The rebirth of New Orleans as a tourist destination means collectors who plan a visit should arrange to stop by the New Orleans Mint Museum.
The museum has been back in business for six months, fully recovered from the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And there is a wealth of revamped and new exhibitions to see.
When the museum reopened this past October, most of the structure had been renovated, along with a new coat of paint, refurbished plaster, fencing and flagstones, a new carpet and an HVAC system. A brand new and enhanced copper roof replaced what had been stripped, twisted and tossed into nearby streets by the caress of Katrina.
Top of many numismatists must-do list will be the exhibits showing the full range of coins minted at New Orleans. The museum has been blessed by the many collectors and benefactors who have donated or loaned historic New Orleans-struck coins to ensure the display is as complete as possible.
Rick Demers provided his complete date collection of New Orleans Mint silver coinage, with other notable gold and silver coins and coin-related artifacts coming from Lynn Ourso, Frank Patty, Mark Sheldon, and Robert B. Lecce.
Once again U.S. collectors can lust over that du Pont 1861-O half dollar back in all its glory courtesy of Robert LeNeve. This rarity had gone on display prior to Katrina?s arrival but, fortunately, along with all other coins, did not suffer any damage from the storm.
For those into shipwreck coins, a number are on display from the S.S. Republic, loaned to the Louisiana State Museum by Odyssey Marine Exploration. They include the coins used by Randy Wiley to describe the die marriages of 1861-O half dollars in the Gobrecht Journal that determined what was struck under federal control, state control and finally, Confederate control as the nation slid into division and Civil War.
The exhibit on the ?O? mint?s history has been totally revamped and expanded. Among new additions is a section on the archaeology of the mint. Many of the artifacts on display were uncovered during archaeological excavations undertaken back in 1978 in preparation for full makeover of the Mint?s buildings and grounds, prior to their re-opening as a State Museum in 1981.
Found objects included remnants of tools, children?s toys, animal bones, and coining implements.
Other historic items have arrived via a goodly dose of Southern generosity. One recent acquisition is a personnel ledger book recording the daily work hours of Mint employees for the years 1898 through 1900. It came via Curtis and Cora Egdorf.
Back in the 1980s the couple had taken over the lease of a local store. The previous tenants had cleared out their belongings but left a large pile of trash. Before consigning this seeming garbage to the dump, the Egdorfs had a quick scrabble through it and uncovered the New Orleans Mint ledger, plus a book providing ?Tables and Methods for Ascertaining the Weight and the Coinage Value of Gold and Silver and the Ounces of Standard Fineness Contained in Bullion from .0001/2 to 1.000 Fine,? photographs of the Mardi Gras from around 1900 and other notable ephemera. All were historically significant and all have been donated by the Egdorfs to the Louisiana State Museum.
The ledger is now on display. In contrast to the mint officers listed in the annual reports, it shows the names of the actual workmen involved in coining, and the time each spent working in the facility day by day.
Ledgers aren?t light reading, but they may prove helpful to researchers.
And visitors should not overlook the other artifacts associated with coining. These include a small coin press purported to have been purchased from the Mint by Mardi Gras doubloon maker Alvin Sharp following its closure in 1909 and its much older Big Brother: a Morgan and Orr press of 1868 that could strike up to 1,500 coins per hour.
Numismatic News wishes to thank Greg Lambousy, director of Collections at the Louisiana State Museum, for the images and information used in this report, and the sterling efforts of the museum staff in restoring this important icon of U.S. numismatic history.
A fund has been established by the Louisiana Museum Foundation to allow for acquisition of New Orleans Mint coins by the Louisiana State Museum. Any reader interested in contributing to the fund can contact Susan Maclay at (504) 568-6965, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.