It can safely be suggested that the 1876-CC 20-cent piece ranks as one of the most interesting of all U.S. coins. It is a very rare coin whose true story may be more elusive than the coin itself.
There was no good reason to have a 20-cent piece since there was nothing it could do in commerce that two dimes couldn’t. However, the new denomination would use up silver and keep the mints busy, so officials went along with the idea.
Support for the 20-cent piece fell apart in the first months after it was released. The Philadelphia Mint produced a mere 39,700 coins the first year. The San Francisco and Carson City mintages were higher, but this makes sense since it was the West that supported the idea.
But even in the West, the coin found very few supporters. By the second year there was already legislation to eliminate the denomination.
San Francisco, which had produced more than 1 million 20-cent pieces the first year, would never produce another. The 1876-CC 20-cent piece mintage would be just 10,000 pieces.
The question is, what happened to those 1876-CC coins? Today we know of a few. Professional Coin Grading Service reports 12 with the lowest grade being an MS-61. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports just five with the lowest being an MS-64.
These numbers tell us that something is wrong with that population as not a single coin is circulated. These are the survivors saved possibly by a mint employee at the time. The rest of the mintage is thought to have been melted.
The Treasury was already communicating with the mints that the 20-cent piece was finished, and in 1877 an order to melt them was given. It is likely that almost all 10,000 examples of the 1876-CC were still sitting in vaults and were destroyed.
The 1876-CC would barely be known at all were it not for a hoard described by Q. David Bowers in his American Coins Treasures and Hoards, where he points to Baltimore dealer Tom Warfield as the source for between seven to nine Mint State examples. Bowers concluded that they might have come from a member of the Assay Commission.
That said, a hoard providing perhaps 50 percent of the known examples is extremely unusual.
Prices show that the 1992 Eliasberg example of the 1876-CC graded MS-65 brought a price of $148,500, while the 1999 Heritage sale MS-63 was purchased for $86,500. The fact that the older price is higher can be explained by the difference in grades as it appears that MS-65 or MS-66 is the top grade possible for any of the known examples.
Certainly the 1876-CC is full of interesting questions as it was a coin that may well have never circulated. It is also a coin where a significant percentage of those known today emerged from a single hoard.