Gold was first discovered in North Carolina in 1799, but it was five years before anyone made the arduous journey to deposit some at the Philadelphia Mint so that it could be turned into coins.
A total of about $11,000 was deposited in 1804, but thereafter, deposits averaged only $2,500 annually until 1824, which marked the real beginning of America’s first gold rush. From about $5,000 that year, deposits increased rapidly to $128, 000 in 1829 and peaked at $475, 000 in 1833, as the southern gold rush widened from North Carolina to include Georgia, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. Between 1824 and 1837, $5.1 million of southern gold was deposited at the Philadelphia Mint.
However, not all of the southern gold was taken to the Philadelphia Mint. While Templeton Reid only briefly operated a private mint in North Carolina in 1830, the Bechtler family ran its mint very successfully from 1831 until about 1850, minting about $2.2 million of gold coins between 1831 and 1840.1
With more than a half million dollars of gold being transported to Philadelphia annually, the region was ripe for its own official mints. Authorized in 1835, the branch mints at Charlotte and Dahlonega were established to coin gold, while the New Orleans Mint was established to coin both silver and gold.
The New Orleans Mint commenced operations in March 1838, and in that year it received bullion deposits of $277,600, of which $237,000 was silver and $40,600 was gold.
Interestingly, the New Orleans Mint received far more silver than gold in the antebellum period. Total silver deposits from 1838 to 1861 were $34.6 million, which means that the New Orleans Mint received some 13 times to14 times as much silver as gold during the period. “Mexican dollars constitute[d] the greatest bulk of the material for silver coinage” in the mid-1840’s, reported John L. Riddell, who served as Melter and Refiner at the New Orleans Mint from 1839 to 1848.2
Total deposits of gold from the New Orleans Mint’s opening until it ceased reporting to the US government in January 1861 were $40.4 million, of which about $40,000 consisted of pre-1834 US gold coins, about $432,000 consisted of foreign bullion, $17.5 million consisted of foreign coins and $22.4 million consisted of domestic bullion.
After the Act of June 28, 1834 reduced the size of US gold coins, the coins minted under the “old standard” could be deposited at the Mints and recoined.3 While most of these coins apparently had been exported and melted shortly after they were minted, $37,767 worth were deposited at the New Orleans Mint for recoinage between 1840 and 1851 and a further $1,822 was deposited between July 1857 and June 1858.
Foreign bullion was deposited at the New Orleans Mint throughout the antebellum period. Unfortunately, the Mint Annual Reports only occasionally mention its origins.
Foreign coins were a significant source of deposits at the New Orleans Mint, especially prior to 1848. Deposits peaked at $6.2 million in 1847, due to transfers from the New Orleans Custom House as a result of the Independent Treasury Act.4As Mr. Riddell reported, in the mid-1840’s, “…the most abundant foreign gold coins being English sovereigns, French Napoleons [20-Franc pieces], patriot doubloons [presumably from the former Spanish colonies in South America], and the coinage of different German States…”5 Deposits of foreign gold coins declined considerably after 1847; most subsequent annual deposits were less than $150,000 while the peak annual deposit between 1848 and January 1861was $679,772, in the fiscal year ending June 1858.
Prior to the arrival of the great flood of California gold, domestic bullion was a relatively modest source of deposits. From 1838 to 1847, just under $120,000 of domestic gold was deposited at the New Orleans Mint. While the Mint Annual Reports don’t provide annual details of the sources of domestic bullion prior to 1848, they do show that, for the overall period, 52% of the domestic gold was from Alabama, 31% was from Georgia, 12% was from South Carolina, almost 2% was from Tennessee, just over one-half of one percent was from North Carolina and 3% was from “other sources”.
After 1847, the modest stream of gold from states other than California diminished to a mere trickle, totaling $30,054 from 1848 through January 1861. Of this amount, 53% was from Alabama, 13% was from Georgia, 11% was from Pike’s Peak, Colorado, 6% was from South Carolina, 4% was from Tennessee and 12% was from “other sources”. Interestingly, no non-California domestic bullion was deposited at the New Orleans Mint from 1852 through June 1857.
For the antebellum period, 99.3% of the New Orleans Mint’s total domestic gold deposits was from California. This gold began arriving at the New Orleans Mint in 1848, when a total of $1,124 was deposited. The largest amount of California gold was received in 1851, when $8.8 million was deposited. While deposits continued to arrive throughout the period, the San Francisco Mint and New York Assay Office began taking the lion’s share of California gold deposits after they opened in April and October, respectively, of 1854.6 Deposits at the New Orleans Mint dropped to just under $1 million in 1854, just over $400, 000 in 1855 and generally declined thereafter.
The tables below show the total amount of gold and the amount of domestic bullion (by state of origin) that was deposited at the New Orleans Mint from 1838 to 1861.
Gold Deposited at the New Orleans Mint: 1838-1861
|US Coins (Old Standard)||% of Total Deposits||Foreign Coins||% of Total Deposits||Foreign Bullion||% of Total Deposits||Domestic Bullion||% of Total Deposits||Total Deposits|
|1838 – 1847**||31,225||0.2||14,874,764||97.9||169,858||1.1||119,699||0.8||15,195,546|
Note: The Annual Mint Reports occasionally contain small discrepancies in deposit amounts. These discrepancies are usually corrected in subsequent Annual Reports, but are never explained. I have reconciled these discrepancies to the best of my ability and noted some of the more significant ones below.
*Includes $3,748 in deposits not categorized by the Mint, which I’ve added to Foreign Bullion
**The individual amounts for Domestic Bullion deposits for 1838-1847 are shown in every report from 1838 to 1849 and add up to $116,788. The summary amount of $119,699 is shown in each of the reports from 1850 to 1861; the difference is $2,911. I have used the larger number in my calculations.
Domestic Bullion Deposited at the New Orleans Mint: 1838-1861
|California||% of Domestic Bullion||Other States||% of Domestic Bullion||Total Domestic Bullion|
|1838 – 1847*||119,699||119,699|
*The annual amounts for Domestic Bullion deposits for 1838-1847 are shown in every report from 1838 to 1849 and add up to $116,788. The summary amount of $119,699 is shown in each of the reports from 1850 to 1861; the difference is $2,911. I have used the larger number in my calculations.
Non-California Domestic Bullion Deposited at the New Orleans Mint: 1838-1861
|1838 – 1847||Alabama: $61,903; Georgia: $37,364;
South Carolina: $14,306; Tennessee: $1,772; North Carolina: $741; Other
|1848||Alabama: $6,717; Georgia: $2,317;
South Carolina: $1,488; Tennessee: $947.
|1849||Alabama: $4,062; South Carolina: $423; Other
|1850||Alabama: $3,560; Other Sources: $894.|
|7/57-6/58||Georgia: $1,560; Tennessee: $164|
|7/59-6/60||Pike’s Peak: $1,770; Alabama: $662|
|7/60-3/61||Pike’s Peak: $1,667|
Source: The Annual Reports of the Director of the Mint, 1838-1861.
1Donald H. Kagin, Ph.D., Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States (New York: Arco Publishing, Inc., 1981), p. 34.
2“The Mint at New Orleans with an Account of the Process of Coinage”, 1845; reprinted in the April 1968 issue of The Numismatist. The information contained in this monograph was reprinted in several forms throughout the 1840’s. In addition to updated editions of the monograph, versions of its contents were published in the January 1846 issue of Hunt’s Merchant Magazine.
3The Act of June 28, 1834 reduced the gold content of the US dollar to 23.2 grains of pure gold from 24.75 grains established by the Act of April 2, 1792 . This 6.3% reduction allowed US gold coins to circulate widely, in contrast to the “old standard” coins, which were overvalued in terms of silver and rarely seen in commerce.
4The Act of August 6, 1846 ended the practice of depositing US Government receipts in local banks and created sub-treasuries to hold them instead. Since most of the Government receipts at that time were in foreign coin, it had been common practice for the banks to keep them in that form, which made it easier to profit from fluctuations in exchange rates by exporting the coins. Also, since recoinage took up to several weeks (including travel time), it was expensive for private banks to lose the use of their money for what was, to them, an unnecessary reason. In contrast, some of the sub-treasuries were required to deposit their receipts at the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints, where the foreign gold was recoined.
5“The Mint at New Orleans with an Account of the Process of Coinage”
6The New York Assay Office, which operated from 1854 to 1982, was established primarily to refine California gold into ingots. While most of the ingots were exported to Europe, some of them were redeposited at the Philadelphia Mint and turned into coins. The operation of the New York Assay Office is described in detail in an article in the November 1861 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.