How Did Mardi Gras Coins Become Part of the Party?

Mardi Gras roars in Tuesday, February 12th, bringing with it all the revelry, parades, and a bit of debauchery that has become synonymous with the event. Once you’ve experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you’ll be hooked on this annual gala.

The first organized Mardi Gras celebration in what would become the United States took place in Mobile, Alabama. The event was conducted by French settlers in the year 1703.

There are many traditions associated with the celebration of Mardi Gras. Since the 1800’s parades have been held featuring the many “krewes” of Carnival. The riders of these parade floats would throw small toys and strings of beads to the gathered crowds who shouted the familiar “Throw me something, Mister!”

One of the relatively recent items added to the trinkets thrown from Mardi Gras floats were aluminum coins known as “doubloons” featuring the identities of the individual krewes. The origin of the Mardi Gras Doubloon reaches back to the 1960’s when a New Orleans artist named H. Alvin Sharpe got word that the king of krewes, the Rex Organization, which represented the School of Design, was looking for something new to throw during parades. As the story goes, Sharpe came up with the idea of minted aluminum coins and pitched his concept to the head of the Rex Organization Darwin Fenner. However, the idea of throwing aluminum coins was deemed unsafe and shot down. Sharpe showed up at Fenner’s office, walked into the room and threw a handful of the proposed coins at Fenner. The doubloons bounced harmlessly off Fenner and with that the idea was a go!

The order that first year was a modest 3,000 coins with the head of Rex on one side and the arms of the School of Design on the other. As a precaution if the coins were not popular, they omitted the date so the coins could be used the following year if necessary.

But the coins were a huge success and by the following year a much larger order was placed. Within a few years the Mardi Gras doubloon had become a treasured token of the Mardi Gras celebration.

While the parades have changed with the times and kept in step with modern technological advancements, the doubloon has flourished. A variation of the aluminum Mardi Gras doubloon are Mardi Gras chocolate coins which feature everything from traditional symbolism, messages like “Laissez les bons temps rouler” (Let the good times roll), to more risque designs.

One thing’s for sure… attendance at Mardi Gras is an experience like no other. So bead up, put on your best party hat, and get ready to shout “Throw me something, Mister!”