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Carson City produced more than Morgans

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Carson City is famous for silver dollars and that will never change. Ironically, while famous for its Morgan dollars, the facility produced other silver dollars that are actually much tougher and certainly every bit as interesting as the famous ?CC? Morgans. The other Carson City dollars, however, do not receive the same attention, for a number of reasons.

The popularity of Carson City Morgan dollars is easy to understand. Being produced in Carson City from 1878-1885 and then again from 1889 to 1893, the Carson City Morgan is a classic coin of the Old West that was produced in the Old West, the silver coming from the famous Comstock Lode. For those wanting a true souvenir of a romantic time in an exciting place, you just cannot do much better than a Carson City Morgan dollar.

Another interesting factor is that ?CC? Morgans, true to the reputation of the Carson City Mint, are not common. In fact, for decades virtually any Carson City Morgan dollar was scarce. There were very few collectors at the time, but those there were in the 1940s and 1950s would have a simply terrible time finding some dates. The logical assumption had to be that, with their low mintages, the Carson City Morgan dollars were tough.

Having been circulated in Carson City, many were probably assumed to have been lost. If unusual wear and a lack of saving ? for how many collectors were there in the Old West? ? were not enough, there was the Pittman Act of 1918, which brought the destruction of roughly 270 million silver dollars. The collector?s assumption was that many of the missing Carson City dates had probably been destroyed. In fact, some almost certainly were, but not in the numbers once assumed.

 green0304-2.jpgWhat no one realized in the 1940s and 1950s was that many Carson City Morgan dollars had been moved out of Carson City around the turn of the century by railroad, transported to Washington, D.C.. There they had simply taken up residence in Treasury vaults. Over the years there had been periodic reports of a bag or two of Carson City dollars appearing, but at the time there were not large numbers of collectors to take advantage of the situation.

Things changed in the 1960s. In 1958 there had been 219 million silver dollars in the Treasury vaults. In 1964 the government stopped allowing people to purchase $1,000 bags for their face value, and at that time there were only a few million silver dollars left. When those coins were examined, much to the amazement of virtually everyone, they turned out to be Carson City dollars. In some cases they were found in staggering numbers. The most remarkable was the 1884-CC where nearly 85 percent of the entire mintage was found sitting in the Treasury vaults, having never been released.

The decision was made to sell the surprise bonanza of ?CC? Morgan dollars to anyone who was willing to pay premium prices. Pricing started at $30 for certain Carson City dates deemed uncirculated. The sale of the coins would take over a decade, starting in the 1970s, and it was important in establishing the reputation of Carson City dollars.

green0304-3.jpgThe first thing the sale did was make Carson City Morgan dollars more available. Some would end up buying hundreds of examples. For dealers, it meant the first time in history that they were able to promote Carson City dollars. Thanks to these General Services Administration sales they were able to have enough examples in stock to promote. As often happens with hoards ? and realistically the Treasury coins sold by the GSA were a hoard ? the promotion of the hoard coins actually increases demand for the coins, meaning that the price does not go down as the added demand absorbs the increased supply. That basically happened with the Carson City Morgan dollars. Their prices did not really drop despite the fact that in some cases more than 50 percent of the entire mintage was suddenly available in Mint State.

Also important was the fact that a decade of publicity established the reputation of the Carson City Morgan dollar with the nation. The GSA was able to reach more people with its promotion of Carson City Morgan dollars than the hobby or an individual dealer could ever have hoped to do. With phrases describing the coins such as ?The Coins Jesse James Never Got,? the Carson City Morgans were established firmly as the silver dollars of the Old West, assuring them a popularity not just with dealers and collectors but with the general public. For many, a Carson City Morgan was the one and only coin that could ever have slid across the bar in an Old West saloon, and that was the end of the discussion as that is the impression the GSA sales had left in the minds of many.

green0304-4.jpgWhile everything said about the Carson City Morgans was probably true, it in a sense did not tell the whole story. While scarce, especially in the case of a date like the 1889-CC in a grade like MS-65, in fact the Carson City Morgan dollars never were and certainly are not today the toughest silver dollars ever to be produced at Carson City. Additionally, while true souvenirs of the Old West, the other Carson City silver dollars that were created before the Morgans were silver dollars of the Old West even before the first Morgan dollar ever came along. After all, Gen. Custer and his command had been dead a couple years by the time the first Morgan was produced in Carson City, and a host of other famous events from the Old West had taken place. While realistically silver dollars of the Old West, the Carson City Morgans were hardly the only silver dollars of the Old West or of Carson City. It is those other Carson City silver dollars that are sometimes overlooked but are very special and very scarce.

The story of the Carson City facility really went back to 1859 when a couple prospectors named Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O?Reilly discovered a silver deposit at Washoe in the Nevada Territory. That silver deposit would become the famous Comstock Lode. As one of the largest silver deposits in history, the Comstock Lode created a regional economy, and that region quickly asked for its own U.S. Mint branch facility. The process was slow. The Civil War would make a distant mint in the heart of a new silver mining region seem like something that could wait while the future of the Republic was determined on battlefields. Finally, in 1870 a new and impressive Carson City facility was ready to begin coin production.

green0304-5.jpgLiterally from the start, Carson City had a problem of being underutilized. At first it was a combination of politics and business. The first superintendent there was a man named Abe Curry, who just happened to own the Gould & Curry silver mining operation. Along the way Curry may have made some friends and associates, but he also made enemies. He might have been logical as a superintendent, but he came with a lot of negative baggage. Many other silver mining operations from the region refused to send their silver to any facility run by Abe Curry. That had an immediate and lasting impact. Despite sitting in the heart of one of the largest silver deposits in history, the Carson City facility never had very large mintages, for the simply reason that much of the silver mined in the area was not sent to the local Mint, but rather shipped all the way to San Francisco where it would be made into coins. As branch Mints really only created whatever coins they had metal to make, that meant many times low mintages at Carson City were not because the facility was not up to the task of producing more coins, but rather that it simply and ironically had no more silver from which to produce higher mintages.

The first silver dollar to emerge from the new facility in 1870 was not a Morgan dollar. They were years away. The first ?CC? dollar was a Seated Liberty dollar. Back in 1870 the Seated Liberty dollar, which had been in production since 1840, had a very limited use. In fact, it can safely be suggested that the Seated Liberty silver dollar never had much of a role in commerce. The first Seated Liberty dollars from 1840 through the mid-1850s were basically used as reserves and in many cases were melted. Those produced starting in the mid-1850s often times saw use as reserves and in many cases were exported to places like China to support trade. The coin had been produced for three decades before there was ever a mintage of even a million pieces. There was no doubt that at least in the 1850s the one dollar coin that Americans were using was not the Seated Liberty silver dollar, but rather the small gold dollar.

green0304-6.jpgThe first Carson City Seated dollar had a mintage of 12,462, which in the case of ?CC? Seated Liberty dollars would actually turn out to be a fairly high mintage. It was an historic coin and it probably should have been saved by someone. We see that in a $420 G-4 price listing with an MS-60 at $10,250. The grading services confirm it is available. Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. reported a combined total of almost 375 examples. Worth noting, however, is that of the nearly 375 coins, a mere 21 have been graded MS-60 or better. Some of those could easily be repeat submissions. Moreover, although it is listed at $42,500 in MS-65, neither grading service has ever seen an example in MS-65.

The 1871-CC was special as it had the lowest mintage of any silver dollar ever produced in Carson City at a total of just 1,376 pieces. Interestingly enough, the 1871-CC, while expensive at listings of $2,000 in G-4, $50,000 in MS-60 and $300,000, is not as expensive as the 1873-CC. In fairness, the 1871-CC and 1873-CC are fairly close in terms of numbers known. NGC and PCGS combined have reported 112 examples of the 1871-CC, of that total a mere three called Mint State with none being MS-65.

The 1872-CC had a higher mintage, if you can call it that, at 3,150. It seems to run counter to the pattern of poor survival rates from branch Mints like Carson City. It is priced at $900 in G-4 and $19,000 in MS-60. Those are certainly not low prices, but compared to the other Seated Liberty dollars from Carson City, the 1872-CC is available. The grading services have seen 184 examples, of which 20 were called Mint State and two were graded MS-65.

The final Seated Liberty dollar from Carson City is generally seen as the toughest. The 1873-CC had a mintage of 2,300, but at the time the Mint was transitioning to Trade dollars. That makes many believe that some of the 1873-CC mintage was melted, resulting in a listing of $3,450 in G-4, more than the lower-mintage 1871-CC, while an 1873-CC in MS-60 is $80,000. The 1873-CC is slightly tougher as the grading services have graded only 90 examples. It is slightly more available in Mint State than the 1871-CC, though, as a total of six 1873-CC Seated dollars have been called Mint State and two were MS-65.

There would be a significant increase in the mintages of dollars with the arrival of the Trade dollar. Of course, at Carson City almost anything would have been an increase with four years of Seated Liberty dollar mintages having totaled only about 20,000. The 1873-CC showed the immediate change with its mintage of 124,500, and that would prove to be low for a Carson City Trade dollar.

What must be remembered in terms of availability when it comes to ?CC? Trade dollars is that, like other Trade dollars, many were sent to China and did not return. In addition, years later millions of Trade dollars were melted. Unlike Morgan dollars, there were no bags of Trade dollars sitting in Treasury vaults for decades.

The numbers of Trade dollars minted promptly started to decline, many were sent to China and others melted. As a result, Trade dollars tend to be tougher than their mintages suggest, and much tougher if you want an example in Mint State.

The 1873-CC, with a lower mintage and being a date suspected of being exported in significant numbers, is very tough. Its G-4 listing is $220 while an MS-60 is at $8,500 and an MS-65 is the most expensive of all Trade dollars at $122,000. The grading services show that the 1873-CC deserves the prices with 204 having been graded at PCGS and NGC combined, 57 of them being Mint State but only two reaching MS-65.

The 1874-CC was the first silver dollar at Carson City to have a mintage over one million at 1,373,200. The 1874-CC Trade dollar is a prime suspect for being heavily exported to China. It is listed at $200 in G-4, $3,000 in MS-60 and $26,500 in MS-65. The grading services show why it is much lower in price than the 1873-CC: the 1874-CC has been graded 334 times with 219 of them being Mint State and five reaching MS-65.

The most available of all the Carson City Trade dollars is the 1875-CC, which had a mintage of over 1.5 million. Today it lists at $175 in G-4, $2,150 in MS-60 (the lowest price for a Carson City MS-60 Trade dollar) and $40,000 in MS-65 where any ?CC? Trade dollar is tough. The grading service numbers help explain the lower prices ? the 1875-CC has been graded 379 times by NGC and PCGS with 239 of them being Mint State and four coins being MS-65.

The 1876-CC had a much lower mintage, 509,000 pieces. By then, Trade dollars were having problems as their legal tender status was revoked that year. The 1876-CC is tougher at $200 in G-4 with an MS-60 at $6,000 and an MS-65 at $78,500. The grading services reported just 166 examples of the 1876-CC, ironically identical to the total they reported for the 1877-CC, which is also listed near $200 in G-4 but $2,450 in MS-60 and $60,000 in MS-65. While identical numbers of the two dates were graded, they break down differently. The 1876-CC has been seen 65 times in Mint State as opposed to 79 times for the 1877-CC while the 1876-CC has been seen only once in MS-65 while three examples of the 1877-CC were graded MS-65.

The final Trade dollar produced at Carson City was the 1878-CC, its mintage being just 97,000. It was cut short to make the transition to Morgan dollar production that year. In fact, the 97,000 mintage is suspect because more than 40,000 Trade dollars were melted later in 1878. The general belief is that the melting was entirely 1878-CC dollars, but the report is not specific and other dates could have been involved. Certainly at least some if not all of the melting involved the 1878-CC, and that makes it more expensive in circulated grades. It currently lists at $425 in G-4 while an MS-60 is $12,000 with an MS-65 at $112,000. While seen only 161 times by the two grading services, apparently a few examples were saved early as 55 examples were Mint State with four being called MS-65.

In 1878 the Carson City Mint made the change to its final silver dollar type, the Morgan dollar.

While lesser known based on the mintages, price guide listings and numbers known, the early silver dollars from Carson City are a fascinating group. Certainly all are historic. If any group of coins truly supports the reputation of Carson City as producing unusually tough coins, these are the dollars that live up to that reputation. They are without a doubt a special group of very elusive coins that had been circulating in the Old West for years before the first Morgans were struck, making these earli er pieces every bit as much heirs to the reputation enjoyed by Carson City dollars.

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