US Coins

Coins struck under control of three governments

Home Hobbyist column from Feb. 29, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:

Before the onset of the Civil War, the U.S. government operated one main Mint in Philadelphia and three Branch Mints: in Charlotte, N.C.; Dahlonega, Ga.; and New Orleans, La. The Branch Mints were in states that seceded.

Only the New Orleans Mint was operational under the auspices of the Confederate States of America.

History and die marriages define the 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollar, enabling numismatists to identify which coins were produced by the U.S. government, the state of Louisiana, and the Confederate government.

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Louisiana broke from the Union on Jan. 26, 1861. Prior to that date, the New Orleans Mint had been striking hundreds of thousands of half dollars as a Branch Mint of the United States. Then the facility and bullion were seized by Louisiana.

Coinage production continued throughout the month of February, with some 1.24 million half dollars minted before the state transferred ownership in early March to the Confederate government. Records show that 962,633 additional 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollars were struck through April 1861.

Researchers have identified some 14 die marriages. According to a 1993 article by Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert, published in The Complete Guide to Liberty and Seated Half Dollars, three die marriages can be traced back to the Union, seven to the state of Louisiana, and five to the Confederacy. 

Many hobbyists believe the CSA dollars have the most allure. Three major varieties are known as “Die Crack,” “Bisected Date,” and “Speared Olive Bud.” The CSA “Die Crack” is the most coveted, identified by a crack running from Liberty’s nose to the right of the seventh star on the obverse.

This variety is popular because the die used for the obverse can be traced to the obverse side of four test strikes that bore a Confederate design featuring a Confederate shield with seven stars for states that had seceded.

The coin of the three governments is popular not only because of that history but also because of the SS Republic shipwreck in 1865. The vessel had a large cargo of gold and silver coins, including 1861-O half dollars from the United States, Louisiana, and Confederacy. More than 51,000 coins from that hoard were recovered from 2003 to 2004 by Odyssey Marine Exploration.

While 1861-O Seated Liberty, Confederate Die Crack coins can run into thousands of dollars in low Mint State, you can still buy Odyssey finds at reasonable prices. I recently purchased a lesser CSA SS Republic variety for $496.

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