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1870 offers rarities, odd denominations

 An 1870 gold piece from Philadelphia has a retail price in XF40 of around $1,800, not that much more than gold value. An 1870 two-cent piece lists for $115. An 1870 Seated Liberty dollar is $912. Carson City Mint issues of that year carry what can be called “the CC premium.”

An 1870 gold piece from Philadelphia has a retail price in XF40 of around $1,800, not that much more than gold value. An 1870 two-cent piece lists for $115. An 1870 Seated Liberty dollar is $912. Carson City Mint issues of that year carry what can be called “the CC premium.”

The year 1870 has so much to offer a collector. True rarities, some unique, bear the date 1870. An historic mint began operations this year. There were three-cent coins in two metals, along with two cent pieces, nickels, half dimes, and $3 gold. If you like odd denominations, this is a year for you.

Carson City’s Mint began operations on Feb. 10 that year, striking silver dollars. The Mint struck silver and gold coins until 1893. Coins with the famous CC mintmark are popular with collectors for their history and scarcity. There is even a collectors’ society for fans of these coins.

Quarters, half dollars, and dollars were struck at Carson City that first year, along with $5, $10, and $20 gold pieces. All of these coins are scarce and in high demand by collectors. Mintage figures were quite small compared with modern coins.

The 1870-CC quarter, with only 8,340 minted, commands a five-figure price even in lesser grades. Mintage figures were a bit more healthy for the half dollar. Over 54,000 half dollars were made, a much lower figure than its brother coins from Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1870-CC silver dollar, with over 11,000 minted and a small survival rate, is a prize for the Seated Liberty specialist.

Most of the silver Carson City coins went out into circulation and did the job they were created to do. Mint State coins are scarce. But even heavily worn coins are in demand from Carson City fans.

The 1870-CC $20 gold is a rarity. Only 3,789 were minted, with a fraction of that known today. The $5 and $10 gold, with their tiny mintages and low survival rates, are also rare. Only 7,675 were minted of the $5 gold and 5,908 of the $10 gold.

Besides the famous Carson City scarcities, the San Francisco Mint struck some classic rarities, including two unique coins. The 1870-S half dime is unique – only one known – and it was not discovered until 1978. Perhaps because of its recent discovery and its small size, this special coin does not get the publicity that other rare coins do.

There are 15 specimens of the famed 1804 dollar and five 1913 Liberty nickels, but there is only one of this little half dime.

Only one 1870-S $3 gold is known. It is part of the Bass Collection, on display at ANA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. The coin is not perfect and has a few scratches on the reverse, but this coin is unique.

Less than a dozen 1870-S silver dollars are known, with only one in Mint State. One reportedly was found in circulation and saved because of its different design.

The 1870-S dime had a low mintage of 50,000, while the 1870-S half dollar is more common.

San Francisco struck gold coins in five denominations in 1870. Over 982,000 double eagles were minted, with the other coins having much lower mintages.

Philadelphia Mint coins of 1870 are not difficult to find, but varieties make this year remarkable. The Indian cent has shallow and bold “N” varieties, referring to the “N” in ONE. Bronze two-cent pieces are available in all grades and in proof. Three-cent coins were struck in nickel and silver; the nickel coin is common, while the silver had a mintage of only 3,000, with 1,000 proofs. The proof coin sells for less than an uncirculated coin. This is the result of the collector habits at the time of issue. They saved proofs. The circulation strikes went off into circulation and became even rarer.

Both nickels and half dimes were minted in 1870; both Philadelphia issues are common. The dime and half dollar are also common, with the P-mint quarter a bit harder to find. Mintage was 86,400, very low by modern standards, but prices for this coin are not too painful. The silver dollar is one of the easier dates in the Seated Liberty series and makes a great type coin.

Over 155,000 P-mint double eagles were minted, but the other gold coins had much smaller figures. Especially note the $2.50 and $3 coins. 4,520 quarter eagles were minted, but the prices are pretty much the same as for other coins of the era with higher mintages. While all $3 gold coins are scarce, check the 1870-P with its mintage of 3,500. This is a small figure, with an even lower survival rate. Prices for these coins are not that high, considering their scarcity. A few minutes spent with a Red Book, checking mintage figures and prices for the quarter eagles of this time, could prove interesting.

Proof coins were minted this year at Philadelphia. Around 1,000 specimens were struck of the bronze, nickel, and silver coins, with very limited gold proof numbers, 35 of each denomination.

There is much for a collector to love about the year 1870, although it’s not possible to assemble a year set of 1870 coinage even with an unlimited checkbook. The unique coins, the scarce pieces, the numismatic history, all make 1870 a memorable year for United States coinage.

Take a look at these pieces in the price guide and reflect on the colorful coinage history of this magnificent year.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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