The New Orleans Mint

On this day in 1838, operations at the New Orleans Mint commence with the deposit of the first shipment of Mexican gold bullion. The first coins, 30 dimes, were struck on May 7. Until it was taken over by the Confederacy in 1861, the mint produced many different denominations, all of which were either silver or gold: silver three-cent pieces (1851 only), half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, gold dollars, $2.50 quarter eagles, three-dollar pieces, $5 half-eagles, $10 eagles, and $20 double eagles.

As to origin, n 1832 President Andrew Jackson had vetoed a rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States, an institution which he felt extended credit to northeastern commercial tycoons at the expense of the ordinary frontiersmen of the Old Southwest, a region with which Jackson, a Tennessean, strongly identified. In 1836 Jackson had issued an executive order called the Specie Circular which demanded that all land transactions in the United States be conducted in cash.

Both of these actions, combined with the economic depression following the Panic of 1837 (caused partly by Jackson’s fiscal policies) increased the domestic need for minted money. Hence, in 1835 the US Federal Government established three branch mints: the Charlotte Mint in North Carolina, the Dahlonega Mint in Georgia and the New Orleans Mint. New Orleans was selected due to the city’s strategic location along the Mississippi River which made it a vitally important center for commercial activity, including the export of cotton from the area’s plantations. Large quantities of gold from Mexico also passed through its port annually.

The Mint’s location occupies a prominent place in civic history; it sits at one of the two River corners of the French Quarter, which had been the entire city, or Vieux Carré, of New Orleans. Under French and Spanish rule this location was home to one of the city’s defensive fortifications. In 1792 the Spanish governor, Francisco Luis Héctor de Carondelet, erected Fort San Carlos (later Fort St. Charles) here. The fort was demolished in 1821, and the nearby area was later named Jackson Square in honor of Andrew Jackson. As a general in the United States Army, Jackson’s leadership had saved the city from invading British forces during December 1814 and through January 8, 1815, the date of the famous Battle of New Orleans, the last significant battle of the War of 1812.

Since 1981 the mint has served as a branch of the Louisiana State Museum. Damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, after over two years of repairs and renovations, the museum reopened in October 2007. As for an 1838 Liberty Dime, they can fetch nearly $300 American dollars on the open market.

So, dear reader, if you’re counting, this is the second NOLA-centric history post this week. And if you’re not, it doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference, does it?

What say you, the people?