Dr. Sol Taylor

The New Orleans Mint

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, December 27, 2008

n 1835 the federal government agreed to construct and operate a second United States Mint located in New Orleans. At that time, the majority of coins in circulation outside the larger Eastern cities were from Latin America and Europe. The Philadelphia Mint could only produce coins to meet commercial needs of the urban centers of the northeast, and most coins rarely got as far as the Midwest.
    Two additional southern mints were authorized to coin the gold mined nearby in Charlotte, N.C., and Dahlonega, Geo.
    This was one effect of Andrew Jackson's specie circular, which required all land purchases from the government to be paid in gold or silver. New Orleans' location at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico made it the leading commercial center of the region and major port of entry for goods from Mexico and the Caribbean. At the time, it was the major port of entry for foreign shipping in the country.
    The site for the new mint was chosen in the northeastern corner of the French Quarter, the hub of the old city. The actual building was designed by noted architect William Strickland, who also designed the current Philadelphia Mint and the new mints at Dahlonega and Charlotte.
    Coinage began March 8, 1838. The first coins — 30 dimes — were struck on May 7. The mint produced coins in silver and gold and each coin bore the "O" mintmark on the reverse.
    From 1838 to the outbreak of the Civil Wart, the mint produced coins annually. When Louisiana seceded from the Union on Jan. 26, 1861, the state took over the mint and kept the federal employees on the job until the current stock of bullion ran out.
    Only 1861-0 half dollars were struck in 1861, and even after the takeover, additional 1861-0 half dollars were made — with no distinction between pre- and post-Civil War issues.
    Later in 1861, a Confederate-designed reverse die was put into use, mated to the regular seated Liberty obverse. Only a small number of these half dollars were made, and only four are known to exist.
    By midyear, the Mint ceased to operate and was used for quarters for Confederate soldiers. Following Admiral Farragut's takeover of New Orleans in 1862, the Mint stood empty for many years.
    The Mint reopened in 1876 as an assay office. In 1877, U.S. Mint Director James Snowden ordered new equipment to be sent to the New Orleans Mint, and it was reopened for coinage production in 1879. Much of the new coinage was silver dollars as required under the Bland-Allison Act, which mandated the purchase of large quantities of silver for coinage.
    The Mint continued annual coinage until the last issues of 1909. In 1907 the Mint struck 5.5 million silver 20 centavo coins for Mexico. By this time, Mints in San Francisco and Denver were in full production, and the New Orleans Mint was declared obsolete and closed down its coining operation. No copper (bronze) coins were struck at the Mint.
    In 1911, the coinage machinery was transferred to the Philadelphia Mint. In 1932 the Mint building was converted to a federal prison. In 1943 the Coast Guard took it over as a storage facility. It was transferred to the state of Louisiana in 1965.
    Between 1978 and 1980, the state used the building as a museum. The museum has been closed since Hurricane Katrina; restoration and repairs have yet to be completed so the museum can reopen.