The recent display of a one-of-a-kind gold coin produced at the Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter some 165 years ago has sparked the search for its companion piece, and a fat bounty of at least $1 million is on the line.

For the last three months, the Louisiana State Museum has displayed a $10 gold piece struck at the Mint in 1844, back when the modern-day museum was a major producer of currency. The coin belongs to an anonymous private collector from Florida who entrusted the piece to Mandeville-based rare coin dealer Paul Hollis for its first public exhibition in Louisiana. Hollis says it was significant for this coin to be on display at the same facility where it was produced. The museum is the oldest surviving mint in the country and the only building in America to have served both as a U.S. and Confederate mint.

But Hollis is also hoping the recent exhibition will help shed some light on the whereabouts of a similar $5 gold piece also struck at the Mint.
The collector he represents is offering $1 million to acquire it and, should it emerge, Hollis says the collector has promised to allow both coins to go on public display together in New Orleans.

“The hunt is just starting,” he says.

Based on a combination of research and rumors, he believes this $5 piece is owned by an individual either in Louisiana or Texas, but true to the cagey nature of the rare coin business details are scant. What is clear, however, is that these historic Louisiana coins carry a uniquely powerful allure for collectors.

The $10 piece is slightly larger than today’s U.S. quarter and contains a half-ounce of gold. Collectors believe it was struck as a gift for the incoming President James Polk, a North Carolina native who took office the following year.

Mark Salzberg, chairman of the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, a group that grades collectible coins, says that it’s “among the most important Southern gold coins ever struck, combining rarity, beauty, technical quality and a fascinating story.”

Hollis says the piece carries an insurance policy worth $2.5 million, but notes that because it was made as a unique presentation piece it was valuable from the moment it was produced. Its first recorded sale dates back to 1890 and during the decades that followed it was owned by a U.S. Treasury Secretary, a Chicago brewing magnate and others, according to the coin industry news source Coin Link. In 2006 it traded hands for $1.5 million.