Thanks to the presence of 147,485 examples of the 1881-CC Morgan dollar in the GSA sales of the 1970s, it is available. Had it not been for that hoard, however, the 1881-CC might well be a significant rarity.
The 1881-CC Morgan started with a low mintage of 296,000 made possible by the fact that no dollars were minted from April 1 to Oct. 1 of that year. At the time there was no great need for new Morgan dollars and no great collector interest, either. The two collector fads of the time were proof Trade dollars, which were still being made, and gold dollars that frequently had very low mintages and were hoarded. No one knew or would have expected that things like Carson City Morgan dollars would one day be far more popular than proof Trade dollars or gold dollars.
We can’t be sure how many examples of the 1881-CC were released into circulation at the time, but with such a low mintage and roughly 50 percent of that mintage being found in the Treasury vault and sold in the 1970s, the number to actually reach circulation back in the early 1880s had to be small. The top estimates are around 50,000 pieces and even that seems high.
The 1881-CC seemingly trickled out over the years although it was recognized fairly quickly as a better date. It had a low mintage and there seemed to be very few to be found.
There were reports of some examples being paid out from the cash room at the Treasury in the late 1930s, although at the time there would have been minimal numismatic interest. Later, in the mid-1950s, that cash room is thought to be the source of additional numbers.
The fact that those coins emerged from Washington would suggest that some examples of the 1881-CC were shipped around 1900 to Washington. In fact, it was almost certainly a large percentage of the total 1881-CC inventory. However, at the same time there are reports of others emerging from San Francisco. That too is possible as when the last dollars were shipped out of Carson City they went to both San Francisco and Washington. The best guess is that the San Francisco coins ended up in the hands of casino owners in Reno who were actually relatively aware of better dates and were likely to have offered bags to dealers at a premium price. Whether any were sold is uncertain.
The fate of the 1881-CC dollars that were shipped to Washington tended to be better. They were spared Pittman Act melting and relatively few would have circulated. Ultimately they would become a part of the GSA sales in the 1970s.
The GSA sales total of the 1881-CC is almost exactly 50 percent of the entire mintage. The total is high enough that the 1881-CC is relatively available in Mint State, although demand remains very high as is the case for any Carson City dollar. Today the 1881-CC lists for $540 in MS-60 while an MS-65 is $925. It is interesting that a VG-8 is $375, which is not far below an MS-60 or even an MS-65, and that is for a good reason.
The 1881-CC is one of the toughest of all Morgan dollars in circulated grades as few ever circulated. It may not be as tough as the 1885-CC, but it is extremely hard to find in any circulated grade.
The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has graded roughly 8,500 examples of the 1881-CC, and so far a total of 30 coins were called circulated. Professional Coin Grading Service reports that about 13,800 examples of the 1881-CC have been graded and, of that total, 25 coins were called circulated. Combine the two services and you have safely over 21,000 examples of the 1881-CC. Just 55 of them are circulated.
Under the circumstances, treat yourself and buy a nice 1881-CC, which in many minds is the best made Carson City dollar. Pay the extra and enjoy your 1881-CC. Otherwise, you will only frustrate yourself trying to find a cheaper circulated example. So live it up with a nice 1881-CC.