Monday, February 15, 2010

Coin Monday: Numismatic New Orleans

Feb. 15, 2010
Written by John Dale

So there was a football game eight days ago. Maybe you saw it. Full disclosure: I was rooting for the Indianapolis Colts. I grew up in Indiana, and I’m a graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, where the Colts hold their summer training camp.

(Apropos of nothing: Peter King of Sports Illustrated had a pretty amusing take on Rose-Hulman when he went there to cover the Colts in 2009, and while there wasn’t an “Advanced Calculus” course while I attended, math did start with “Calculus I” and got harder from there!)

Naturally, I was disappointed that the Colts lost, but the New Orleans Saints deserved the win. Enjoy the rings, Drew Brees, head coach/mad scientist Sean Payton, and all the rest. We’ll get you next time…

In honor of the Saints’ victory (and my lost “blog bet”), today’s coin comes from New Orleans. While Saints fans hope this season was just the beginning, the MS63 1909-O half eagle in the upcoming March 2009 Fort Worth Official ANA Auction marks an end: the end of the New Orleans Mint as a coin-striking concern.

The New Orleans Mint has an unusual history in two acts. One of three branch mints to begin striking coins in 1838, New Orleans shut down operations in 1861, along with the other two branch mints, which were also in Confederate states. While the other two branch mints never re-opened, the New Orleans Mint was refurbished and began to strike coins again in 1879.

The re-opening was only a partial success. The Mint’s equipment was old, and its existence was controversial. Production halted in 1909, and the Mint machinery was dismantled and returned to Philadelphia two years later.

The mintages for the various half eagle issues of 1909 illustrate how obsolete the New Orleans Mint was. That year, Philadelphia struck 627,060 half eagles for circulation. The San Francisco Mint coined 297,200 pieces, a respectable figure. The recently opened Denver Mint had an astonishing output of 3,423,560 five dollar coins. New Orleans? Just 34,200 examples. Worse yet, that was the first half eagle issue struck at New Orleans in 15 years.

The New Orleans Mint did not linger to strike more half eagle issues, and today, the 1909-O is key to its series in Mint State grades. The Select example to be offered in Fort Worth would make an excellent cornerstone to a complete collection. The winning bidder can do with the coin as he or she pleases, with one exception: no coin tosses. I’m sure the Vikings fans will agree with me on that one…

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-John Dale Beety

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