More Than Just a Coin

From the outside looking in, it is often puzzling as to why coin collectors spend the time and money that they do. With the prices of numismatic coins being more than their face value or melt value, it is hard to justify spending top dollar for just a coin. The reality is it is much more than “just a coin.” The world of coin collecting is one that is constantly evolving.  This is perhaps due to the fact that one little coin can represent so much. From shipwrecked coins, to Civil War dated coins; each piece tells a story. From its circulation to its composition, every coin is unique. Coins offer a view into our past and an insight to our future. They demonstrate the growth and the triumphs that the US has accomplished. From manually striking one coin at a time, to striking about 700 coins per minute, the style and the quality of coins is always changing and improving.

The 1861 Seated Liberty half dollar minted in the New Orleans Mint is a coin that is a great example of something so small holding so much history. It had a mintage of over 2.5 million, which is nothing to catch a collector’s attention, but it is its mintage that makes it so unique. Of the 2.5 million plus minted, 330,000 were struck under the United States government, 1,240,000 were minted for the State of Louisiana after it seceded from the Union, and the remaining 962,633 were minted after Louisiana joined the confederate States of America. With this diverse mintage, it is still impossible to determine which was minted where and when. This is perhaps one of those amazing mysteries that keep coin enthusiasts so enthralled with the coin; you never really know what you have and what that coin represents.

As if the story of the mintage of the 1861-O Seated Liberty half dollar was not enough to catch a collector’s attention, there are examples of this coin that were present during a famous U.S. Shipwreck off the coast of Georgia.

The S.S. Republic set out to make the trip from New York to New Orleans in October 1865. When a hurricane crossed its path only 5 days into its journey, The S.S. Republic, carrying a precious cargo of $400,000 in coins, was doomed to finish her voyage. On October 25, 1865, the ship sank. The crew members were able to escape on four life rafts and were then recovered by the passing sailboat, Horace Beals. Almost all of the people aboard survived, but every single coin was lost.

In August 2003, off the coast of Savannah Georgia, the S.S. Republic was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration at a depth of about 1,700 feet. About one third of the 19th century, rare gold and silver coins were retrieved, valuing about $75 million. With a large number of these coins being displayed in museums, one of these coins, such as the example pictured above, would be a treasure in any collection.

With this 1861-O Shipwrecked Seated Liberty half dollar only being one of many coins that hold such a unique part of our history, it is no wonder that more and more people are beginning to collect coins. It is one thing to listen to and read about our history, but to be able to have a tangible piece of history is amazing in itself. Coins are much more than simply “coins,” they are a physical timeline that tracks the many events that helped shape this country, and the world.