In theory, the 1876-CC Seated Liberty 20-cent piece should be tough but not rare. However, things did not always go according to plan when it came to 20-cent pieces or the Carson City Mint.
By 1875, the 20-cent coin was over the hill in terms of popularity. This was a little unusual, since 1875 was the first year the denomination was even produced. From the time the first examples hit circulation, the public did not like the new denomination.
That was very bad news out in San Francisco and Carson City, as it had been the Western mining interests who served as the prime proponents of a new 20 cents. But the whole idea had never really made sense. There was nothing a 20-cent coin could do that two dimes could not do, and the West had plenty of dimes.
In addition, the 20 cents seems to have been rejected rather uniformly around the country. The real problem may not have been the denomination but the fact that people kept getting the coin confused with the existing quarter. It did not help, of course, that the denomination was not needed.
It was easy to tell from the first 1875 mintages how the idea of a 20-cent coin was seen at the various mints. There was clearly no belief in the new denomination at Philadelphia, where 39,700 were struck. Carson City was largely neutral with a mintage of 133,290. San Francisco, meanwhile, was more enthusiastic with a first-year output of 1,155,000.
However, the San Francisco facility never made another 20 cents. The 1876 total at Philadelphia dropped to 15,900, and Carson City followed suit, with a mintage of just 10,000.
The latter might have gone even further, as there is reason to believe that the entire CC mintage was simply melted and never released into circulation.
The idea of melting down 10,000 coins might seem extreme, but Carson City had done it before. In 1873, it had made 12,400 dimes before there was a slight increase in the amount of silver. It appears that 12,399 were melted, since only one Assay Commission coin remains.
The same thing happened with the 1873 quarter, as Carson City reported a mintage of 4,000 of the No Arrows type but only about half a dozen are known to exist. Even the 1873-CC Seated Liberty dollar is suspected of having been melted in some numbers.
Given that the Carson City Mint had 10,000 20-cent coins it knew no one wanted, the logic may have been to just melt them and use the silver for something else. We do not have certain evidence that this took place, but we also do not have many 1876-CC 20 cents. That certainly raises suspicions.
The known number of pieces traces primarily to a hoard that Q. David Bowers discussed in his book American Coin Treasures & Hoards. According to Bowers, in the 1950s Baltimore coin dealer Tom Warfield came up with seven to nine Mint State examples. Bowers was able to purchase four, which he placed in private collections.
What makes the hoard so interesting is that it represents about 50 percent of all known examples, since the general belief is that 20 or fewer examples exist. That makes the source of the Warfield group of interest, and Bowers suggests, “It is my opinion that these may have come from someone who once served on the Assay Commission, which in 1877 reviewed the prior year’s coinage.”
This is an interesting observation, since we have come to much the same conclusion for the 1873-CC No Arrows dime, and 1873-CC No Arrows quarters also tend to be Mint State.
Any 1876-CC 20-cent coin is very important and expensive today. In 1997, at the Elisaberg sale, an example graded MS65 brought $148,500, while a 1999 Heritage sale with an MS63 example produced a price of $86,500. Current price listings are $160,000 in AU, $220,000 in MS60, $375,000 in MS63, and $585,000 in MS65.
It is safe to assume the next 1876-CC Seated Liberty 20 cents sold will bring a much higher price. Grade will have an impact, but whatever the price, it will be high for a coin that was once unwanted.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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