Were Carson City Mint error coins currently in the Nevada State Museum evidence of an employee deliberately creating them and smuggling them out in 1873?
More information has come to light that indicates that this could be the case.
It was spring of last year when I first had published an article detailing the exciting find of a broadstruck, brockaged 1873 Trade dollar and a reverse die cap 1873-CC half dollar, found within the Dr. Simeon L. Lee collection of the Nevada State Museum.
The pair of coins excited a large audience of coin enthusiasts, drawn not just by the rarity of such errors but also by the allure of the CC mintmark.
The tale of Dr. Lee was equally fascinating: a Civil War veteran serving under Gen. Sherman, he went on to become a premier doctor in Nevada. A collector of practically everything, he died in 1927. His wife left his collections to the State of Nevada just a month prior to her death in 1934.
Upon establishment of the Nevada State Museum in the early 1940s, the materials were transferred tthere. The entire coin collection of Dr. Lee saw little examination after a 1943 review by the Smithsonian called a sample batch “not very satisfactory examples of American coinage.” Unfortunately, the two error coins were not included in this batch, and the coins lay undiscovered until my internship in 2008.
Following publication of the article last spring, the story of these coins continued to develop. Fred Weinberg, an authority in the error coin field, requested to examine the pieces. Of particular interest was the half dollar die cap, since it seemed to match up with a broadstruck, reverse brockage of obverse 1873 half dollar he had previously handled. Indeed, the coins were mates. Mr. Weinberg was able to determine the piece from the Nevada State Museum and from the private collection were within just two or three strikes from each other in a multi-strike sequence. Of course, this evokes a question: did any of the other coins from the sequence survive?
Such dramatic errors likely received some “help” in getting out of the Mint. The fact that Dr. Lee had a dramatic error Trade dollar and error half dollar, both of the same date, indicates a Carson City Mint employee may have been intentionally manufacturing these pieces, and that Dr. Lee likely had a direct connection with that person.
The fact that Dr. Lee also owned an 1876-CC 20-cent piece supports this latter proposition. Dr. Lee could have possibly received his errors as some sort of gift for medical services given to the person who originally had the entire sequence. Perhaps they were simply sold to him. It seems plausible the rest of the half dollar sequence was distributed, since we know of at least the one other half dollar error – the one Fred Weinberg handled – held in private hands.
Also supporting the idea that an employee in Carson City in 1873 was intentionally manufacturing errors is the existence of an 1873-CC half dollar Professional Coin Grading Service F-12, double struck in collar, which sold through Heritage Auction Galleries in November 2003. Although not wildly double struck, the error is very scarce for the denomination, and especially scarce for the Carson City Mint.
Within the archives of the Nevada State Museum are records suggesting that, at one time, the museum held a mate to the brockaged Trade dollar error, but this is not certain. Regardless, the run of confirmed dramatic errors coming from Carson City in 1873 makes a convincing case that a mischievous Mint employee was having an error collector’s field day.
Mr. Weinberg had the two Nevada State Museum pieces certified by PCGS. The Trade dollar received a grade of AU-55, “Huge Broadstruck and Reverse Brockage of Obverse.” The half dollar graded AU-58, “Multi-struck Reverse [Die] Cap.” It was also noted that the piece had been struck in sequence with its privately owned mate. As for that mated coin, graded PCGS XF-45, it was now obvious that the coin had been struck in Carson City. Its label now boasted a CC mintmark.
The brockage of the obverse design on the reverse side of the Trade dollar made it that no mintmark could be visible. However, the provenance and history surrounding the Trade dollar was sufficient to convince PCGS that that piece had also been struck in Carson City, so the label for the Trade dollar also reads as 1873-CC.
It should be noted that all of the errors discussed here have at least some degree of wear. The only possible exception is the 1873-CC half dollar die cap PCGS AU-58, which, in my opinion, was an uncirculated piece. However, it is possible that these coins acquired their wear from being “pocket pieces,” as opposed to being legitimately circulated. The broadstruck/brockaged Trade dollar has a touch of solder on the rim at 12 o’clock, meaning it may have been used as a watch fob or on a necklace.
On the whole, this presents the idea that smuggling items out of the Carson City Mint could have been quite prevalent in the 1870s. Between Dr. Lee’s 1873-CC errors, the 1873-CC errors owned privately, and Dr. Lee’s 1876-CC 20-cent piece, somebody or somebodies was likely channeling items to collectors outside the Mint.
It will be interesting to see if more 1873-CC errors are discovered. There are many errors in numismatics that were likely made on purpose, but to have a batch of multiple errors that seem to have been intentionally struck is quite special. What is even more unique is to have them come from the famed Carson City Mint.