Civil War Coinage

Civil War Coinage

An Era That Defined Our Nation

Coins of the Civil War

Most people are aware of Civil War paper money, and federal issue coinage, minted between 1861 through 1865. However, it’s a little known fact that the Confederacy minted coins at the three Southern Branch Mints located at Charlotte North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana. After secession in 1861, this valuable Federal property was now located in the new Confederate States of America. The Branch Mints were seized, at first by their State Governments, and then turned over to the Confederacy.

At first, small numbers of gold coins were produced from U.S. dies at all three branches, and a larger quantity of half dollars were also coined at the New Orleans Mint. When existing supplies of bullion ran dry, the three branch mints stopped producing U.S. coinage and closed, and only one mint would return into production years later when the New Orleans Mint re-opened in 1879.

New Orleans Half Dollars

The New Orleans Mint is the only Mint in America to have coined money by three Governments, The United States, Louisiana State, and Confederate States of America (CSA). In the first months of 1861, the New Orleans Mint struck 1861-O Liberty Seated Half Dollars for three different Governments. The 1861-O Half Dollars have one of the most historic pedigrees in numismatics, during one of the most dramatic years in our Nation’s history.

In 1861, New Orleans Mint only coined two denominations, one each in gold and silver, there were about 18,000 Double Eagles, and over 2.5 million silver half dollars were minted before the Branch Mint closed. Of those half dollars, only 330,000 were issued under federal authority before the mint was sized. The State of Louisiana coined 1,240,000 half dollars, and the CSA even struck 962,633 of these coins.

1861-O Half-Dollar Timeline Interaction

CLICK the image on the RIGHT to learn more about the year 1861.

1861 Confederate Half Dollar

To establish a separate and distinctive identity the Confederate Administration of President Jefferson Davis determined that the Rebel States needed some unique coinage currency of their own. The CSA had plans for minting its own half dollar coins with the CSA shield.

Two attempts at this were made. Initially, the Mint at New Orleans took Federal Half Dollars, cobbled together a new reverse die and started to strike coins at the New Orleans Mint. The CSA Half Dollar had a regular federal obverse, but the reverse displayed the Confederate Arms. While it was hoped that the new CSA half dollars would someday jingle in the pockets of Southerners, it wasn’t to be. Because of Material shortages and other problems this attempt at coining the 1861 Confederate Half Dollar failed after only minting four pieces. The CSA Half Dollar was the last coin made before the Mint was closed on April 30, 1861. The four existing patterns were said to be taken from the CSA President, Jefferson Davis when he was captured by Union forces in 1865. The original die and one of the four original proofs resides in the collection of the American Numismatic Society Museum in New York.

1861 Confederate Cents

The Confederacy turned to contacts in the industrialized North to fashion a completely new coin. It was to be a Copper-Nickel cent, identical in dimensions and composition as the circulating U.S. Cent of the time. The story of this cent will never be completely known and what we do know today comes from noted coin collector and sometime rouge, Capt. John W. Haseltine.

Early in the year of 1861, agents of the Confederate States contacted noted Philadelphia engraver and diesinker Robert Lovett Jr. through mutual friends in the Philadelphia Jewelry firm of Bailey, Banks & Biddle, and commission him to design and produce working dies for their proposed Confederate cent. Lovett proceeded with his task and completed dies for the coin, as well as striking a dozen specimens, that were never delivered to the confederacy.

By this time the first major Battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Bull Run, had occurred. The carnage resulting from this engagement produced extreme clarity of thought in Mr. Lovett. He came to the conclusion that his endeavors for this breakaway government thoroughly constituted “giving aid and comfort to the Enemy in time of War.” Mr. Lovett was afraid of being arrested for treason, which was punishable by death, so he hid the coins and dies in his cellar, except for, inexplicably, one, which he kept as a pocket piece. He then proceeded to drown his troubles in drink and the story would have died with him, if not for one particularly tough night at the Bar when he spent the treasured pocket piece.

Fortunately for coin collectors everywhere it fell into the hands of an alert (and likely sober) bartender who recognized the unfamiliar design and who in turn ultimately contacted Capt. John Haseltine, which exposed the confederate cent to the public. Capt. Haseltine bought the coin and began a long process of wearing down Robert Lovett, who at first refused all knowledge and responsibility for the coin. Lovett, despite all evidence to the contrary denied the obvious until, “drunk and goaded beyond endurance, he confessed all.” He did a little midnight gardening” in his cellar unearthed the offending coins and dies and he sold the entire lot to Capt. John Haseltine. Over the years there were several re-strikes reported, and then the dies eventually were donated to the Smithsonian Institution where they are on display today.

Civil War Indian Head Cents

During the Civil War, economic uncertainty led to the wide-spread hording of gold and silver coins, and by mid-1862 both metals had vanished from circulation. With their face values linked to that of the depreciating paper dollar, coins became worth more as metal than as a medium of exchange. Most Indian cents minted during the Civil War went primarily to pay Union soldiers. Because of War-related hoarding, the Mint decided to switch to a cheaper bronze alloy. The Indian Head copper-nickel cents, minted only from 1860 to 1864, were ultimately considered a commodity rather than currency. Weighing only 4.67 grams, with a metal content of 88% copper and 12% nickel, they were viewed as an overabundant nuisance before the Civil War, but as coin hoarding occurred at the start of the Civil War, they were too precious to spend.

The Philadelphia Mint tried to keep coin production up with demand, they struck 10 million of the new copper-nickel Indian Head Cents in 1861, then it nearly tripled in production the next year in 1862 to 28 million cents, and then almost doubled to 50 million the following year in 1863, but the hording of coins caught up to the increased coin production. Finally a law was passed on June 8, 1864 forbidding private individuals to issue any metallic objects “intended for the use and purpose of current money,” like private Civil War tokens. Well the law was primarily aimed at private competition to the lowly cent, but the new law also served to end Pioneer gold coinage.