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Confederate Coinage – 1861

Louisiana and the Path to Confederate Coinage

When the American Civil War broke out, the State of Louisiana seceded from the Union in order to join the Confederate States of America. As it did that, the state gained more than their independence from the Federal Government. It gained a United States Mint situated in New Orleans.

It also gained all the silver and the gold that was being stored at the Mint awaiting to be struck into coinage. The US Mints in Charlotte, NC and Dahlonega, GA were also located in ‘enemy territory’ and their fates were now up to two rebellious states – North Carolina and Georgia.

The New Orleans Mint and the Confederacy

At the New Orleans Mint, the employees were Federal Government employees until January 26, 1861, which was the date Louisiana seceded from the Union. On that day, the New Orleans Mint employees went from Federal Government employees to State of Louisiana employees. On March 21, 1861, Louisiana officially joined the Confederate States of America and now those same Mint employees now became employees of the Confederate States of America.

Even at the outbreak of the Civil War, coinage was scarce and precious metal coinage – Gold and Silver – were extremely scarce and very much in demand. As the war debts to European nations began to mount, those nations wanted to be paid in bullion so that converting that money into any other currency would be easy and quick. In 1861, US silver coinage was widely accepted throughout Europe and the New Orleans Mint decided to strike some coins as it had the dies, the presses, and a quantity of silver.

Confederate Coinage Mintage

From January 1, 1861 to January 25th, the Federal Government’s Mint struck a mere 330,000 Half Dollars. Beginning on January 26th, the State of Louisiana struck an additional 1,240,000 Liberty Seated Half Dollars.

These coins were used by the State of Louisiana to pay their debts and in commerce throughout the region. A further 962,633 1861-O Seated Liberty Half Dollars were struck under the auspices of the Confederate States of America. The only way to differentiate who struck these coins is to be aware of differing die characteristics used be each of these entities.

1861-O Seated Liberty Half Dollar Identified as a CSA Obverse

But the newly formed Confederate States of America experimented with their own coinage, not just with modifying the Federal Government’s coinage. A die was engraved by A. H. M. Peterson, who was a printing plate engraver for currency. It was used as the reverse on the coin with the typical Federal Seated Liberty Half Dollar obverse.

Four of these coins were struck on a hand press by the new Confederate employees of the New Orleans Mint. The first coin struck was sent to President Jefferson Davis and was engraved as such.

All four of these ORIGINAL coins survive to today, but two are in private collectors’ hands and the other two are in museum collections. When one of the two originals come up for sale, it is an exciting numismatic event.

An 1861-O Confederate Half Dollar, Original, Graded by NGC

The Confederate One Cent Coin

In addition to the Confederate Half Dollar, there was another coin attempt. Robert Lovett, Jr., a medalist and die sinker from Philadelphia was commissioned to engrave a Confederate One Cent coin. Lovett had designed and struck a number of early political medals and, later, a few Civil War tokens. For the Confederate Cent, Lovett used the head of Minerva which was used on French coins to represent “Miss Liberty.”

The cent was struck in copper-nickel, which was used on 1861 US Indian Head Cents, and reportedly only 12 – 14 examples are said to exist. As the Civil War went from an idea to reality, Lovett grew concerned that having created dies for Confederate States coins, he would be considered a traitor to the Union. Fearing prosecution, he stopped his work and hid the dies in his cellar.

Later, Lovett’s dies were discovered and sold and restrikes were struck, first by coin dealer John Haseltine in 1874. Nearly a century later, Robert Bashlow purchased the dies he also struck restrikes. These are much more common than Haseltine restrikes.

With very limited striking of Confederate States of America coins, collecting these items is very expensive and very limited. But collectors desiring some Confederate items really shouldn’t worry.

There are a plethora of Confederate States of America paper money items as well as CSA bonds available. The Confederacy issued many denominations of currency from Fifty Cent notes up to $1,000.00 notes almost annually.

These collectible notes were not much in demand 40 to 50 years ago, but there is a very active collector market today where many collectors purchase and collect specimens by Date, Denomination and even by Variety.

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