Market News

The Uniquely American Appeal of the $3 Indian Princess

Market News | August 12, 2020
In 1854 the U.S. Mint’s chief engraver, James B. Longacre, reached a milestone in his career. For the first time, he would choose the design for a piece of currency: in this case the three-dollar gold coin. Much of the currency up to that point favored designs that referenced the Romans and the Greeks. However,…

Monday Morning Wrap Up – August 10, 2020

Ask an Expert | August 10, 2020
That didn’t take long. As the historic precious metals rally in 2020 continues, gold hit a major milestone last week at the $2,000 per ounce level – and kept on going! Spot gold traded as high as $2,059.90 last week as the coronavirus pandemic created the perfect playbook for gold and silver to perform strongly….

Could Covid Kill the Penny?

Featured | August 6, 2020
See a penny pick it up –and all day you’ll have good luck! Remember that old rhyme? It could become a relic – along with the penny if some cost cutters get their way. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a nationwide coin shortage. Shoppers are relying on debit and credit cards to avoid touching cash,…

Monday Morning Wrap Up – August 3, 2020

Featured | August 3, 2020
Last week was one for the history books. After nine-years, gold surged to a new all-time record high – trading up to $1,977.50 as the Covid pandemic rages on, the economic data crumbles and the U.S. dollar crashes lower. The GDP report was a bitter pill to swallow – even though we knew it was…

Goldman Sachs Warns Dollar Could Lose Reserve Status

Featured | July 30, 2020
The U.S. Stands at a Dangerous Tipping Point. As gold spiked to a new all-time record high this week at $1,960 an ounce, Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs warned the U.S. was at risk of losing the dollar reserve currency status. Soaring U.S. government debt, rising political uncertainty and social unrest dominate our times….

If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you understand the hassle that comes with changing currencies.

In 1877, John Kasson, wanted to change that.

Kasson, a congressman from Iowa, was appointed as the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In his foreign travels, Kasson lamented the difficulty in exchanging U.S. currency abroad.

The $4 gold Stella coin was his proposed solution.

Who knew then, a coin with such lofty international commerce goals would fall victim to scandal. We’ll explain more about that later…but first let’s explain the significant goals.

After the Civil War and the Panic of 1873 eased, the American economy was strong and international trade was increasing at a steady rate. As more and more Americans traveled abroad for business and pleasure, a solution was needed to convert U.S. currency easily overseas.

Kasson advanced the idea of the $4 Stella as a path forward toward joining the Latin Monetary Union (LMU) – a partnership between Belgium, France, Italy, and Switzerland. Through the LMU, foreign currency was easily exchanged between member nations.

Stella Never Circulated

The U.S. mint developed a pattern coin – that was never circulated –as an example for U.S. Congressman as they debated the opportunity to join the LMU.

The fascinating and highly coveted $4 gold coin was nicknamed Stella – as the Latin word for star is stella.

The beautiful gold coin features a five-pointed star on the reverse. The Stella pattern was only minted in tiny amounts in 1879 and 1880 in two types.

Two of America’s most famous coin designers created these patterns:

Charles Barber designed the Flowing Hair.

George T. Morgan designed the Coiled Hair.

Today, these coins are extremely rare and in high demand as an example of America’s outstanding numismatic art. And, then, there’s the scandal too.

Only 437 Stellas were minted in 1879. They were struck for the Congressman to review and consider the proposal.

Stellas Were Spotted In the Most Surprising Places

Yet, shocking to many, these handsome gold coins were popping up as medallion necklaces hung on madam’s bosoms in high-end brothels in Washington D.C. known to serve illustrious clientele – like U.S. Congressman.

These brothels were famous for large oil paintings, fancy red plush parlor furniture, pricey European carpets, and real silver on the table alongside porcelain dishware. Guests and residents feasted on gourmet meals including high and mid-priced cuts of beef, pork and goat, alongside exotic items for their day – like coconut and Brazil nut. Expensive French champagne was ever-flowing.

There was outrage in the numismatic community, as none of these special coins were offered for sale to the public – at any price. Yet, Washington’s most famous madams proudly flaunted these exceedingly rare coins. Even today, some Stellas can be found that reveal traces of the necklace loops…

Congress ultimately rejected the idea of an international coin and Stella, struck for only two years, was never a circulating coin.

Notably, because the coin goals were international commerce, the obverse states its metallic content in the metric system.

See the Stella coin’s unusual inscription “★6★G★.3★S★.7★C★7★G★R★A★M★S★” on the obverse stating the gold content here.

Throughout history only a few men rose to such prominence to be instantly recognized by their initials. Oh, there’s a few of course. Like FDR, JFK and LBJ.

Within the numismatic world, expert collectors instantly recognize the initials VDB.

Who is VDB?

Victor David Brenner. If you haven’t heard the story, pour yourself a cup of tea and settle in for a treat.

Born Viktoras Barnauskas on June 12, 1871 in Shavli, Lithuania, Brenner immigrated to America arriving in 1890. Eventually, Brenner became a New York City jewelry engraver. However, his true passion was medals, sculpting and numismatics too!

Brenner honed his artistic sculpting and engraving skills, spending three years in Paris studying art and improving his craft. By 1906, Brenner returned to New York City and rose to prominence as his artistic fame grew. He created hubs and dies to make medals.

One of his most sought after pieces was a plaque of President Abraham Lincoln.

His talent caught the eye of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1908, the President hand-picked Brenner to design a medal commemorating the Panama Canal.

Around this time, it was just after the passing of renowned artist and coin designer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1907, the U.S. Mint was on the hunt for new designers.

President Roosevelt wanted a new coin to honor the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (1809-1909). He explored the idea of featuring an image of Lincoln on the coin as he considered and ultimately accepted the proposal submitted by Victor David Brenner.

Unlike Saint-Gaudens, Brenner was a passionate numismatist himself.

In 1894, Brenner had joined the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society. Also, Brenner was one of the original founders of the New York Numismatic Club, which regularly met at Keen’s Old English Chop House, a fancy restaurant for the well-to-do.

First Regular Issue US Coin To Feature a Real Person

Replacing the Indian head cent, the public eagerly anticipated the release of the new Lincoln cent in 1909.

Indeed, this was the first ever regular issue coin in American history to feature a real person!

On August 2, 1909, the police were called in to keep the crowds in order, as the coin was distributed for the first time at the Sub-treasury building on Wall Street. Newsboys famously took advantage of the huge demand, nearly doubling their money after braving long lines selling their Lincoln cents at three for a nickel.

Within a few short days, controversy and scandal broke out over Brenner’s initials V.D.B on the reverse.

Complaints emerged over the size and placement of the initials.

Indeed, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh approved the coin’s design months before the release. Dodging responsibility for the initials, MacVeagh said he had not noticed the offending V.D.B.

There is no actual proof. But, historical anecdotes suggest that U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber held a grudge since he was passed over for the honor of creating this coin and that he helped fuel the initials controversy.

Swiftly only a few days after production began, MacVeagh sent a message: “Stop the mints!” He halted production of the coin and ordered the initials removed.

In that short time, however, almost 28 million cents were struck in Philadelphia and 484,000 at the San Francisco Mint.

The public caught wind of this and, amid rumors that VDB cents would be recalled and destroyed, people hoarded the brand new coins.

The lasting result is that some 1909 cents feature the V.D.B. initials, while most do not.

Interestingly, the initials were restored in 1918.

This Beloved Coin is Essential to Any Complete Lincoln Cent Collection

The Lincoln cent was the only coin ever designed by Brenner, but his tribute lives on as one of the most popular and widely used coins in American history.

Highly prized and hard to find. See it here.

Want to read more? Subscribe to the Blanchard Newsletter and get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

Charles E. Barber, the sixth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, set out to design a set of coinage consisting of a new dime, quarter and half dollar. While the coins would ultimately carry his name (“Barber coins”) he decided to invite artists to submit designs for the new pieces. Artists were asked to submit models in low relief for judging. Barber’s guidelines were more stringent than those of previous competitions. He required that each submission feature the lettering to be included on each piece so that he and others could get a sense of the final look of the complete piece.

While the competition was open to the public, Andrew Mason, the superintendent of the New York Assay Office, specifically called on ten artists to submit entries. The list included renowned sculptures and painters like Daniel Chester French, remembered for his 1920 statue of President Lincoln, and Kenyon Cox, known for his multi-disciplinary talents ranging from sketch work to poetry. The winner would receive a $500 cash prize. However, soon after initiating the competition problems surfaced.

The artists invited to compete responded with a list of amendments to the guidelines. They asked that each artist be paid for their submitted work. They also asked that the work be judged by their peers and that each coin would be designed by a single artist to ensure a consistent style within each piece. Finally, the artists requested more time to complete their work. Officials declined these terms. They cited limited funds explaining that they only had enough money to pay one winner.

In the meantime, the judges began receiving entries from the general public. After reviewing each they determined that none were suitable. Officials were disappointed by what they perceived as a lack of artistic talent displayed by the various attempts. Soon after, Barber took it upon himself to complete the design work.

Barber turned to French coinage for inspiration. Following these initial designs, Barber and Mint Director Edward O. Leech had several long communications with each other as they contentiously debated the best look for the coins.

The final design of each denomination shows the head of Liberty with a crown of olive branches. The reverse side of the quarter shows a heraldic eagle with a scroll inscribed with “E Pluribus Unum.” Gripped in the right claw is an olive branch and in the left is a bundle of thirteen arrows. Upon minting, the designs received mixed reviews. In time, changes were necessary, but not as a response to those who were critical of the design. Instead, the design adjustments were for a more practical reason; people complained that the coins would not stack properly.

As a result of the alteration, there is a “Type I” coin and a “Type II” version of the 1892 quarter. In 1900, Barber made additional changes to the quarter resulting in a thinner piece allowing for 21 coins to stack in the space of 20 of the previous version. Barber’s design was used from 1892 to 1916 with the 1901-S quarter remaining a considerable rarity, along with the 1896-S and the 1913-S.

Want to read more? Subscribe to the Blanchard Newsletter and get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

If you collect rare coins, you are probably familiar with the Winged Liberty Head Dime, popularly known as the “Mercury” Dime.

The U.S. mint struck this beloved coin from 1916 until 1945. This is one of the most popular and iconic coins that numismatists acquire for sets. Easy availability of most of the years is one reason that even beginning collector will reach the satisfying goal of owning a Mercury Dime set.

Within the Mercury Dime series, there are only a few absolute rarities and there is only one that is hard to find.

The 1916-D is the scarcest major key date and rarity within the Mercury Dime series. Only 264,000 were struck and we have one. You can see it here. A numismatic collector paid a record $207,000 for the 1916-D back in 2010 for a MS67 specimen.

Why did the 1916-D Mercury Dimes have such a low mintage of only 264,000?

Production of this coin was halted after the U.S. Treasury department entered an urgent order late in the year for 4 million quarter dollars.

Collectors seek to add 1916-D Mercury dimes to their collections due, in part, to its low mintage and because of their unique status as first ‘year-of-issue’ type coins. Some type collectors only acquire first-year coins.

Renowned sculptor Adolph A. Weinman designed this highly sought after coin. Even during its years of production, collectors clamored to own these coins for their collections.

Some Americans confused the depiction on the reverse of the coin of a young Liberty with the Roman god Mercury, which is how it’s popular name caught on. The coin’s design received positive reviews within the artistic community. However, some modifications were required as the coin did not perform well in vending machines.

The Mercury dime is struck with 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper and the coin contains just over .072 troy ounces of silver.

Have you embarked on the journey of collecting sets? We’d love to hear about your experiences in a comment below! Many collectors find that their enjoyment of this hobby and investment increases exponentially when you set goals and acquire sets. From a financial perspective, one of the best way to invest in rare coins is to acquire sets. In fact, many collections have been sold as a whole for more than the total value of the individual coins. If you have any questions about the types of sets that could be a good fit for your interests and financial goals, give Blanchard a call today!

Want to read more? Subscribe to our newsletter and get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

Many numismatists acquire rare coins for their rich history, exquisite beauty and absolute uniqueness. Owning early U.S. American gold and silver coins opens a window to a bygone era in history and invites exploration of the exciting years as our nation developed. Once you begin learning about rare coins, the interest, love and appreciation for this unique asset class grows stronger.

Beyond the pure aesthetics of rare coin ownership, there is proven historical research that reveals just how powerful an allocation to numismatics can be for your long-term portfolio growth.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is upending traditional monetary and fiscal policy, the case for acquiring rare coins right now is at its strongest in a decade. Let’s look first at three elements that investors desire in any asset class: liquidity, safety and yield, and consider how rare coins stack up (no pun intended).

Rare coins are liquid. The definition of a liquid investment is how quickly and easily you can access your cash if you need to sell. Rare coins, especially those highly prized by numismatics like $20 gold Saint-Gaudens are one of the most liquid assets you can find. Not only do these rare coins offer intrinsic value (the gold content of the coin), they offer increased value over bullion due to their rarity. This is one of the most easily recognizable rare coins and offers the ultimate security of liquidity if you ever need to sell fast.

Rare coins are safe. Investments in rare coins are safe when you consider the return of your money. Over the past 20 years U.S. rare coin values have more than quadrupled and the asset class remains in a rising uptrend. Given the intrinsic and rarity value of numismatics, this investment offers you a safe-haven asset that will protect your future purchasing power and assure the return of your money.

Rare coins offer yield. Best of all, rare coins offer the opportunity for dramatic price appreciation. In fact, rare coins of all types returned an average annual 10% yield from 1979-2019. That is an incredible double-digit return over four decades.

Gold Is Money

Why rare coins right now? Gold bullion has outperformed every G-10 currency so far in 2020 and also did so last year. The same trend is unfolding in emerging market currencies, where gold is outpacing all major emerging market fiat currencies in 2019 and 2020.

The coronavirus will leave a significant hangover for the U.S. economy long after the lock-down orders have been lifted. The U.S. government will be saddled with a legacy of higher debt and an overinflated fiat currency. Looking ahead, interest rates in the United States and major G-10 economies will be at zero or negative for a long period ahead. The International Monetary Fund says the global economy is facing the worst recession in 90 years. In this environment of money printing and fiat currency degradation, gold is returning to the forefront as the only true store of value for one’s assets.

Rare coin values tend to outpace gains of the underlying metal (gold, silver) during periods of economic weakness, inflation and bear markets in stocks. Bank of America now forecasts gold to rise to $3,000 an ounce over the next 18-months. Saxo Bank targets gains in gold to $4,000 an ounce. Bank of America also upped its silver forecast projecting gains to $20 an ounce over the next year.

If you’d like to leverage the bull market in metals to the maximum, investments in rare coins offer you an opportunity of a generation right now. Digging deeper, Saint-Gaudens are the rare coins that most often mimic the movements of gold bullion. The $20 Saint-Gaudens series are rare gold coins minted from 1907 to 1933 and were minted with .96750 ounce pure gold.

While Saints do mimic gold price movements, once gold starts a significant run – like it is doing right now, Saints can significantly outperform gold prices. That means with gold in a major bull market, Saint-Gaudens have the potential to increase even more in the years ahead.

The California Gold Rush changed the firmament of American life. Nearly 300,000 people came to the state seeking to stake their claim and pull new found wealth from the ground. However, this adventurous spirit precipitated some serious problems. Many indigenous populations were forced off their lands by opportunistic “forty-niners,” a reference to those flocking to California during the peak of the gold rush in 1849.

In fact, the gold rush was so momentous that its effects extended all the way to Congress where people like James Iver McKay began to notice that the gold supply in the country was increasing markedly. Eventually, he drafted legislation calling for the issuance of the Liberty Head double eagle coin. The piece was originally intended to facilitate the transfer of large sums between parties.

After considerable collaboration the final design settled on an obverse depicting the head of Liberty. She has thirteen stars surrounding her as a representation of the original US states. The reverse side featured a heraldic eagle with a double ribbon reading “E Pluribus Unum.” As the case with nearly any new coin issuance, the piece was initially met with some dissatisfaction. The Journal of Commerce, for example suggested that the coin should include an image of George Washington and that the eagle should be designed “standing out as if it were not ashamed of itself.” Few hold these opinions today as the double eagle design remains popular with collectors.

The 1873 version of the coin was part of the “Type II” issuance which were minted between 1866 and 1876. During this period of upheaval in the stemming from the Civil War Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase responded for calls to imbue the coin with a reference to faith. Therefore, he and others decided to inscribe the coin, and nearly all other coins, with “In God We Trust.” To accomplish this change the designer enlarged the circle of stars on the reverse placing the new text within the stars.

By the end of 1872 another change, this one more practical, was requested. Chief Coiner A. Loudon Snowden indicated that the “3” appearing in the date of the coin could be easily mistaken for an “8.” This change is what led to the two versions we have today, an “Open 3,” and a “Closed 3” design.

On the Closed 3 design the knobs of the “3” are identical in size and shape. In contrast, the Open 3 design features a slightly smaller upper knob. The Open 3 version is estimated to be approximately three times more rare than the Closed 3 variety.

This detail is what gives the 1873-S $20 Open 3 its charm. It is a minor, but noticeable change that has come to represent the nuanced appeal that compels coin enthusiasts to seek out the unusual and obscure. In fact, almost none of the pieces struck at the Carson City Mint in Nevada and the San Francisco Mint include the Open 3 design.

Today, the coin enjoys a unique reputation among collectors who hold the piece in esteem for both its rarity and enduring record of US history.   

 

Subscribe to our newsletter! Get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

 

Soon after World War I ended, the US decided to commemorate the peace that followed with a dollar coin. When it came time to design the artwork officials had the idea to host a competition. Artists could submit designs and a winner would be selected and receive the honor of seeing 1921 Peace Dollartheir work on an approved piece of US currency consisting almost entirely of silver. Additionally, the winner would be awarded $1,500 in prize money. The coin was referred to as the Peace dollar.

Italian American sculptor Anthony de Francisci submitted a design which was unanimously selected by the official judges. The win was especially impressive given that de Francisci was the youngest of the artists to enter the competition. He was only 34. His wife Teresa served as the model for Liberty. It was, however, another characteristic of his work that sparked outrage.

To visually represent the theme of peace, de Francisci included imagery of an eagle perched on a broken sword. When the first written descriptions of the artwork were shared with the public many people admonished de Francisci and other officials by citing the work as emblematic of defeat. One editorial, printed in the New York Herald, remarked that “a broken sword carries with it only unpleasant associations.” The author continued, “it is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism.”

It is likely that this sentiment was shared by others because not long after the printing of the editorial officials relented and decided to move the broken sword. They did so by hiring another artist to adjust other elements in the design in such a way as to cover the broken sword. To achieve this effect the artist made alterations to the eagle’s talons and the olive branches that were part of the original image. Accentuating these features obscured the parts of the original people believed to be defeatist.

Eventually, the design earned approval and in 1921 the US Mint struck over one million pieces. The coin was eventually released to the public in early January of 1922 with a composition of .900 silver and .100 copper. In time, the mint in Denver and in San Francisco issued additional pieces along with the Philadelphia mint. In 1922 alone, the total combined issuance of these three mints was 84 million pieces. By 1928 the mints ended their issuance of the Peace dollars.

However, in 1934 the US resumed minting the Peace dollar. This resurgence was the result of a newly passed Congressional act which mandated that the mint would purchase bulk quantities of silver which, at the time, could be bought at record low prices. As a result, between 1934 and 1935 the US mint struck approximately seven million additional Peace dollars.

Today this single coin represents so many aspects of American culture. It represents the ambitions of a young Italian American, a celebration of peace, and the ingenuity of the mints that were able to issue such vast quantities.

 

Subscribe to our newsletter! Get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

 

It is often called one of the most beautiful U.S. coins.

For serious collectors, the impressive 1907 High Relief Double Eagle designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is often their first major purchase. For others, this prized $20 gold coin represents an aspirational trophy, which is highly coveted in the numismatics world.

What makes this unique coin so special?

For starters, the story behind the development of these coins is legendary.

Affectionately known as “Saints,” these awe-inspiring coins exist due to the partnership between two monumental historical figures of their day.

Not a big fan of American coins in circulation President Theodore Roosevelt called their design “atrocious hideousness.” He set out to rectify that.

President Roosevelt began his vision to reshape the nation’s coinage unleashing the majestic talent of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a brilliant sculptor of that time. As the story goes, at a Washington dinner party one evening, Roosevelt tasked Saint-Gaudens with the grand undertaking to redesign America’s gold coins.

Both men admired Greece’s ancient coins and agreed that U.S. gold coins developed in that fashion would be a monumental achievement. They were right. Today, 113 years after this coin was minted, it still takes your breath away.

High Relief Made Coin Difficult to Stack

There is a relatively high survival rate of the mintage of just over 12,000 of the 1907 High Relief Double Eagles. Rumor has it, collectors immediately started acquiring these coins right after their minting.

These Saints were intensely desired due to their unique High Relief pattern. While the high relief is one of the features that collectors most admire today, it was also the reason the coin pattern was not continued. The high relief pattern, while beautiful, created problems for bankers who wanted to stack coins in back offices and also challenges in everyday commerce.

Other Unique Characteristics of 1907 Saints

The obverse of the coin shows the date in Roman numerals!

Also, the omnipresent IN GOD WE TRUST motto is noticeably absent from this coin. President Roosevelt believed the coin could be used for ungodly activities like gambling (or worse!) and did not want the name of God used on the coin.

The Coin’s Appearance

If you haven’t held a $20 Gold Double Eagle in your hand, imagine this.

The obverse showcases a dramatic full-length portrait of Liberty in a flowing gown, heralding a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left. She is featured in full stride with rays of sunlight behind her. Above her the word LIBERTY sits atop the coin.

See this beauty here.

 

Subscribe to our newsletter! Get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

She is a busty beauty with flowing long hair.

This 1806 classic silver half dollar, the Draped Bust, has outstanding eye appeal and a natural heft to hold in your hand.1806 Draped Bust Half Silver Dollar

Congress first authorized the creation of a half dollar in April, 1792. The Draped Bust version was struck from 1796 through 1807.

Collectors have numerous varieties to choose from when selecting 1806 half dollars. The one in our current inventory is one of the rarest: a Pointed 6 and, on the reverse, with stems through claw.

These coins were engraved by the very first Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint – Robert Scot. The obverse features Liberty with long flowing hair facing right. LIBERTY and the date are featured at top and bottom with 13 stars encircling the coin.

The reverse reveals a heraldic bald eagle design. The eagle as it holds arrows and an olive branch with its talon, our version shows the stems through its claw.

Silver half dollars from the Flowing Hair motif to the Draped Bust version to the Barber half dollars have attracted a large and active collector base. This outstanding specimen will appeal to numismatics of high quality rarities as well as those specializing in early half dollar varieties.

A Year to Remember

Thomas Jefferson was president in 1806. This year also marked the date when the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the Pacific Ocean and began traveling home. Congress authorized the first National road, which became today’s Federal Highway system. Andrew Jackson fought his second duel in this year, killing Charles Dickinson who accused Jackson’s wife of bigamy.

Looking Back

In 1792, Congress passed a law stating that American money must be made of gold, silver and copper. In the early years, the U.S. Mint used gold to create the $10, $5, and $2.50 pieces. The dollar, half dollar, quarter, dime, and half dime were made of silver and the cent and half cent were made of copper.

This is an opportunity to own a unique piece of United States history – an early silver half dollar. We only have one. See it here. If you’d like to own this beauty, act fast before someone else grabs it.

 

Subscribe to our newsletter! Get our tales from the vault, our favorite stories from around the world and the latest tangible assets news delivered to your inbox weekly.

 

 

It was the year 1835. Large quantities of gold were being shipped overland to the East, only to be waylaid by bandits en route. So the U.S. Congress, in a moment of wisdom, declared that branch mints be established in three southern cities, including the grand dame herself: New 1897 New Orleans MintOrleans.

From its beginning, the New Orleans Mint was vitally important. One reason is New Orleans’ location at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which made it pivotal for trading throughout the Midwest. Additionally, more foreign trade was transacted in New Orleans at the time than in any other city in America. Vast quantities of gold and silver minted in Mexico and South America flowed into the city. And then there’s the fact that there was simply a woeful shortage of coins at the time. The Philadelphia Mint had been our nation’s only mint before 1838, the U.S. was rapidly growing, and—as we all know—paying for stuff in gold dust gets cumbersome after a while.

Things cranked along without great incident at the New Orleans Mint until, in 1861, the Confederate States of America seized the facility from the state of Louisiana, which had seceded from the Union. This was one of the South’s first acts of defiance (if you want to make an impact, hit ’em in the purse strings). The mint struck four half dollars with a Confederate design on one side, but all coin production quickly stopped, as the facility suffered from dwindling resources and increasing disarray.

After a little over a year of Confederate rule, the Union captured New Orleans and instituted a severe and unpopular period of martial law. The two-way hostility is perhaps best exemplified by this incident: a riverboat gambler climbed onto the roof of the mint, tore down the U.S. flag that hung there, and ripped the flag into shreds. The Union military governor of the city then had him hung—from a flagstaff projecting horizontally from the mint building.

The mint building served as an assay office for a while, until coin production resumed in 1879 with the Morgan Silver Dollar and continued until 1909. Today, the mint building houses a museum.