|Pictured here is
a sampling of the pre-Katrina coining museum at the
old New Orleans Mint. A coin press from long ago is seen at end of
hallway. When the building re-opens, this and other collections will be
expanded and improved. Image courtesy of Louisiana State Museum.
A number of impressive coinage exhibits are
scheduled for public
viewing, which began October 19, 2007. The Gold and Silver Coinage of
the New Orleans Mint display includes coins produced at the facility
since its opening in 1838, through the year 1909, when minting
operations were discontinued.
Included in the exhibit are relics associated with Mint coiners, placed
next to documents relating to the daily operations of the coining
A small coin press thought to have been sold by the Mint and later
owned by the Mardi Gras doubloon maker Alvin Sharp is on display.
The amazing "Eureka Bar" is also available for viewing. This is the
heaviest known gold bar from the days of the California Gold Rush. It
is made of .903 fine gold, weighing 933.94 ounces (about 80 lbs). It
was valued at $17,433.57 at the time of its creation. The Eureka Bar
was lost in the 1857 shipwreck of the S.S. Central America, about 160
miles off the coast of Charleston, SC. The lost ship was discovered in
1987. A collector subsequently paid $8 million for the Eureka Bar.
That is not all. There is a section devoted to counterfeit coins. An
1857 counterfeiting device once used to produce phony half dollars is
the centerpiece of the forgery section. Also, Dr. John McCloskey,
editor of the Gobrecht Journal, has provided a complete index of coins
struck by the New Orleans Mint.
In addition, the Louisiana State Museum negotiated with the Federal
Reserve Bank of Atlanta regarding a loan of 75 gold and silver coins
from their large collection. Rick Demers, a coin collector from the New
Orleans area, has loaned the museum his complete date collection of New
Orleans Mint silver coinage. Aside from that, the marquee coin
attraction is an 1861-O proof half dollar, the only currently traceable
specimen of its kind. More
on this later.
|The SS Republic,
from an 1860 painting (the ship was then named the SS
Tennessee). The 264--ft steamer was in route from New York to New
Orleans with a rich cargo intended to aid in the reconstruction of the
South. The ship never reached New Orleans, sinking off the coast of
Georgia during a hurricane. Now, more than 140 years later, some of the
coinage that went down with the ship may finally reach its destination.
Public domain image.
The Louisiana State Museum is hoping to secure,
through donations, a
number of gold coins and other artifacts recovered from the S.S.
Republic wreck site. The S.S. Republic was a paddlewheel steamship
which sank during a hurricane off the coast of Georgia in October, 1865.
The ship was en route to New Orleans from New York with a payload of
coins valued at $400,000 face value, intended to aid reconstruction of
the South following the Civil War. The wreck was discovered in August,
2003, and the coins brought to the surface are worth well in excess of
100 million dollars. Many of the long-lost coins are in remarkably good
condition, and a few of them may just end up in New Orleans after all,
more than 140 years behind schedule.
In addition to all this the old Mint will be hosting a major traveling
exhibit on gold from the American Museum of Natural History. The
exhibit features the properties and origins of gold and "its role as a
driver of human settlement and a symbol of status", the AMNH reports.
Strategies for expanding the non-numismatic aspects of the museum are
being developed, too. Look for new additions to the Louisiana music