In 1873, employees at the Carson City Mint produced both Seated Liberty Dollars and Trade Dollars. The Seated Liberty version boasts a low mintage of only 2,300 pieces, and the date stands as one of the great rarities of that series. Much of the reason for the low mintage of the 1873-CC Seated Liberty Dollar can be attributed to the time and resources diverted to the Trade Dollar, which has a substantially higher mintage of 124,500 pieces (by far, the highest output of CC-mintmarked Dollars up until that point).
In circulated conditions, the 1873-CC Trade Dollar is readily available up until the EF-AU grade, above which prices and rarity rise quickly. Though the Condition Census for this date inlcudes coins in MS-63 and better, any Mint State 1873-CC Dollar can be considered a prize. The most commonly seen Mint State grade is MS62, implying that most survivors are somewhat "baggy" from having come into contact with other coins. The finest 1873-CC Trade Dollar certified by PCGS is a single MS-65.
Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993).
First Carson City coinage: The Carson City Mint, located close to Virginia City, Nevada, site of the fabulous Comstock Lode's silver (and gold) mines, seemingly was the logical mint to strike vast quantities of trade dollars from this metal. In practice, most Comstock Lode silver was shipped to San Francisco for coinage. Contributing to the situation was political opposition to the Carson City Mint as an inferior upstart rival to the San Francisco Mint.
Nearly the entire production of 1873-CC trade dollars went to China.
Four pairs of dies made: Four pairs of trade dollar dies, made in Philadelphia (where all dies for all mints were made), were received in Carson City on July 22, 1873. It is not known if all dies were used; probably most were, as they did not last long, averaging only about 15,000 impressions per die pair. Coinage began immediately, and on the following day, 4,500 pieces were ready for shipment, and 2,580 coins were paid out to local depositors, this being the first circulation of the denomination in the West. Four more pairs followed, two sent from Philadelphia on October 18th, two more at an unknown date. All had small CC mintmarks.
Die dating and usage; general commentary: It was mint practice to discontinue the use of any dated dies once the calendar date had expired. Thus, any serviceable 1873 obverse dies on hand as of December 31, 1873 would have been canceled (the Carson City Mint did this by using a chisel to cut an X mark across the face). Serviceable reverse dies would have been kept on hand for use the following year.
None saved by collectors: So far as is known, not a single numismatist in 1873 was interested in collecting trade dollars by mintmark varieties. Nearly all coins were shipped to the Orient, although a few apparently saw domestic use. Many of the exported pieces saw heavy use and were chopmarked; the same is true of most other trade dollar issues of the 1873-1874 years.
Circulated grades: In circulated grades the 1873-CC is quite scarce. I estimate that about 1,000 to 2,000 exist in grades from VF-20 through AU-58. The issue has always been a key date, and in the 1950s shipments from the Orient to coin dealers in the United States were apt to have very few 1873-CC coins. The coin in John M. Willem's personal reference collection was AD.
Mint State grades: The 1873-CC is an extreme rarity in higher Mint State levels. I have never seen an MS-65, nor has one been certified by PCGS or NGC (as of April 1992). In MS-64 grade it is likewise an extreme rarity; I estimate that only two or three are known, and this estimate may be too liberal. Bruce Amspacher has written: "I have never seen a coin that graded above MS-63.(In his chapter in John Highfill's Encyclopedia, p. 635.) Until recent times, the rarity of 1873-CC in upper grades has not been appreciated. Now, it has emerged as a coin which in the upper echelons of Mint State outshines by far the 1893-S Morgan dollar, for example.
In MS-63 grade the 1873-CC maintains its lofty rarity status, and examples seem to be about as elusive as MS-64; which is saying that only two or three exist.
In Mint State levels of 63, 64, and 65 the 1873-CC trade dollar, indeed, is a heavyweight contender, a coin whose time seems due.
Finally, at the MS-60 to MS-62 level, coins begin to appear, but even so, I estimate the population to be on the order of only 40 to 80 pieces, which in the scheme of things numismatic is peanuts. Many of these have been cleaned; possibly including the small group of about five Mint State coins in the World-Wide Coin Investments mini-hoard mentioned by Bruce Amspacher (see introduction to the denomination).
Probably, most extant Mint State 1873-CC trade dollars represent coins returned from the Orient, which missed being chopmarked.
The Rosen study: Mint State 1873-CC trade dollars are exceedingly rare. In a 1980 study (Maurice Rosen. "The U.S. Trade Dollar Series: An In-Depth Study." Gobrecht foumal; March 1980.) Maurice Rosen stated that in years of looking he had seen only two which could be truly described as being in this grade. Most pieces described as "Uncirculated" weren't, in his opinion. He noted that in a 1977 auction a "Brilliant Uncirculated" piece, so described, was graded by him as only EF-45, heavily bagmarked, and with scratches.
Over a decade later, Maurice Rosen commented as follows (letter to the author, January 22, 1992):
"The 1873-CC is my favorite date and a genuine scarcity in or near Mint State. The finest I've seen auctioned, which I bought, was the piece in the Fairfield Collection ('Choice BU'). Finest I've seen anywhere is a NGC-certified MS-64, owned by a good client. This. is a largely unheralded date, much rarer than the 1889-CC Morgan silver dollar. Most of the issue was exported to China in 1873, with others pressed into hard domestic service, later melted. I doubt if a true MS-65 exists!"
OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876
REVERSE TYPE I: BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1873-1876
Breen-5781. Normal letters. "Do any show broken serifs?" asks Walter H. Breen. All varieties are usually seen in low grades and/or are chopmarked. Four pairs of dies were received at the Carson City Mint on July 21,1873 as noted; four more pairs were received later. Mintmark .9 mm high; spacing between C's varies from.6 mm to .75 mm. "Minute cc" compared to certain mintmarks used in later years. Three varieties have been identified to date:
1. Close CC, central.
2. Close CC, low.
3. Wide CC, over a C's width apart. Rare. Cf. Norweb specimen.
Dies prepared: Obverse: 8; Reverse: 81
Circulation strike mintage: 124,500. Delivery figures by month: July: 16,500; August: 6,000; September: 8,000; October: 37,000; November: 13,500; December: 43,500. This averages out to slightly over 15,500 per die pair, if all pairs were used.
Characteristics of striking: Some have slight weakness of striking on the eagle's sinister leg and on the eagle's claws.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: None of significance; in the. 1970s World-Wide Coin Investments had an estimated five pieces.
Rarity with original Chinese chopmark(s): Somewhat rare.
The first 2,580 pieces were released to local depositors on July 23, 1873; 'most of the entire subsequent issue went to China.
The Local Scene in Carson City
The following is from the Carson Daily Appeal published in Carson City, Nevada, April 3, 1873: (This and most other Carson City newspaper quotations are from Willem, The United States Trade Dollar.)
"Dies for the stamping of half-dollars and a new set of test weights came to the Mint yesterday. The new regulation half-dollar is to be something heavier than the old one; and it is to have a device indicating its weight-reversed arrow heads each side of the date. Very soon we will begin to have the new "trade dollar"-a beautiful and massive coin, superior in beauty and value, doubtless to any other silver coin made in any mint."
The same publication on May 8, 1873, noted this:
"We saw in the mint yesterday between two and three hundred pounds of silver bullion from Benton, Inyo County, California, which is to be coined into trade dollars as soon as the arrangements are perfected for their coinage."
On July 22, 1873 this appeared in the Appeal:
"The new dies for the coinage of the silver trade dollars were received yesterday by the Superintendent of the Carson City Mint and will be put on the press today for the trial. They differ somewhat from the old dollar stamp .... 8,000 will be coined with the new dies today."
This was followed by another report the next day:
"THE FIRST TRADE DOLLAR ever coined west of Philadelphia was shown to us yesterday. Superintendent Hetrich had it all nicely swathed and cuddled in a bit of tissue paper. It is by far the most beautiful silver coin we have ever seen issued from an American mint-handsomest we ever saw of any make, we think. It looks like a beautiful medal-the Mademoiselle Liberty side does. She is just near enough to the scrawny to be classical-like-pre-Raphaelite, is the word, to be technical. She seems to have rather got tired .of that ostentatious bit of business-like piety of our coinage and scratched 'In God We Trust' on the base of her pedestal of emblematical express packages and let it make a very modest and different showing there. Good taste would cause its entire obliteration, we think. Consider the baseness to which a coin may be put at the hands of godless people, and then somewhat intrusive incongruity of this pious label becomes apparent."
The eagle, on the side which we should say was 'tail' were we tossing trade dollars for keeps, is by all odds the best eagle we have ever seen stamped upon any of our coins. More than any piece of money of Uncle Sam's mintage this looks free from an appearance of being crowded; In most of the others the eagle is too big, too coarse, too evident and lacking in artistic proportions. The man who designed the dies for this trade dollar is an artist. We have always felt an indescribable sense of backwardness in taking any of the more clumsily constructed coins. We would take a million of these and never experience any but the most pleasurable emotions!
"U.S. MINT-The total amount of mixed bullion, gold and silver, received yesterday by the superintendent of the Carson Mint, was 2,385 pounds sent in from mines on the Comstock Lode for melting and assay. The coiner ran through the press 4,500 trade dollars, $2,580 of which were paid out to parties who had deposited with the Mint silver bullion to made into the new dollar coin. A large number of quarters were also coined, making the coinage of silver for the day $9,500. On the same day the Cashier of the Mint delivered on order to Wells, Fargo & Co., Carson, 21 unparted bars of gold and silver worth the sum of$65,634.02 to be sent by them to the Bank of London and San Francisco (Limited), London, England, to the credit of the Crown Point Mine, Gold Hill, Nevada. The Carson City Mint is the first on the Pacific Coast to coin and put in circulation the trade dollar."