The day modern doubloons debuted in New Orleans the newspaper foresaw the future, telling readers to hang on to them as they were sure to be collectors’ items. It was March 1, 1960, and the Rex Organization had 80,000 to throw to paradegoers. Those first doubloons had that year’s King of Carnival, Gerald Andrus, on one side and the Rex motto, “Pro Bono Publico,” on the other. What they didn’t have was the date. Leaving them undated meant that they could be thrown the following year if they proved to be a bust with the crowds.
They were not. Rex ordered over 100,000 doubloons the following year. They were sure to include the date, as well as the parade theme for the year. Each year, demand grew; in 1964, Rex ordered 200,000.
The aluminum doubloons were light enough to be tossed from the floats without fear of injuring people. They were designed by H. Alvin Sharpe, who convinced Rex to use the doubloons as throws. As one of the few artisans who could both design and cut the dies for production, he created quite a profitable job for himself.
By 1966, 35 Carnival organizations threw doubloons, each personalized for the krewes, with some krewes throwing varied colors and designs in the same parade.
The craze for doubloons spread past Carnival, and by the mid-1960s, they were popping up everywhere. New businesses would create special doubloons to be given out on opening day, and a New Orleans Civic coin was sold as a souvenir at Woolworth’s, featuring the city coat-of-arms on one side and festive Mardi Gras scene on the backside. The Pete Fountain doubloon debuted in 1966, the same year that a special bronze Bourbon Street Strip-Teaser medallion appeared. It came packaged with a paper that read: “A beautiful stripper is hiding on this coin; can you find her?” A gas lamp was pictured on one side, and a bearded man with a pipe (that took on a distinctly female figure when viewed sideways) on the other.
Doubloons remained extremely popular into the 1980s, when so many were being thrown that supply overcame demand. Production has slowed in the decades since then, and doubloons, now a little more rare, are also a little more valued again.
The doubloon collecting started almost as soon as the first Rex doubloons hit the street in 1960, with people yelling for them as parades passed in the following years. Guidebooks were written, collectors display cases were created and buying and trading began in earnest. At one point, there were 32 stores in New Orleans selling doubloons. Other people collected them for different reasons, such as fancy (but noisy) doubloon suits like this one, worn on Mardi Gras Day in the French Quarter in the late 1960s/early 1970s.