The Carson City Mint: This institution was established by the Act of March 3, 1863, which provided also for the appointment of a superintendent at $2,000 a year and an assayer, a melter-refiner, and a coiner for $1,800 each annually.
The Comstock Lode, which was discovered in June 1859, was located approximately 15 miles away and for a time was America's richest silver bonanza. In addition, large quantities of gold were extracted from the earth in the district. (While over the years the Comstock Lode has been considered primarily as a source of silver, during the existence of the Carson City Mint the total face value of gold coins struck there was approximately equal to that of silver issues.)
The Carson City Mint was ready to do business in December 1869. Dies dated 1869 sent by the Philadelphia Mint were received at Carson City by October 21, 1869. How many were sent is not known; no inventory listing of 1869 and 1870 dies has been found." The 1869-dated dies were not used; the reverses were probably held for 1870 and later use.
The first Carson City Mint coins were silver dollars minted from 1870-dated dies on February 10, 1870, a quantity of 3,747 pieces. All were struck using a press made in Philadelphia by Morgan & Orr (see below). Each 1870-CC dollar bore the distinctive CC mintmark on the reverse. On February 11th, Andrew Wright received the first delivery of CC dollars, a quantity of 2,300 coins. Wright, a watch-man or guard at the Mint, was undoubtedly entrusted with their safekeeping and/or paying them out. An additional three coins were saved for the Assay Commission.
Others then and later were shipped by horsedrawn wagon 30 miles over very rough roads to the railhead in Reno. Stored in cloth bags, the coins were extensively marked by the time they arrived at Reno, more so at their final destinations.
Production of Liberty Seated dollars at Carson City continued through early 1873, after which the new Mint Act abolished the denomination, and this branch began making trade dollars. Production of standard dollars resumed in 1878 at the Carson City Mint, using the new Morgan design, continuing through 1885, when Mint Bureau orders suspended all Carson City coinage operations. From 1889 through 1893 additional dollars were made there. In later years the Carson City Mint served as an assay office. No coins were struck after 1893.
In addition to silver dollars, the Carson City Mint struck silver dimes, 20-cent pieces, quarters, half dollars, and trade dollars, as well as gold coins of the values of $5, $10, and $20. Each Carson City coin bore the distinctive CC mintmark on its reverse.
Circulated grades: The 1870-CC, the first Carson City dollar issue, was minted to the extent of just 11,758, the total of monthly production figures per Mint records (or, per long-standing tradition, 12,462). (12,462 is a figure calculated and published by the Mint in the mid-1880s and cannot be substantiated today; R.W.Julian and Randall Wiley both checked the original monthly figures and arrived at the number of 11,758.)
However, quite a few were saved, probably representing specimens that were plucked from circulation after the publication of Augustus G. Heaton's Mint Marks study in 1893.
Circulated 1870-CC dollars have been available, reasonably priced, and popular on the numismatic market over the years. Much has been written about varieties, availability, etc., of the 1870-CC in The Gobrecht Journal. John Kroon reported that he saw 17 specimens at a single coin show. (Letter to the author, February 25, 1992.) Dale Phelan wrote that in 1992 a hoard of 82 coins in lower grades was in a private collection. (Letter to the author, May 27, 1992.) Hundreds of specimens exist, many of which show extensive wear.
Availability of Mint State grades: Examples of Mint State 1870-CC dollars, while quite rare, are more available than any of their other Carson City brethren in the Liberty Seated series. Those seen by me have all had prooflike surfaces. Often this is reflected in catalogue listings, such as these: The Fairfield Collection Coin (Bowers and Ruddy, 1977, Lot 1130) was described as "with nearly full prooflike surfaces .... So beautiful are the .surfaces that there is a distinct possibility that this may have been a presentation piece." The Auction '84 coin (Stack's, Lot 1194) was described as with "prooflike surfaces and needle-sharp in strike .... More than likely struck for presentation as the first year of issue of the Carson City Mint." A specimen in the Weimar White Collection has prooflike characteristics; Chris Napolitano comments that it is possibly a branch mint Proof. (Letter to the author, June 26,1992")
Some of the 1870-CC dollars graded "Uncirculated" or "Mint State," certified as well as non-certified coins, have not been in this grade, in my opinion; they seem easy to overgrade because of the typical prooflike surface seen on coins at the AU level or better. For example, I examined a certified coin marked "MS-63" that was almost coal black, and, in my opinion, no better than MS-60.
Weimar W. White commentary: The following opinion was given in correspondence with the author: (Letters from Weimar W. White, February 14 and May 17, 1992.)
All Mint State Liberty Seated Carson City standard silver dollars are great rarities. At one time it was thought that the four Carson City dates in Uncirculated condition would total about 50 specimens extant. However, as the grading standards tightened upin the middle 1980s, a number of the MS-60 graded coins fell into the About Uncirculated classification. Today, specialists who study these four dates feel that only 20 to 35 Uncirculated specimens are extant. Among others who share my views is John Kroon, who, like me, has investigated the series extensively.
Collectors who are trying to build l0-piece Carson City type sets [containing various denominations] in Mint State face the ultimate stopper coin, which is one of these much celebrated Carson City dollars. As of this writing, not one 1873-CC Liberty Seated dollar has been certified by the two major grading services [PCGS and NGC]. And, only a few of the other CC dates are listed as existing in this lofty grade. It is easier to locate a Mint State 1893-S Morgan dollar or 1878-CC trade dollar than to find an" 1870-CC Liberty Seated dollar in the same grade.