It’s not just about beads during Mardi Gras time. You’ll find plenty of people who prefer other such baubles over the ubiquitous strings of beads that just weigh your neck down. Muses has shoes, Zulu has coconuts, and Nyx has purses, but still there are even more prized possessions for a few discerning people out there. I’m talking about that little round metal coin that is either celebrated and coveted or taken for granted. Those who delve into the fascinating world of doubloon collecting will tell you that these coins are worth far more than you think.
Chris Caravella of doubloonswap.com explained his love for doubloons: “Doubloons, for me, evoke memories of childhood and growing up in New Orleans in a family that went to practically every parade we could. Doubloons are a rich part of our cultural heritage and one that I enjoy being part of.”
Doubloon collecting has been around since doubloons began getting tossed by masked Mardi Gras revelers nearly 60 years ago in 1960 by the Krewe of Rex. H. Alvin Sharpe told Rex’s royalty that they should throw decorated coins, but the captain thought they’d be dangerous. So Alvin tossed a handful of coins at the captain from 10 feet away, and he said it shouldn’t be that bad. The captain asked Sharpe to design these coins, which he did for the next seven years, until Blaine Kern took it over. They were a way to cement the krewes and their brands in people’s minds. They were so popular to throw during the 80s that the krewes felt they were being overproduced and have since scaled back production to about half of what it was.
Unlike other items that can be collected, doubloons have no regulating authority. So the value placed on them is solely up to the people collecting and trading them at shows and swaps, and it also depends on how many the krewe produced that year. “No krewes publically publish which doubloons they produce. It has been the burden of collectors to organize and catalog what has been produced and to set value for those items,” explained Caravella. “Any serious collector will want to join a doubloon collecting club or at least purchase a checklist put out by one of those clubs or by commercial coin dealers.”
The doubloon-collecting circuit was limited to New Orleanians before the advent of the internet made the collections available to be seen by those who haven’t visited the city, and there are all sorts of collectors out there. “Some people collect only active krewes and others only old-line krewes (those parading since the 19th century),” Caravella said. “Some people just collect one doubloon from each krewe for each year. Hardcore collectors gather everything they can get their hands on. There are endless possibilities.” But there are some basic classifications.
Common throw doubloons are what you normally catch at parades, and they can be made of aluminum or wood; these doubloons are mass-produced and available to everyone. Then there are special aluminum doubloons that may be thicker or have a deep design on them. These may only be given out to krewe members or royalty, and you have to have an in to get one or be willing to pay. Manufacturers used to make metal doubloons with two colors, but the krewes no longer get them. Heavies were made from metals like bronze, copper or even silver. Obviously, they’re more expensive than the aluminum doubloons, and they’re difficult to find even if you know the krewe well and are willing to pay big for it.
Endymion Doubloons from 2016
Once you’ve got that coveted doubloon, you’ve got to accurately identify it. The obverse (front) should always bear the krewe’s name and debut year. The reverse (back) will change yearly with the theme and may bear the king and court’s faces. You’ve also got to know the material it’s made from, how the coloring was applied, if it has a high relief, the gauge, and what’s on the edges. Many common doubloons have a reeded edge with tight ridges. Some non-throw doubloons aren’t round and can have hexagonal or other such shapes. You should also compare your doubloon to others that are identical to check for any production defects or varieties that may increase or decrease its value.
While there hasn’t been widespread counterfeiting of doubloons, in 1970, Rex reissued their 1960 doubloon—the original Mardi Gras doubloon. Some enterprising cheaters may attempt to sell the cheaper 1970 coin and claim it’s the 1960 coin, which can sell for hundreds. And if aluminum doubloons are boiled, their dye comes off. These can be sold as other, more expensive doubloons.
So if you’re about to go into your grandma’s attic to rifle through all of those boxes of throws she refused to get rid of, sorting the doubloons may not be worthwhile. “Unsorted boxes of doubloons have little value mostly because they require too much work to sort through,” Cavanella explained. “The best you can hope to get is the base metal price of scrap aluminum, even if there could be some treasures buried in the box. Typically, that is about 50 cents to $1 per pound, or half a cent to 1 cent each. Ironically, it costs much more to produce doubloons and krewe members pay much more than that to have them as one of their throw options.”
If you’ve got your stuff sorted, cataloged and kept in binders, it may be worth more. “If you really feel that you may have some treasures, invest in a doubloon price guide and go into a collection evaluation armed with some knowledge of an approximate value of your collection,” Cavanella suggested. You can find a doubloon database on collectorsphere.com, cointradingpost.com, mardi-gras-doubloons.com, and there’s a devout doubloon swapping group on eBay. You can also turn to the doubloon trading networks to price your doubloons. The Crescent City Doubloon Traders Club (ccdtclub.com) was founded in 1989, and they regularly hold doubloon swaps and produce an annual price guide.
The fascination with doubloons is uniquely New Orleans. And it’s not limited to Mardi Gras. Irish parades, marching krewes and newer holiday parades love to participate in this tradition. So, it might be time to get out all of those coins you’ve been saving and put them on display.
Upcoming doubloon swaps will take place March 3 from 6:00–10:00 p.m. at the Lions Club of Metairie (1627 Metairie Rd.) and March 5 from 12:30–4:30 p.m.
at the St. Angela Merici Gym (901 Beverly Gardens Dr.)