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Carson City gold deserves appreciation

Gold has been in the headlines a lot since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Almost every day you see someone offering an opinion that puts gold at some incredible high price sometime in the future.

Gold has been in the headlines a lot since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Almost every day you see someone offering an opinion that puts gold at some incredible high price sometime in the future.


These headlines, though, are for generic gold. For collectors, that kind of gold has no soul. If we could have gold with a soul, what would it be? I nominate Carson City gold coins.

We almost never think of Carson City in terms of gold. After all, the Carson City branch mint, located less than 20 miles from Virginia City and the heart of the Comstock Lode, is naturally thought of in terms of silver coins. Moreover, Carson City did not disappoint as it produced some truly great silver coins in a short period of time. While most famous for its silver dollars, the fact is that Carson City produced tough coins of virtually all denominations.


The coins of Carson City that sometimes get completely overlooked are its gold issues. In the gold coins of Carson City there is virtually one significant rarity after another as Carson City rarely had large gold coin mintages, just as was the case with silver coins it issued.

In the case of lower denominations, there was frequently not much if any saving of new issues from Carson City, and that applied to gold coins as well. It appears that gold coins circulated around Carson City but that there were few if any collectors to save nice examples as they were produced.

The situation was natural at the time as there is virtually no evidence of anyone collecting things like double eagles by both date and mint in 1870 when Carson City produced its first gold coin. It was not much different in lower denominations like gold eagles or half eagles. What few collectors there might have been for gold coins were probably just working on date sets, and in that case they could acquire a higher-mintage example of the date from Philadelphia or San Francisco, allowing the coins from Carson City to circulate.


The Carson City facility did make gold coins, but the facility could have made many more. There were political problems in Carson City, especially with its first superintendent, Abe Curry, who seemed to have more enemies than friends in the area. That saw much of the silver that would have potentially been made in to coins shipped not to Carson City, but rather San Francisco. The trend continued over the years, and it can fairly be said the Carson City facility never lived up to its potential in terms of coin production, no matter whether the coins in question were silver or gold.


Carson City would actually produce only three denominations of gold coins. There were half eagles ($5s), eagles ($10s) and double eagles ($20s). It would certainly have been possible to try quarter eagles ($2.50s) and even gold dollars and $3 gold pieces. But, virtually from the start when it came to gold coins, Carson City acted much like San Francisco in the early days, putting its emphasis on higher denominations. As a result, even if you knew nothing of the Carson City story, based on its gold coins you would come to the conclusion that Carson City was a frontier facility with an emphasis on making big coins both in terms of silver and gold.


The first gold coins from Carson City were produced in 1870. The mintages were generally low and the numbers saved even lower. The 1870-CC half eagle had a mintage of 7,675 and that makes it both historic and tough. At $5,250 today even in VF-20, with an MS-60 price of $110,000, the 1870-CC ranks as one of the great half eagle rarities of the period. The numbers known today are small with Professional Coin Grading Service reporting 62 examples graded, primarily in lower grades as of that total only two (both MS-61) were called Mint State.


For the next few years there would continue to be low mintages of half eagles at Carson City. The grading service totals are even lower although the prices suggest that dates like the 1871-CC and 1872-CC at $1,250 in VF-20, along with the 1873-CC at $2,600 would be more available. That does not appear to be the case as we see PCGS totals for the three at 75 appearances for the 1871-CC (none in Mint State), 60 appearances for the 1872-CC (again none in Mint State) and 51 appearances for the 1873-CC with two in Mint State. All three have lower totals than the more expensive 1870-CC and in no case can any be considered available.


The Carson City half eagles of the 1870s would continue to be low-mintage and tough with nearly all above $1,000 today just in VF-20 while supplies in Mint State are limited if any examples are known, and in some dates there are real doubts that any Mint State coins exist.


The one tougher date of the 1870s in the Carson City half eagles is the 1878-CC. Carson City regularly had low mintages, but remember that 1787 was the year of transition from the Trade to Morgan dollar. Carson City was probably busy with that change and that may have had something to do with the 9,054 mintage of half eagles that year. The 1878-CC is just plain scarce with a price of $3,100 in VF-20 and a $60,000 listing in MS-60. PCGS has graded just 50 examples and fully half were VG-VF. The highest grade reached by any of the 50 was AU-58, so that $60,000 MS-60 price is really in doubt as if anyone has a Mint State example they will hold out for a higher price, and with good reason.

The 1879-CC mintage was just 17,281, making it a good date, but starting in 1880 the Carson City half eagle total rose to 51,017, making at least some dates of the 1880s more available. There would be no half eagle production at Carson City in the period from 1885 until 1890. When half eagles returned to production in the 1890s, the mintages would be in the range of 50,000 or more, making the last half eagle dates through the final half eagle in 1893 more available, the group starting at $315 in VF-20. So a Carson City half eagle is possible for many collectors.

The pattern of availability is very similar for the Carson City gold eagles, which also saw their first production with a small 1870-CC mintage of just 5,908 pieces. In the case of the 1870-CC you have that great combination of historic importance but small numbers, and that results in a $10,000 VF-20 price, which should not be too surprising. The $90,000 MS-60 price of the 1870-CC may be wishful thinking as PCGS reports 44 examples graded and none of the 44 was able to top AU-55.

The Carson City eagles from the 1870s tend to be a better group with $3,000 or higher VF-20 prices found for dates like the 1872-CC, 1873-CC which is at $6,000, 1875-CC and 1878-CC. The only date even close to available is the 16,767-mintage 1874-CC whil e the real key other than the 1870-CC is the 1,762-mintage 1879-CC.

Trying to explain that 1879-CC is difficult although the required silver dollar mintages of the period hang over all mintages from the time. Whatever the reason, the 1879-CC lists for $9,500 in VF-20 and $60,000 in MS-60. PCGS totals show just 31 coins with the best being a single AU-58. Realistically, the 1879-CC, with a much lower mintage than the 1870-CC, looks to be tougher but at a lower price. It is hard to say if the historical importance of the 1870-CC is enough to justify the current price spread but certainly that is possible.

The pattern for Carson City gold eagles during the 1880s and early 1890s before the facility stopped coin production is similar to that of the half eagles. Mintages were higher and numbers surviving to the present seem to be better as well, making it possible to obtain one of the more available dates from the period at prices just above $420 in VF-20. That does not mean dates such as the 1881-CC, currently at $515 in VF-20, are common as it had a mintage of just 24,015, but it is more available than other Carson City eagles with PCGS reporting more than 200 examples seen.

The real focus historically for those relatively few making a careful study of Carson City gold has been the double eagle, and with good reason as you start with a major rarity in the form of the 1870-CC.

The double eagles present a fascinating challenge as they were never saved in any numbers by anyone. A $20 coin at the time was simply too much for most collectors, and there is really no evidence of any serious collecting by date and mint in the United States for almost the entire time Carson City produced coins. In fact, there would not be much collecting of double eagles right up until the time in 1933 when gold coins were recalled.

Certainly in some cases today we have supplies that are better than they might have been simply because the double eagle was a natural coin to be used for international transactions. That saw millions of double eagles end up in vaults especially in Europe. In those numbers there were some Carson City double eagles, though certainly not many, and the pioneer dealers who searched European vaults for better dates were quick to snap up and bring home any ?CC? double eagles they found. It makes the average Carson City double eagle today a coin that might very well have circulated in the streets of the Old West simply to end up in a bank vault in France or Switzerland before returning home to a collection. We cannot tell the story of any individual coin, but that possibility of a rather unusual history of use and then sitting in a European vault is very possible for almost any Carson City double eagle.

The first Carson City double eagle was the 1870-CC and it remains one of the most famous double eagles today. The 1870-CC had a mintage of just 3,789 and poor prospects for survival. It is estimated that fewer than 50 examples exist today/ Finding a nice one is a challenge as the 1870-CC was not well made. The obverse is always weaker than the reverse and the coins frequently show bumps and abrasions from mishandling. It?s frankly a horrible combination of problems although they prove the 1870-CC was a true pioneer gold coin that tended to have a very rough time. Any listing is really a hypothetical price with a VF-20 listing at $100,000 while an MS-60 is at $700,000. That makes it possible that a truly exceptional 1870-CC could be a $1 million coin although such a coin may not exist as most feel there are only one or two examples remaining in Mint State.

The 1871-CC with a mintage of 17,387 is slightly more available although still a significant challenge as is seen in a price of $6,750 in VF-20 and $45,000 in MS-60. The 1871-CC, like the 1870-CC, seemed to see a lot of hard wear, meaning many examples of the few remaining are damaged.

The 1871-CC was also lightly struck although it is not as bad as the 1870-CC. There are at least a few known examples in Mint State. That said, while certainly more available than the 1870-CC, the 1871-CC is still a major challenge to find without problems or in Mint State.

The 1872-CC with a mintage of 26,900 and the 1873-CC with a mintage of 22,410 are also tough at $2,200 for the 1872-CC and $2,600 for the 1873-CC in VF-20. The two appear to have been dates that saw heavy circulation, and it was rough wear. As a result both tend to be found in VF-20 and while you might find a nicer example, it is unusual and price will be high with either being above $30,000 in MS-60.

The 1874-1876 Carson City double eagles are all available at roughly $1,400 in VF-20. The mintages were in some cases over 100,000 and there are numbers at least in circulated grades available today. The typical coin is going to be in the VF-XF range. As Q. David Bowers correctly pointed out in his book A Guide Book to Double Eagle Gold Coins, the 1876-CC was a date that was found in European vaults, but the numbers are not large and those coins found tended to be ?baggy.? Even where there are numbers, the quality is frequently suspect at best.

The 1877-CC can be tough although it is priced like the others dates from the late 1870s in VF-20. Its supply in Mint State is especially subject to question and much the same is true of the 1878-CC and 1879-CC, which are both seen as tougher with $2,200 and $2,000 VF-20 prices ? still not high when you remember the two dates had mintages of less than 15,000.

The Carson City double eagle was then not produced until 1882 and generally speaking the dates of the 1880s are likely to start at just over $1,000 in VF-20. The 1885-CC with a mintage of just 9,450 is an exception with a $2,100 VF-20 price today. In the case of the 1885-CC you had a combination of heavy use in circulation for some coins while others were probably exported and sometimes lost making it even tough than its already low mintage would indicate.

In the date of the late 1880s and 1890 the Carson City double eagles fall into the relatively available group with prices usually just over $1,250 in VF-20 and Mint State examples while possible to find being generally rare in upper Mint State grades. The one exception is the 5,000-mintage 1891-CC which lists for $3,500 in VF-20 and $20,000 in MS-60.

The 1891-CC is interesting as it combines a lot of factors, starting with its very low mintage. The general belief is that perhaps a couple thousand examples of the 1891-CC ended up being exported. Ultimately, most of those coins would be lost to the hobby, but the 1891-CC would be much tougher than it is were it not for the fact that a couple hundred were discovered and returned home, providing much of our supply today. Even so, the number available is small, probably just a few hundred pieces, and that keeps the 1891-CC high on many double eagle want lists.

With the end of coin production at Carson City, an era of fascinating gold coins came to an end. The small numbers of many dates, today at least, provide challege while other dates are reletively available, allowing many the chance to have a Carson City gold half eagle, eagle and double eagle.

An entire collection of the Carson City gold coins, however, is a real challenge and one few can attempt with a serious hope of completion in any grade. While tough, the Carson City gold coins are rich in history and a mirror from a significant period in American history that makes them hard to resist.