Long before the discovery of almost 2 million Carson City Morgan dollars in the Treasury vaults, if you wanted a Morgan dollar from that mint, the most likely coin you could obtain was the 1878-CC.
Part of the reason the 1878-CC was seen as common compared to other Carson City Morgan dollars was its mintage of 2,212,000. As it was the first Carson City Morgan dollar, it is likely that a significant number was released into circulation. In later years there was a backlog, so newly minted coins might well never reach circulation, but there was no problem in 1878, so we can assume a reasonable number were released into circulation.
There was some controversy in 1878, as the dies for the 1878-CC were not seen as well done. A local paper stated, “Great disgust was expressed at the general appearance of the dies.” Although the 1878-CC is seen as consistently well struck, the eagle’s breast is always flat and some show other defects that were on the original planchet, while lightness of detail is also seen in the lower part of the eagle.
There are a lot of stories about bags of the 1878-CC being released and with good reason, as by Carson City standards, there were a lot of 1878-CC Morgan dollars to release. Initially, the 1878-CC was not seen with any frequency; it is possible the coins produced first were at the back of the vaults.
It was around 1946 or 1947 when the first few bags of the 1878-CC emerged. In 1950, large numbers came from the vault, causing the price of the 1878-CC to drop. The flood continued and the 1878-CC became so available that few were saved, with many ending up on the tables of casinos in Nevada. An estimated 50 bags appeared in 1955 alone, but saving on the part of collectors and dealers at the time was not strong, as the 1878-CC was now seen as available.
It appears that the 1878-CC, at least in the Treasury vaults, must have been toward the front, for as the flow of other dates began to increase, the flow of the 1878-CC from vaults began to slow down to a trickle. In his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Q. David Bowers, who has tracked the flow of dollars from the Treasury as well as anyone, suggests of the 1878-CC, “All told, probably 150,000 to 250,000 1878-CC dollars in Mint State were released in the 1950s, early 1960s and the GSA hoard.”
In fact, we know the GSA hoard total was 60,993. The numbers sound large, but the 1878-CC had a mintage of more than 2.2 million, so even if we accept the high end of the Bowers estimate, that leaves almost 2 million not released during that period.
That explains not only why the 1878-CC was seen as more available than others, but also why some Pittman Act melting was possible.
Today, the 1878-CC remains an available Carson City Morgan dollar, starting at $98.50 in VG-8. In Mint State, the 1878-CC is priced at $230 in MS-60, which makes it one of the least expensive of the Carson City dollars.
In MS-65 it is $2,000, and while that is not high by Carson City dollar standards, it does suggest that the 1878-CC should not be taken for granted in MS-65, as it is not as available as might be expected, especially in light of its large mintage.
When you acquire an 1878-CC Morgan dollar in any grade, you have an important piece of history.