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)
Hundreds of thousands of 1891-CC dollars were put into circulation in the late nineteenth century.
Commentary: Historically, the 1891-CC is one of just a few Carson City dollars that has been readily available ever since day one. During the century or so since the pieces were minted, Mint State coins have been among the most easily obtainable Carson City Morgan issues. However, after 1962-1964, when it was found that few remained in Treasury hands in comparison to the large quantities of CC dollars in the early 1880s, the 1891-CC became scarce in a relative sense.
Hoard coins: In the early twentieth century, large quantities of Carson City dollars of the 1891 date were shipped to the San Francisco Mint for storage. In 1925-1926, in the early 1940s, and particularly in 1942, many bags of these were paid out at face value, so many in the 1940s that silver dollar dealer specialists such as Norman Shultz stopped buying them. By late 1942, the 1891-CC dollar was by far the commonest Carson City issue in collectors' and dealers' hands in Mint State. These continued to be paid out at face value to dealers and others in the 1950s, and also shipped as part of Nevada casino coins. Harry J. Forman bought at least 10 bags from John Skubis and Arnold Rosing; these originally came from San Francisco Mint storage.
Early in the present century, additional quantities of this issue were also shipped to the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C., for storage. In the 1950s, bags of 1891-CC dollars were released from the Cash Room at the Treasury Building. The quantities are not known, but dozens of bags were involved. Dealer Steve Ruddel stated that about 50 bags (50,000 coins) were released from the Treasury Building in 1955 alone. (Jeff Oxman, letter to the author, November 29,1992.)
Dean Tavenner recalled that one bag was released in Deer Lodge, Montana circa 1958-1959. By that time, no more were being released from Treasury stocks. So far as I know, few if any came out in the 1962-1964 Treasury release. However, somewhere still on hand at the Treasury Building in Washington. 5,687 leftover coins from this source were sold by the G.S.A. in the 1970s, with an additional 19 pieces later sold in the "mixed lot" offering.
The Redfield estate (1976) was estimated to have contained three to five bags of Mint State coins, most of which were heavily bagmarked. These probably came out of the San Francisco Mint, to Nevada casinos in the 1950s. Today, few quantity lots of 1891-CC dollars survive. Most have long since been broken up.
Circulated grades: Specimens in worn grade are scarce but not rare. Quantities were put into circulation in the nineteenth century, and many of these pieces still survive. The 1891-CC dollar is sometimes compared to the higher mintage 1890-CC. Wayne Miller wrote this in 1982: "The 1891-CC is scarcer than the 1890-CC in worn condition; it was obviously not released into circulation to the same degree of circulation as the 1890-CC."
It is likely that many Carson City dollars of the later era-1889 through 1893-were placed into circulation at or near the time of minting, in contrast to many of the earlier (1878-1885) period, that were stored at the Carson City Mint and later shipped to the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C.
Mint State grades: Mint State 1891-CC dollars are considerably scarcer than Carson City issues of the mid-1880s, of course, but there are enough on the market that the issue is not considered to be a key date. At the MS-60 to 62 level, an estimated 40,000 to 70,000 exist, with 20,000 to 40,000 at the next step, MS-63. In MS-64 grade there are about 6,000 to 10,000 coins extant. As most 1891-CC dollars are extensively bagmarked, by definition most are in lower grades. Accordingly, the issue is rare in MS-65 or finer, with about 1,400 to 2,200 surviving.
Most specimens are sharply struck and have nice lustre. However, many flatly struck coins are also on the market. Once again, cherrypicking is advised. Certified holders make no mention of the quality of strike.
Prooflike coins: Prooflike specimens are scarce.
The data show that prooflike (PL) pieces are more plentiful than those of 1890-CC, but that DMPL coins are considerably scarcer. 99% of the DMPL coins surviving are in grades below MS-65. PL and DMPL coins usually are well struck but show relatively little contrast between the fields and the devices. Eye appeal is usually not a characteristic of PL and DMPL dollars of this date.
Proofs: None confirmed to exist. However, The Numismatist, July 1954, carried this item with the byline of Mendel L. Peterson, curator, Department of History, the Smithsonian Institution:
Charles Kohen, ANA No. 5883, a Washington coin dealer for the last 35 years, came to the Department of History of the National Museum the other day with four silver dollars for examination. They proved to be, in my opinion at least, Proof dollars of the Carson City Mint. They are dated 1891. The planchets of these dollars were undoubtedly specially polished before the coins were struck. There is the possibility that the dies were also polished. The Proofs were probably struck on a knuckle joint press rather than a hydraulic press as in the case of the Philadelphia Proofs. Because of this, and the fact that they were not carefully handled, their quality is not that of Proofs from the Philadelphia Mint.
I am convinced that these coins are not a case of an exceptionally fine early striking on regular blanks, a thing which occasionally occurs on Morgan dollars. A close examination of the coins under a glass of 20-power revealed that all the field of the coin, including those areas inside the letters, shows a mirrorlike surface ....
The facts are these: (1) Charles Kohen, who is not particularly well remembered by historians today, as he operated a coin shop and did not publish auction or price catalogues, was one of several dealers who regularly bought 1891-CC and other Morgan dollars from friends in the Cash Room of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. (2) Concerning the coins, per Peterson's words, "Their quality is not that of Proofs from the Philadelphia Mint." (3) Further, per Peterson: "They were not carefully handled."
In my opinion, these coins were DMPL 1891-CC dollars with bagmarks, not Proofs. Of course, as I have not seen the coins, there is the remote possibility that they could have been Proofs, but I doubt it.
1. Normal date: Breen-5624. Probably not all the 24 obverse and 23 reverse dies shipped to Carson City were used. At least two dies show partly repunched CC. One of these, VAM-3, the "Spitting Eagle," has a tiny gouge or chip out of die in space between upper and lower beak points, and is considered to be overvalued by some specialists. (Jeff Oxman, letter to the author, November 29, 1992.)
Dies prepared: Obverse: 24; Reverse: 23
Circulation strike mintage: 1,618,000;(All coinage from silver under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of July 14, 1890.) Delivery figures by month: January: 200,000; February: 150,000; March: 190,000; April: 76,000; May: 86,000;June: 186,000; July: 120,000; August: 120,000;September: 120,000; October: 120,000;November: 120,000; December: 130,000.
Specimens sent to the Assay Commission: 809 Estimated quantity melted: Hundreds of thousands, probably mostly under the 1918 Pittman Act.
Availability of prooflike coins: Prooflike and DMPL coins are readily available. Nearly all are in grades below MS-65, and nearly all lack eye appeal.
Characteristics of striking: Usually seen well struck and with good lustre, but there are exceptions.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Numerous bags were released by the Treasury from the 1940s through the late 1950s. 5,687 leftover Treasury hoard coins were sold by the G.S.A. in the 1970s (plus 19 later sold in a "mixed lot" offering).
The 1891-CC dollar is easily available in all grades up to and including MS-64.
Carson City Mint Operations
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, commented as follows concerning the fiscal year ended June 30th:
"The coiner received from the superintendent 3,228,681standard ounces, valued at $187.93, being less than 1 % of the legal allowance. There were coined and delivered to the superintendent, 2,109,041 standard silver dollars. The proportion of silver coin produced from ingots operated upon was 56.1 %, a very large percentage."
Distribution of Silver Dollars
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, told of the distribution of silver dollars at the Carson City Mint. In mint July 1, 1890, $1,270,233; coinage of the fiscal year, 2,109,041; in mint July 1, 1891, 2,880,360; distributed from mint: 498,914.