History of Mardi Gras Doubloons

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Mardi Gras doubloons are one of the treasures thrown from floats during the Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. The tradition of doubloons started in 1960, although glass beads and other novelties have been thrown to parade watchers since the 19th century. In 1872 the signature colors of Mardi Gras, purple, green, and gold, were introduced, along with the figure King Rex. It was King Rex who first threw doubloons to the crowd.

Inventor

  • H. Alvin Sharp is the man responsible for the Mardi Gras doubloon. He was a ship's captain and familiar with the art of intaglio, practiced by sailors to pass the time during the long hours on sea voyages. Intaglio incises a design into a hard surface such as stone or metal. In 1959, Sharp used the process to design a doubloon that could be minted from lightweight aluminum. It looked like a coin, but was so light that it would not hurt anyone hit by it, and it was inexpensive to make. They became a popular replacement for the wooden medallions that the Rex krewe had been throwing since 1884.

Size & Colors

  • Doubloons are generally one and a half inches in diameter and come in varying thicknesses. They may be silver colored, like the original Sharp design, or they can be made of anodized aluminum, meaning they have been dipped in color. Of course, the most popular colors for the doubloons are the official purple, green and gold of New Orleans Mardi Gras. Purple represents justice, green is for faith and gold is for power.

Designs

  • Each krewe, as the groups of parade organizers are known, has its own doubloon design. One face traditionally has the emblem of the krewe, name and founding date of the krewe. On the reverse is the year and a design representing the theme of the ball sponsored by the krewe. Some doubloons feature the face of the celebrity king of the year's celebrations. Mardi Gras Digest reports that between 4,000 and 5,000 designs have been used since 1960.

Real Doubloons

  • Doubloon comes from the Spanish "dobla," meaning double. Originally solid gold doubloons were worth twice as much as regular gold coins. They were sought after by pirates and others. Piracy and doubloons have strong links to the Caribbean, so it was a natural choice to name the New Orleans Mardi Gras coins "doubloons."

Outside New Orleans

  • Doubloons are also thrown in Mobile, Alabama, during Mardi Gras. The mystic societies (Mobile's version of the krewes) have been minting and tossing doubloons since the mid-1960s.

Collectable

  • Part of the fun of Mardi Gras is collecting as many different "throws" as possible, and doubloons are a particular favorite with collectors. Because they have dates on them, and can be identified by krewe emblems, many people not only gather them during the festivities, but have collections of doubloons from different years, and there is brisk business in trading to acquire complete sets.

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References

  • Photo Credit image courtesy of public domain clip art
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