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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 40, October 1, 2006, Article 2

BOOK REVIEW: GOLD COINS OF THE NEW ORLEANS MINT 1839-1909

One new book I've had the pleasure to review recently is the second
edition of Doug Winter's "Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint
1839-1909." The 237-page paperback is published by Zyrus Press
($34.95).  From the publisher's web site:  "In 1989, the first
edition of Doug Winter's book Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint:
1839-1909 was published. It popularized these under-appreciated
coins and introduced many new collectors to the field.

In the ensuing two decades, much has changed in the New Orleans
gold market. Newly discovered hoards have changed the rarity
levels of certain dates while others remain very difficult to locate."

Well, it hasn't quite been two decades since 1989, and the book
wasn't published in 1989, it was published in 1992.  Still, fourteen
years between editions is a long time.  But it's been worth the wait.
The new edition is much improved, starting with the all-new enlarged
color images of each coin.  But this new edition is more than just an
update - it is essentially a new book with completely updated
information encompassing all that has been learned about the series
in the past fourteen years.

One of the biggest changes, acknowledged by the author in his
preface, is the number of post-1880 eagles that are now known.
He writes: "Substantial quantities of these coins have been found
in Europe since 1992.  In some cases, total populations have doubled
or even tripled and I don't doubt that the numbers will continue to
rise in the coming years."

For example, I turned randomly to the entry for 1894-O Eagles and
compared it with the corresponding entry in my copy of the first
edition.  Of the original mintage (still believed to be 107,500),
the total number known is now 550-750+, whereas at the time of
the first edition only 140-160 were known.

The layout of each entry follows a common format and is very easy
to read, another great improvement over the first edition.  Mintage,
Rarity Rankings, Strike, Surfaces, Luster, Coloration, Eye Appeal,
Die Characteristics, Major Varieties, Significant Pieces Known,
Auction Record, and Total Known (with a breakdown by grade) are
listed for each coin.

To address what he felt were two major shortcomings of the first
edition, the author included research articles which in my opinion,
are worth the price of the book alone.  In his Preface, Winter writes
"[in the first book] ... there was virtually no information about
the history of the New Orleans Mint.  I am not a historian and I
felt that my contributions about this topic would be unoriginal at
best.  I commissioned Greg Lambousy, the Director of Collections of
the Louisiana State Museum, who wrote what I feel is a simply
brilliant concise history of the Mint.  Also, David Ginsberg has
written an article about how gold coins of this era circulated; a
study that will explain exactly why so many of these coins are so
rare today.

Lambousy's article draws on many of the known sources in numismatic
literature such as the 1862 Harper's New Monthly Magazine article
"Making Money" and writings by and about Mint official John Leonard
Riddell, but it also references a number of much lesser known sources.
The bibliography is quite complete to my knowledge, although I didn't
see a reference to the 1846 Merchants Magazine and Commercial Review
article by Freeman Hunt titled "United States Branch Mint at New
Orleans."  The thirteen-page article includes two pages of photos
of the interior of the New Orleans Mint and its workers, courtesy
of the Louisiana State Museum.

I have to agree with Winter that Lambousy's article is a very
valuable concise history of the Mint, and well worth reading.  There
are some great tidbits of history here, numismatic and otherwise,
such as Riddell's invention of the rotary ingot machine, and brothers
Rufus and Philos Tyler's invention and patenting of the silver dollar
counting table.  Along the way there are interesting diversions
into Riddell's conflicts with fellow workers, structural problems
of the Mint building, control of the Mint under the Confederacy,
and story of William Mumford who was hanged by Union forces in front
of the Mint of June 7th, 1862.

David Ginsberg's article is equally original, well-researched, and
interesting to read.  In addition to consulting some of my own
favorite references on this era (Carothers' "Fractional Money" and
Gibbons' "The Banks of New York, Their Dealers, The Clearing House,
and the Panic of 1857," Ginsburg uncovered a number of valuable
other sources including an 1843 publication, "The Letters of Lowndes,
Addressed to the Hon. John C. Calhoun."  The book has a priceless
account, reprinted here, of a traveler's maddeningly difficult
cross-country journey while attempting to conduct commerce with a
mishmash of different paper money issues.  Such difficulties make
it easy to understand how having gold coinage could greatly ease
the problem of traveling to distant parts of the country in those days.

On page 88 Winter reprints a delightful account by David Akers of
"Debunking the Myth of the '1841-O Half Eagle,' taken from the October
1997 Pittman  I catalog.  It's the story of John J. Pittman's 1841-C
Half Eagle, which he purchased in the Farouk sale.  The coin had earlier
been part of the Col. E.H.R. Green collection.  The New York firm Stack's
had a beautiful album of photographs of the Green Half Eagle collection
in their research library, and Walter Breen reviewed it while researching
his monograph on U.S. Half Eagles.

"Because of the shadows on the photo, the C mintmark looked like an O
to him, so Breen mistook it for an example of the legendary (but non-
existent) 1841-O."  Breen's mistake was taken as fact and carried on
through the decades while the grinning Pittman would neither confirm
nor deny the existence of the coin, saying only coyly, "It pays to
look at every lot!"  Pittman later admitted "I always knew there was
no such thing as an 1841-O Half Eagle, but I had so much fun going
along with Breen's story."

To view the publisher's page for the book, see:
zyruspress.com

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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