Celebrating Mardi Gras in the Gallery

For our friends on the Gulf coast, celebrating Mardi Gras means wild revelry in the streets. For us at the NCC Gallery, it means highlighting a few of our lesser-known holdings.

Cleopatra Mardi Gras doubloons

These aluminum doubloons are throws from the annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. Throws, of course, are the trinkets thrown from Mardi Gras floats, including strings of beads, plastic cups, and small toys. While krewe members have been throwing trinkets since the 1920s, doubloons weren’t introduced until the 1960s.

Argus Mardi Gras doubloon

Each doubloon is stamped with the name and logo of the krewe, the year, and the year’s theme. As a result, no krewe’s coin is like any other’s, and every krewe’s doubloons differ from year to year. It’s this customization that makes the pieces collectible.

Zeus Mardi Gras doubloon

The trio pictured here includes a 1975 doubloon from the Krewe of Cleopatra, a 1976 doubloon from the Krewe of Argus, and a 1981 drachma from the Krewe of Zeus.

But why are they here?

Mardi Gras medals don’t fall under our typical collecting scope of North Caroliniana. But they do represent an interesting example of numismatics, an area in which the NCC Gallery’s collection is particularly strong. Most of the Gallery’s currency holdings are North Carolina specific, including Bechtler gold coins from the state’s gold-rush era, North Carolina paper money issued prior to the Civil War, and bills of credit issued in the state during the Colonial era. (Images and more information on these holdings can be found in the online exhibit Historic Moneys in the North Carolina Collection.)

So, while our focus remains on the history of North Carolina, one of the pleasures of having a strong numismatics collection is coming across unexpected finds like these.

From all of us here at the NCC, laissez les bon temps rouler!

Brits awed by giant mutant peanuts from N.C.

“In March 1959, scientists, government officials and lesser worthies assembled for a dinner party at the Royal Commonwealth Society, London.
“Unbeknownst to them, one course was a strange strain of American peanuts: ‘NC 4x… North Carolina 4th generation X-rayed’ peanuts, produced from seeds that had been exposed to 18,500 roentgen units.
“The irradiated peanuts were big as almonds, outshowing the British groundnuts served alongside. Their inventor, Walter C. Gregory of North Carolina State College, had sent them to Muriel Howorth, enthusiast for all things atomic.
“Disappointed that her guests were less than appreciative of the great scientific achievement present at table, Muriel afterwards ‘began inspecting [the] uncooked nuts wondering what to do with them all…I had the idea to…pop an irradiated peanut in the sandy loam to see how this mutant grew.’
“The ‘Muriel Howorth’ peanut (for she had already named it after herself) germinated in four days and was soon 2 feet high.
“Almost immediately there were interviews and television appearances and sightseers peering into the glasshouse to get a look.
“Garden writer Beverley Nichols came to call:
” ‘Yesterday I held in my hands the most sensational plant in Britain.
It holds in its green leaves the promise of victory over famine.
” ‘It is the first “atomic” peanut.’ “
— From “Atomic Gardens” at the Garden History Girl blog (Dec. 2, 2010)