New Orleans native Rafael Monzon is a serious collector and dealer of
Mardi Gras doubloons.
“I move my doubloons around with a forklift,” Monzon said recently,
without a touch of bravado. “I’ve been chasing doubloons from my diapers.”
The 44-year-old resident of suburban Gretna, La., is owner of New
Orleans Charms, and also operates the website www.mardi-gras-doubloons.com.
Doubloons have been used for 55 Mardi Gras seasons, counting the one
just closed, in a tradition that has spawned tens of thousands of
collectible items from dozens of Krewes, or associations, across
Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.
“Doubloons” is the name given to the often colorful, usually
aluminum disks with special designs and advertising, that are thrown
from parade floats. With hundreds of Krewes in more than a dozen
parades in the New Orleans region alone, the number of doubloons
issued each year is incalculable.
Monzon keeps his doubloons stacked in pallets, sorted alphabetically
by Krewe name, by year of issue and by type, but he gladly sells them
in 10-pound lots (each including about 950 to 1,000 doubloons) for $29.99.
Collectors don’t have to go to that extreme, of course, but Monzon
said that a small but avid group of collectors searches for new
doubloons every year.
As an example, he referred to “seven different swapping events for
members to trade doubloons” held March 7.
The Crescent City Doubloons Traders Club (www.ccdtc.com) is one organization
that works to record new doubloons and share available doubloons with
members, as well as calculate pricing data for this niche area of the hobby.
Though these doubloons are not purely numismatic in nature,
collectors are likely to encounter them in coin dealer junk boxes and
on eBay and other auction sites, as they are often collected alongside
other areas of exonumia.
No standard exists as to what size, thickness, metal and color
combine to make an authentic Mardi Gras doubloon. Today they are
struck in multiple colors and different metals.
The early examples are a lot more straightforward.
Mardi Gras doubloon history
Mardi Gras and Carnival parades have been held in New Orleans since
the 1830s, and the custom of throwing objects to parade onlookers
began in the 1920s, according to Monzon.
The use of doubloons can be traced to H. Alvin Sharpe, who suggested
that the Rex Organization (the School of Design) use the round
aluminum pieces as throws, adding to the beads and wooden nickels
already in use.
Upon meeting with the captain of the Rex Organization, Sharpe is
said to have tossed examples of the doubloons at the captain. The
doubloons bounced off him harmlessly, Sharpe illustrating how they
would bounce off people in the crowds (unlike glass beads, which had
caused consternation during earlier parades). The doubloons were said
to approximate the size of the authentic Spanish coins of that
denomination, hence their name.
The King of Carnival, Rex, was placed on the obverse of the 1960
doubloons and the School of Design logo was used for the reverse.
Organization officials, wary of having unpopular items left over,
omitted the date on most of that year’s 80,000 aluminum throws.
Instead of lingering as unwanted leftovers, the doubloons were
popular and all of them were eagerly snapped up. Future issues were
dated, and today the undated example is one of the rarest regular
Some 5,000 of the undated versions were gold-colored that first year
(with a small amount featuring the date added), and the colorful,
anodized aluminum versions became the standard.
Doubloons are rather crude when compared to federal coinage, but
they are intended to be affordable, brief souvenirs of the festival
atmosphere during the carnival season.
Besides aluminum, bronze and .999 fine silver examples are often
made, with the latter two compositions to be used for special
presentations (they would be too expensive, and too heavy, to use as
Two pieces might be made in gold for each Krewe and design every
year, Monzon said — one for the king of the Krewe and one for his
tailor. During the period when the use of gold in coin-like objects
was tightly regulated by the federal government, Krewes took such
steps as adding a pin to the back of the gold versions to make them
Doubloons range from 1 inch to 3 inches in diameter, but most (90
percent or more, Monzon said) are 1.5 inches in diameter and struck
from 15 gauge aluminum.
Aluminum examples are light enough that it takes between 90 and 100
to equal one pound.
The sheer volume of doubloons every year has made it harder for
collectors to track them, and has served to tamp down interest, Monzon said.
No one central depository exists for information about what
doubloons are being issued since, often, different people in the same
Krewe are making them. Multiply that by 46 Krewes in New Orleans, plus
multiple Krewes in Houma and Slidell in Louisiana, others in
Galveston, Texas, in Mobile, Ala., and in several locations along the
Gulf Coast, and the result is that “no one person knows what all
issues are created for 2014,” Monzon said.
One Krewe, Thoth, issued more than 40 different doubloons in 2013,
he said, and the mintages on some of the doubloons were probably in
the 50s, for an organization with membership numbering multiples of
that mintage figure.
Some Krewes have even adopted technology that is seen on world
coins. The Krewe of Bacchus has issued a cloisonné doubloon, Monzon said.
Some doubloons bear advertising, but those thrown during parades in
Orleans Parish (the city) are not allowed to, by parish law, said Monzon.
The doubloons’ general abundance (as many companies used them for
advertising) was “the downfall of doubloons in the late 1980s,”
according to Monzon, but interest in them has risen since the 50th
anniversary, he said.
The number of collectors of new issues is in the dozens, and the
prices of new doubloons drop quickly after Monzon satisfies those
first few dozen orders every year (he also sells the pieces individually).
In general, an average post-2000 doubloon is worth about $1 each,
with those issued before 2000 trading for 50 cents or less.
A doubloon for the 1984 World’s Fair is a $10 to $15 piece in
aluminum, and even the rarest aluminum doubloon is only an $800 item.
Two price guides are available through CCDTC.com, but Monzon noted that the
value of doubloons changes depending on the time of year.
“People start thinking about Mardi Gras doubloons around Mardi Gras
so the price in summer is less.”
“If someone is looking for an economical collection, something
that’s 20 cents apiece, 30 cents apiece, Mardi Gras doubloons are it.”