U.S. & World Coin News and Articles

Confederate States of America Coinage

1861 Confederate Cent
 
1861 Confederate Cent

During its brief existence the Confederate States of America was responsible for two coins: the cent made on a contractual basis by a Philadelphia die cutter, and the half dollar struck in the New Orleans Mint.

In 1908 John W. Haseltine described his discovery of the Confederate cent:

I have been asked to say something about the so-called Confederate cent. A little circular issued by myself and Mr. Randall some years ago tells all the history of the striking of all these pieces, but I do not think it mentioned how I obtained the dies. One day I was told by a gentleman that a bartender in West Philadelphia had a Confederate cent. I doubted it. Mr. J. Colvin Randall (now deceased) was told the same. He conferred with me in reference to it. We decided that if either of us obtained it we would share in any profit that would accrue from it. I saw the bartender and purchased the coin from him. It was in nickel and he said that he received it over the bar. I knew by the head on the obverse that it was Mr. Lovett's work. I called on Mr. Lovett and he denied ever having made such dies. At numerous times I called to induce him to give me some information about them, but he always stuck to his story that he did not make them, until one day he pulled out a drawer in one of his cabinets and I beheld a line of little Confederate cents. He then owned up and told me that he had eleven of them but formerly there were twelve, he having lost one. He said he received the order to make them for the Confederacy through a well-known jewelry firm in Philadelphia but that his wife became timid about his delivering them for fear that the United States government would arrest him for giving assistance to the enemy so he buried them in his cellar until long after the war was over, and even then he was afraid to show them. I purchased the dies from him, and, as you all probably know, did not strike any in nickel, considering them to a certain extent as originals, but we had three struck in gold and I believe five in silver and fifty-five in copper, the die breaking on the 55th piece, which is in existence, showing the break in the die.

Early in 1861 the Confederate States of America contacted Bailey & Co., Philadelphia jewelers, concerning supplying one-cent pieces for the South. Bailey commissioned Robert Lovett, Jr., a die sinker of that city, to prepare the pieces. Earlier Lovett had produced a one-cent-size token with an attractive bust of Liberty on the obverse and with his own advertisement on the reverse. This attractive design was considered ideal for use on the Confederate cent. Lovett then struck a small number of pieces, as Haseltine related. For over a decade the secret was kept. Numismatists were not aware of their existence.

Following Haseltine's discovery of the 1861 cents and the dies, he enlisted the help of J. Colvin Randall and Peter L. Krider, also of Philadelphia, to produce restrikes. They were careful not to produce any restrikes in the original metal, copper-nickel, thus preserving the integrity of the twelve pieces originally struck in 1861 by Lovett. The story of the restriking was told in an advertisement used to sell the subsequently-produced coins:

Philadelphia, April 2, 1874

Having succeeded in discovering and purchasing the dies of the Confederate cent, we, the undersigned, have concluded to strike for the benefit of collectors a limited number, and in order to protect those gentlemen who had the [copper-nickel pieces originally struck in 1861, we determined to strike none in that metal. Our intention was to strike 500 in copper, but after the 55th impression the collar burst and the dies were badly broken. They are now in the possession of Mr. Haseltine and may be seen at any time at his store, No. 1343 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.

The history of this piece is probably known to most collectors, but for the information of those who are ignorant of the facts we will state that the dies were made by Mr. Lovett, of Philadelphia, in 1861, who says that they were ordered in that year by the South, that he struck but twelve pieces, but probably thinking that he might have some difficulty in reference to them (having made the dies for the South), he mentioned the matter to no one until a few months since, when he parted with ten pieces, struck in [copper-nickel] which he stated were all that he had, having lost two pieces. One of the said two pieces was the means of the dies and pieces being traced. Although the Confederacy did not adopt this piece, it will always be considered interesting as the only coinage designed for said Confederacy . . .

Seven restrikes were made in gold, 12 in silver, and 55 in copper. By April 2, 1874, the date of the preceding notice, six of the ten 1861 Confederate States of America copper-nickel cents had been sold.

The 1861 Confederate States of America half dollar also has an interesting history. In February of that year the state of Louisiana turned over to the Confederate States of America the United States Mint at New Orleans which had come under control of the South. Dr. B. F. Taylor, chief coiner of the Confederate States of America Mint, related on April 7, 1879, the story of the Confederate half dollar coinage in response to a request made by Marcus J. Wright of the War Department in Washington:

Your favor requesting a statement of the history of the New Orleans Mint, in reference to the coinage under the Confederate Government, is received. That institution was turned over by the state of Louisiana, the last of February 1861, to the Confederate States of America, the old officers being retained and confirmed by the government; William A. Elmore, superintendent; A. J. Guyrot, treasurer; M. F. Bonzano, M.D., melter and refiner; and Howard Millspaugh, assayer. In the month of April orders were issued by Mr. Memminger, secretary of the Treasury, to the effect that designs for half dollars should be submitted to him for approval. Among several sent, the one approved bore on the obverse of the coin a representation of the Goddess of Liberty, surrounded by 13 stars, denoting the 13 states from which the Confederacy sprung, and on the lower rim the figures 1861. On the reverse there is a shield with seven stars, representing the seceding states; above the shield is a Liberty cap, and entwined around it stalks of sugar cane and cotton, "Confederate States of America." The dies were engraved by A. H. M. Patterson, engraver and die sinker, who is now living in Commercial Place. They were prepared for the coining press by Conrad Schmidt, foreman of the coining room (who is still living), from which four pieces only were struck. About this time an order came from the Secretary suspending operations on account of the difficulty of obtaining bullion, and the Mint was closed on April 30, 1861.

Of the four pieces mentioned, one was sent to the government, one presented to Professor Biddle of the University of Louisiana, one sent to Dr. E. Ames of New Orleans, the remaining one being retained by myself. Upon diligent inquiry I am unable to find but one piece besides my own, that being in the possession of a Confederate officer of this city, who transmitted it to his son as a souvenir of his father's in the Confederate cause . . .

As was true with the Confederate cent, the existence of the Confederate half dollar was unknown for many years after its coinage. It was not until 1879 that Dr. Taylor revealed that he owned a specimen. In April of that year Taylor sent his coin, together with the original reverse die, to E. Mason Jr., a Philadelphia coin dealer, with the instructions to tell the public of the coin's existence.

The die subsequently found its way to J. W. Scott & Co., coin and stamp dealers. David Proskey, a former employee of Scott, related how restrikes were made from the original die:

J. W. Scott bought the die of the reverse of the Confederate half dollar, together with the Proof specimen of the only known Confederate half dollar, at that time, from E. B. Mason, Jr., of Philadelphia. The United States Government had seized the obverse as its property, and could have seized both sides, as at the close of the war in 1865 the U.S. government became the heir of the Confederacy.

Scott decided to strike impressions from his die, and he sent out circulars offering silver restrikes at $2 each, agreeing to have only 500 pieces struck. Preparing for this issue, Scott purchased 500 United States half dollars of New Orleans mintage and had the reverses drilled off. Then for fear that the die would break, a steel collar was affixed, and 500 impressions in white metal were struck in order to be able to supply something should the die go to pieces, but the die held intact even after the silver pieces were struck. Each of the latter obverses (Liberty seated) was placed on a blank of soft brass and then struck on a screw press. This helped to keep the obverse from flattening. The writer supervised the process so that the workers kept no specimens for souvenirs. The die was then softened and cut across, so that no more could be struck from the perfect die. The die now reposes in the collection of the Louisiana Historical Society, the gift of Mr. J. Sanford Saltus. A couple of brass impressions exist showing the ridge across. These are now in the collection of Mr. Elliott Smith, New York City.

When all were struck Scott sent out circulars with the coins to the subscribers offering to pay 50c each over the subscription price for the return of any of the pieces, stating as a reason "oversubscription," which was untrue. It was doubtful if over 250 were sold, as Scott had a plentiful supply of them for over 30 years thereafter. He gradually raised the price to $15 each. The original Proof half dollar was several times placed in various auction sales, but always "bought in." Finally the writer sold it to Mr. J. Sanford Saltus for $3,000, who presented it to the American Numismatic Society.

Q. David Bowers has been in the rare coin business since 1953 when he was a teenager. The author has served as president of the American Numismatic Association (1983-1985) and president of the Professional Numismatists Guild (1977-1979), is a recipient of the highest honor bestowed by the ANA (the Farran Zerbe Award), was the first ANA member to be named Numismatist of the Year (1995), has been inducted into the Numismatic Hall of Fame (at the ANA Headquarter in Colorado Springs), is a recipient of the highest honor bestowed by the Professional Numismatists Guild (The Founders' Award), and has received more "Book of the Year Award" and "Best Columnist" honors given by the Numismatic Literary Guild than any other writer. He has has written over 40 books, hundreds of auction and other catalogues, and several thousand articles.
1861 Confederate Cent
1861 Confederate Cent
PCGS Library