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The Civil War began

150 years ago in

April 1861. The

SS Republic fought on both sides of the war

Silver coins on the

SS Republic shipwreck site

 
Concreted silver coins, prior to full conservation
 

An example of one of

the Liberty silver half

dollars recovered from

the SS Republic

 

New Orleans Mint - Liberty Seated Half Dollars

Struck by the U.S. Government, State of Louisiana and Confederate States of America, Found on the SS Republic!

 

A treasure within a treasure
When Odyssey discovered the 1865 wreck of the SS Republic, they recovered an unprecedented treasure of Civil War-era Liberty Seated half dollars 1700 feet deep in the Atlantic. Coin experts studying this impressive cache have been able to segment half dollars struck at the historical New Orleans Mint by three different governments—the United States, the State of Louisiana and the Confederate States of America (CSA)—all having operated the mint at one point during the first year the Civil War started!

With Louisiana's secession from the Union in February of 1861, the New Orleans Mint, which had been producing coins since 1838, was now run by the State. Using the existing federal dies, the State of Louisiana continued to mint coins for approximately one month until joining the Confederate States of America. At this time, the Confederate States of America assumed control of the mint, producing silver half dollars up until April 30, 1861.

How were the government determinations made?
In April of 1861, the Secretary of the Confederacy, C.G. Memminger wanted a unique reverse design created for the half dollar. A local engraver A. H. M. Patterson soon created a distinctive reverse die with the inscription “Confederate States of America” which was “married” with the regular Liberty Seated obverse for a test striking. The obverse die bore a distinct tiny crack extending from the bridge of Miss Liberty's nose to the border at the left of the coin. Only four of these “Patterson” CSA half dollars were struck and one sold at auction in 2003 for an astounding $632,500.

Interestingly enough, for the next 132 years, the 1861-Os struck by the Union, the State of Louisiana, and the Confederate States of America were all considered indistinguishable from one another, with the exception to what had become known as the “CSA Die Crack.” This led coin experts to surmise that coins with this distinctive mark, even those with the standard Union reverse, must have been struck during Confederate control of the mint.

However, most experts agreed that striking one million coins with a single die would be difficult, if not impossible, and therefore assumed there had to be a number of coins struck during Confederate control that did not feature this distinctive die crack. Knowing there had to be a sequence in which the minting dies were paired, experts then set out to determine just what that specific sequence was. By finding subtle differences, such as the position of the date on each of the six obverses used in 1861, they were able to separate each of the obverses used. Applying similar techniques for the reverse of the coins, coin experts were able to establish that there were also six reverses used during 1861. Since it was already known which obverse had been used to strike the four “Patterson” CSA half dollars, they started with that die marriage to begin identifying the other obverse and reverse dies used in order to create a proper pairing sequence—resulting in a total of 15 die marriages.

This extensive examination of each individual coin has for the first time permitted Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) to certify the die marriage and attribution of each SS Republic 1861-O Liberty Seated half dollar coin to the Union, the State of Louisiana, or the Confederate States of America (CSA). In combining one of each unique coin, Odyssey has created a limited number of historical New Orleans Mint “Three Government Sets” for collectors and history enthusiasts.

The New Orleans Mint
The New Orleans Mint in Louisiana has one of the richest histories of all the U.S. Mints and is the only southern mint to have survived the Civil War. The Dahlonega, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina Mints ceased production of coins in 1861 and never minted again.

Odyssey is proud to showcase a rare collection of coins recovered from the SS Republic, including examples of all 1861-O die marriages, on display at the New Orleans Mint (known today as the Old U.S Mint), currently operated by the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans.

A Note from Odyssey Principal Marine Archaeologist Neil Cunningham Dobson

As a marine archaeologist I get the privilege to discover, recover and handle artifacts that have not been seen or touched since they were lost. One large part of my job is to share my discoveries through various media, such as academic papers, presentations, and specialist magazines.

A very proud moment in my archaeological career occurred when I visited New Orleans where I was presenting a paper at a conference in early 2010. I paid a visit to the New Orleans Mint (known today as the Old U.S Mint), currently operated by the Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans. In this wonderful museum I saw the equipment and machinery that was used to mint coins. A few feet away from one of the coin presses there was a display case with a rare collection of coins recovered from the SS Republic. A great sense of pride and achievement swept through my body as I realized that the story of the New Orleans minted coins from the SS Republic started their journey here, were lost on a shipwreck, were discovered and brought back to be displayed a few feet from where they were made for anyone to see and study. As an archaeologist this is the icing on the cake and is a credit to all my colleagues at Odyssey who made this possible.

 

If you are a coin dealer interested in becoming an Odyssey Authorized Coin distributor, please send your contact information to sales@shipwreck.net

To read about some of the other artifacts and treasure found on the SS Republic, please click here.

 

 

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