The 20 Cent coin represents one of the curious wrinkles in the enigmatic body of 19th-century United States coinage. Often serving as an analogy for the nation’s highly unsuccessful Susan B. Anthony Dollar struck only from 1979 through 1981 and once more in 1999, the 20 Cent piece saw a similarly brief run a century earlier, from 1875 through 1878.
Issued as a so-called “double dime,” the 20 Cent coin came about many decades after the denomination was first proposed. Passed into law on March 3, 1875, the 20 Cent coin was supposed to fill a gap caused by the disappearance of half dimes following their demise in 1873. With quarters among the only coins in sufficient supply and facing a sore lack of small change on the new American frontier, many people ended up paying for small purchases with a quarter and, not able to receive change for those transaction, often begrudgingly eating their losses.
When the United States Mint began producing the 20 Cent coin in 1875, it saw meager production coming from the Philadelphia Mint, offering an output of only 36,910 pieces. As was often the case in the Old West, silver coins in the frontier states were popular and mintages of the 20 Cent coin from the Carson City and San Francisco seem to bear this out; Carson City pumped out 133,290 while San Francisco churned out a whopping 1,155,000. The new denomination was met with little enthusiasm, as many people confused the coin with the Liberty Seated Quarter, which is of similar size and appearance to the 20 Cent coin. Others simply found the coin unnecessary.
United States Mint officials took note and, due to relatively little demand even in the West, mintages were drastically dialed back in 1876, with Philadelphia making only 14,640 business strikes and Carson City producing a paltry 10,000. No other business strikes were made for the duration of the series, which spanned until 1878 and saw only scarce Philadelphia proof strikes in 1877 and 1878, continuing on with the annual proofs also made in 1875 and 1876.
Type collectors don’t have many options when it comes to pursuing the 20 Cent coin. Certainly, of the five business strikes, the most prolific by a longshot is the 1875-S. Therefore, the San Francisco business strike sees the most marketplace activity, particularly from collectors who may not wish to pay more significant sums for the scarcer issues. To be sure, the 1875-S 20 Cent is not an inexpensive coin, with even G4 examples trading for around $100, but that is much less than the $175 for the 1875 in G4 and $235 or $225 for the 1875-CC or 1876, respectively, in that same well-worn grade. Meanwhile, the 1876-CC is an extremely rare coin yielding just an estimated 20 specimens and fetching $250,000 in MS60.
PCGS estimates 25,000 examples of the 1875-S exist across all grades, with more 2,600 in the uncirculated grades. Populations further evidence this, with PCGS having graded more than 1,700 in grades between MS60 and MS68, the latter representing the top encapsulated grade for this issue and touting the coin’s record price of $73,600, realized for a PCGS MS68 that traded in a 2005 Bowers & Merena auction. A collector building a competitive PCGS Registry Set encompassing the 1875-S 20 Cent might consider an MS66 example, setting back the pocketbook by $7,500.
Otherwise, more affordable circulated issues are plentiful at virtually every lower grade threshold, with ample numbers available in G to AU. Even decent handfuls of bargain-basement PO1, FR2, and AG3 specimens under $100 exist, perhaps of interest to those building Low-Ball sets. Meanwhile, collectors looking to run up the middle and seek an 1875-S in the F12 to XF40 range will be able to do so for $125 to $225.
- Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins. Doubleday, 1988.
- Lange, David W. History of the United States Mint and its Coinage. Whitman Publishing, 2006.
- Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing, 1966.