Civil War Money Trouble: Part 2

Posted by Derek Sawchenko on

In an attempt to combat the lack of metals needed to mint coins, the north used a fairly ingenious idea to make up for the lack of coins in the market. The north produced postage currency as legal tender, in denominations of 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents. Eventually, they made small metal encasings to place the postage currency in to help it last longer due to the fragility of the paper. These small metal casings, resembling coins themselves, were made of brass, a relatively cheap metal that did not have much use in war materials at the time. This Postage Currency is now referred to as fractional currency. They lasted from about 1862 through 1876 when Congress approved the minting of fractional currency.
The Dahlonega and Charlotte mints may never have had a real chance to help the Confederacy’s plan at setting up a secure coinage system for their new country, but the New Orleans mint was able to mint coins for a time. The New Orleans mint produced 2,532,633 half dollars bearing the 1861-O mint mark. Of those, 330,000 were struck under the US government, 1,240,000 were struck by the state of Louisiana acting as a custodian for the Confederacy, and 962,633 under the watchful eye of the Confederacy itself. There were also 17,741 Gold Double Eagles minted at the New Orleans mint at this time, but it has become impossible to tell who was the authorizing government entity. In April of 1862, the Union captured the New Orleans mint, ending the Confederacy’s hope of further minting coins to support the economy of their fledgling nation, demonstrably hurting their chances of rallying other countries to their cause, and ultimately winning the war.

One of the more interesting coins to have been struck during the Civil War came from Philadelphia engraver Robert Lovett Jr. He struck 16 Confederate Cent coins, of which he kept 12 and sent 4 to the Confederacy. The obverse has a depiction of the french goddess of liberty, and the reverse is dominated by a wreath of agricultural products. An interesting thing to note, some people believe that it is in fact the Roman goddess Minerva shown on the obverse of the coin. Also, other people claim to believe that Lovett must have pitched this design to the federal government before the onset of the Civil War because the wreath on the reverse has corn, wheat, and cotton, of which only cotton was a real southern product. Eventually, Lovett sold his dies for the coins to Captain John Haseltine, who struck a number of the confederate coins in 1874. In all, he struck 7 in gold, 12 in silver, and 55 in copper, after which the dies sat broken until businessman Robert Bashlow obtained the degraded dies in 1961 and chose to strike thousands of more coins, imperfections and all. Clearly, the most coins with the most numismatic value are the rare original Lovett strikes, which can expect to go for $90,000-130,000. Haseltine's restrikes can go for $10,000 for a good condition copper, and upwards of $40,000 for the gold, with silver falling somewhere between. Bashlow's coins, being much more plentiful only go for a few hundred dollars in the best of conditions and circumstances.

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