branch mints to supplement the production that up to that time had taken place only at Philadelphia. Selected were Dahlonega in Georgia and Charlotte in North Carolina, both located near gold-producing areas. The third mint was to be set in New Orleans, not a source of precious metals, but one of America’s most important ports, a depot for the receipt of precious metals from elsewhere, especially silver from Spanish America. The city was a key spot for distributing coins throughout the Mississippi River Valley, at the time constituting much of what was known as the American West.

A very large facility was constructed, far exceeding in size those at Charlotte and Dahlonega. Coinage commenced in 1838, and consisted of silver half dimes and dimes of the Liberty Seated design. In addition, from 1838-O dies an estimated 20 half dollars were created, these becoming rarities.

The first silver dollars, of the Liberty Seated design, were minted at New Orleans in 1846, the quantity being 59,000. Virtually all wee placed into commercial circulation, and not even a specimen was saved for the Mint Cabinet (established in Philadelphia in June 1838). After that additional Liberty Seated dollars were struck for 1850-O, 1859-O and 1860-O.

In New Orleans in 1861, early in the Civil War, troops representing the State of Louisiana seized the Mint, after which it was occupied for a short time by Confederate forces. Certain silver and gold bullion on hand was used up in the striking of some half dollars and double eagles, after which the Mint closed. In 1862 New Orleans was liberated by Union troops, and remained in Union hands afterwards, but the coin presses remained silent. Finally, in 1878, long after the war it was decided to reopen the Mint. Extensive repairs and updates were made, and in 1879 coinage resumed, consisting of Morgan silver dollars primarily, but also a small number of gold eagles (1,500) and double eagles (2,235). Morgan dollars were struck at New Orleans, each year from 1879 through the end of the early coinage in 1904. A few years later, in 1909, coinage of other denominations ceased, after which the facility was used for storage and other purposes. Then it fell silent. The building still stands today, appearing much as it did during the glory years of coinage.

Regarding Morgan silver dollars, many millions were struck there, but most were simply bagged and tossed into storage vaults. Coins were made with little attention to quality, and the dies in the presses were spaced slightly farther apart than they should have been. As a result the metal in the planchets did not flow into the deepest recesses of the dies. Accordingly, it is the rule, not the exception, that for many dates of New Orleans dollars there are flat areas at the center of the obverse and the center of the reverse. Among the worst of the bunch is 1891-O, but some other dates can certainly give a typical 1891-O competition for getting the booby prize.

Today, finding a sharply detailed New Orleans Morgan dollar is generally more difficult than locating those from Philadelphia, Carson City, or San Francisco, and therein lies a fascinating challenge.