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Collecting Carson City (CC) Coinage: Part One – Small Silver Coins

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Liberty Seated Dime, 1873-CC 10C No Arrows, PCGS MS65. Click image to enlarge.

I often refer to the “Red Book” to refresh my memory. A Guide Book Of United States Coins, published each year, has narratives about each U.S. coin type and date with mintages and values. Both collectors and professional numismatists have used the Red Book for decades. Recently, I was looking up an 1882-CC Liberty Half Eagle and using the Red Book for comparative values for other Carson City Mint Half Eagles.

Always curious, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many coins were produced at Carson City. Despite having handled my fair share of CC coinage, I had never actually counted just how many different total coins were produced at the CC Mint. Arguably, there are 115 different total date/denomination combinations produced at Carson City.

Both silver and gold coins were produced at Carson City; there were no copper or nickel coins made there. Curiously, the number of silver and gold coins produced at Carson City are nearly equal. There are 58 total silver issues and 57 total gold issues. The Carson City Mint operated between 1870 and 1893. The silver denominations produced at Carson City included the dime, 20 cent, quarter, half dollar, and three different silver dollar issues. The gold denominations produced included $5, $10, and $20 Liberty Head gold coins.

Although I will discuss small silver CC coinage, CC silver dollars, and CC gold more in-depth separately, the basic type sets for the small silver, silver dollar, and gold issues aren’t complicated. For a basic Carson City small silver type set you would need only seven different issues. These include one each of the dime, 20 cent, quarter, and half dollar with one each of the with arrows design for the dime, quarter, and half dollar. There are three different CC dollar designs, including the Liberty Seated, Trade, and Morgan Dollars. For the Carson City gold type set, you would need only one each of the $5, $10, and $20 Liberty denominations.

A 13-piece CC type set is both completable and highly sought after. Of course, any of these basic type sets can be expanded or upgraded as you desire.

I’ll break down collecting CC coinage into three separate parts. Part one will discuss small silver issues. The next installments will cover the three different dollar issues, concluding with a segment surveying the three Liberty gold denominations produced at Carson City.

The Small CC Silver Denominations

Pursuing any of these small silver denominations by date individually is substantially more challenging versus collecting them by design type. All four of these date sets have at least one scarce to very rare coin. In the Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions events held in conjunction with the 2021 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money, there was a large number of coins from these four CC small silver sets. In fact, Heritage Auctions sold 15 of the 31 small silver Carson City issues, while Stack’s Bowers Galleries sold a dozen different small CC silver coins in their auctions.

As I dissect what you will need for each small silver series, I’ll list some of the more pertinent coins recently sold. Special note must be made of the overall quality and inclusiveness of the CC Sierra Biker Collection sold in the Heritage Auctions sale. Coins in this noteworthy set enjoyed spirited bidding.

Dimes, 20 cents, quarters, and half dollars were produced at the Carson City Mint from 1870 to 1878. Because of the short duration of production there are only nine or 10 total coins in the CC dime, quarter, and half dollar sets. The 20 cent coins were only produced in Carson City in 1875 and 1876, but the 1876-CC is quite rare.

While some of the small silver CC coins are in the more affordable price range, there are some extremely rare dates that are quite expensive. Indeed, the unique 1873 No Arrows Dime last sold in a Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction in 2012 for $1.84 million. While this coin is probably unattainable, the remaining nine coins in this set are no cake walk either!

Let’s divulge what you need for the CC Liberty Seated Dime set… Production of dimes at Carson City started in 1871 and all the dates through 1874 are challenging in all grades. The later dates are available in almost all grades. Demand for all CC dime dates in all grades is always strong. Recent transactions of Liberty Seated Dimes in the Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions sales include an 1871-CC, PCGS VG8 that took $6,300 (Heritage Auctions); 1874-CC Arrows, PCGS AG3 selling for $6,000 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries); and 1878-CC, PCGS MS66 fetching $10,800 (Heritage Auctions).

Advanced Liberty Seated Dime collectors often pursue die varieties of each date. Liberty Seated Dimes are attributed by [Gerry] Fortin number. Because Carson City Dime mintages were limited to under 35,000 for those 1871-CC to 1874-CC dates, the number of die varieties for these dates is low. Total mintage of both varieties of 1875 (mint mark above and below the bow) was over 4.5 million. Mintages in 1876 and 1877 were 8.27 million and 7.7 million, respectively. Once Morgan Dollar production started in 1878, Liberty Seated Dime production once again dropped, with only 200,000 minted that last year. The supply of all dates of Carson City Liberty Seated Dimes closely reflects the mintages, but for the unique 1873-CC No Arrows Liberty Seated Dime with an original mintage of 12,400.

Neither of the Carson City 20 Cent issues is common, but the 1875-CC with a mintage of more than 132,000 coins minted in all grades up to MS66 is decidedly more approachable. Recent sales of this date include both an AU55 for $1,140 and an MS65 coin that brought $16,800, respectively in Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions offerings. The 1876-CC 20 Cent is a highly sought-after date with an estimated 20 coins known. An MS64 example traded in a Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction in 2015 for $456,000. Although examples of the 1876-CC do become available, there are no documented trades for a circulated example for this date. Like the 1873 No Arrows Liberty Seated Dime, this date had a mintage of 10,000, but few are known to have survived.

Twenty Cent, 1876-CC 20C, PCGS MS66. Click image to enlarge.

The great reference book Double Dimes: The United States Twenty Cent Piece by Lane Brunner and John Frost identifies and classifies all known 20 cent varieties. Twenty cents, which were produced only from 1875 to 1878, are more challenging than many would credit. That two of the most challenging coins in the set – the 1875-CC and 1876-CC – were indeed produced in Carson City is no surprise.

Collecting Carson City Liberty Seated Quarters by date is only slightly less challenging than the CC Dime date set. Just like the dimes and 20 cent series, the quarters have a major stopper. The 1873-CC Liberty Seated No Arrows Quarter has only six known specimens out of the original mintage of 4,000. Only the later dates from 1875 to 1878 can be considered easy in most grades, but all the early issues are tough to locate. Like the CC Liberty Seated Dimes, the difficulty for most of the dates in this series closely reflects their mintages. None of the early dates had mintages of more than 22,850, but the production climbed to 140,000 quarters minted in 1875.

Interestingly, 98% of all Carson City Liberty Seated Quarters were produced in the final three years of their production from 1876 through 1878. The number of die varieties for the dates 1875 to 1878 are larger because of the higher mintages. Die varieties for Liberty Seated Quarters are classified by Briggs number, relating to Larry Briggs’ book, The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of U.S. Liberty Seated Quarters, which lists these varieties. As an example, the early dates from 1870 to 1874 have just one or two sets of dies while the 1876-CC has over a dozen obverse and reverse dies for the date.

Liberty Seated Quarter, 1873-CC 25C No Arrows, PCGS MS66. Click image to enlarge.

PCGS has graded three of the known examples of the 1873-CC Liberty Seated No Arrows Quarter. Despite a mintage of 4,000, only five or six total coins survived. The most recent sale for this date was $376,000 for an MS63 coin in a May 2015 SB auction. Noteworthy CC Liberty Seated Quarters that sold recently in both the Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions events from the 2021 ANA show include an 1870-CC, PCGS AU55 that realized $180,000 (Heritage Auctions); an 1871-CC, PCGS MS64 fetching $288,000 (Heritage Auctions), an 1872-CC, PCGS F15 taking $4,320 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries); and 1878-CC, PCGS MS67 hammering at $24,000 (Heritage Auctions).

The CC Liberty Seated Half Dollar set is completable, but both the first and last year dates of 1870-CC and 1878-CC will prove challenging in all grades. These bookend dates are also two of the three lowest mintage dates in the series with only 54,600 produced in 1870 and just 62,000 made in 1878. The 1874-CC Arrows, too, has a modest mintage of just 59,000. Although none of the CC Liberty Seated Half Dollar mintages are huge – nearly 2 million coins were made in 1876. Similar to the mintages of both the dimes and quarters, 84% of all the Liberty Seated Halves made in Carson City were produced between 1875 and 1878.

Liberty Seated Half Dollar, 1878-CC 50C, PCGS MS65. Click image to enlarge.

Liberty Seated Half Dollar varieties by date can be identified in The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars written by Randy Wiley, David W. Lange, and Bill Bugert. Bugert’s later mint-specific Liberty Seated Half Dollar die variety identification guidebooks are exceptional in their detail and scope. Die varieties for the later dates, because of the larger mintages, are much more numerous.

Noteworthy sales of CC Seated Half Dollars in the recent Heritage Auctions and Stack’s Bowers Galleries sales include an 1871-CC, PCGS VF30 at $1,920 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries); 1873-CC Arrows, PCGS XF45 for $1,980 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries); and 1874-CC Arrows, PCGS MS62+ notching $25,200 (Heritage Auctions).

Regardless of whether you tackle a Carson City type set or Carson City date set project, your work will be challenging but rewarding. The challenge will be to locate Carson City coins you like. The rewards will come as you progress. Small Carson City silver issues will always be in demand. Are you up for the challenge?

In Part Two of this series, I’ll dive into the different silver dollars produced at Carson City. The four Liberty Seated, seven Trade, and 15 different Morgan Dollar issues will be examined separately. Liberty Seated, Trade, and Morgan Dollars were produced at the Carson City Mint starting in 1871, with dollars being minted until the close of the Carson City Mint in 1893. Although the three different dollar types minted at Carson City spanned a 23-year production period, their design evolution is quite telling. The Liberty Seated design from 1840 represented our historic past, the Trade dollar represented the U.S. emergence as a world power, and the Morgan Dollar laid the foundation for the greatest economy the world has ever known.

Coin Collecting: Basics Liberty Seated Half Dollars (1839-1891) Twenty Cent Pieces (1838-1891) Seated Quarters Liberty Seated Dimes (1796-1891)

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