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Carson City Coins - Creating a Dream Collection

Rusty Goe

May 18, 2004

If you have ever collected coins from the Carson City Mint you know the rush you get when you add a new one to your collection. Those unfamiliar with these fascinating coins probably scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss is about. However, once bitten by the "CC" bug, a person becomes joyfully caught up in the thrill of the hunt.

Why Carson City coins you may ask? What makes them so special? After all, coins have been produced at other mints around the country, some located in cities far more historic and glamorous than Carson City Nevada. Surely San Francisco and New Orleans have more to offer in terms of historical significance and sheer sociological impact; and what about the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia? How can you get any more historic than that?

There is no doubt about it, Carson City does not hold a candle to any of these notable sites. However, when simply comparing the coins produced at these various mints, void of any geographic, demographic, historic or political undercurrents associated with the cities in which they are located, Carson City's offerings, as a whole, stand out.

A quick, simple explanation for the magnitude of popularity for Carson City coins is the attraction of the double letter mintmark compared to the mints with a single letter, or in the case of Philadelphia, no letter at all. But this fact alone is not sufficient to elevate "CC" coins above the others.

So we play the next card in the hand which is the Comstock connection. Next to the Gold Rush in California, the Big Bonanza in the Comstock region of northwestern Nevada resulted in many intriguing stories of whim and fortune, skullduggery and heroism, and many rhetorical encounters of the political kind.

For reasons that will probably never be known, politics in Nevada have always played a prominent role on the national scene, way beyond rational justification. After all, the state entered the Union during the Civil War despite a population not meeting the legal requirements for statehood. And senators from Nevada's early years succeeded in influencing favorable silver bills, with one sophomore senator given credit for the introduction of the silver twenty-cent piece in 1875. Then of course there is always the power derived from casino gambling, as some of the top political power brokers of the 20th and 21st centuries are spokesmen for the gaming industry in Nevada. It is little wonder why Las Vegas has become the destination capital of the nation and the place to be seen if a person desires to draw attention to himself. It must never be forgotten that it was politicians who launched the GSA sales program in the early 1970s to market the stockpile of nearly 2.9 million cartwheels with the "CC" mintmark. As a result, Carson City silver dollars came to the forefront and have never looked back. Why weren't silver dollars from the New Orleans Mint marketed in similar fashion, or those from Philadelphia?

Probably one of the most common reasons cited for the popularity of Carson City coins is the myth, legend and romance of the Old West era. It is true that Carson City coins were produced during this era, however, the sleepy Nevada hamlet at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains was not known for its gunslinging cowboys, bank robbers, and barroom brawls. The rough and tumble adventures around the Comstock region, with legends of poker tables stacked with $20 gold pieces and houses of prostitution, elicited the glamorization of the area, causing it to become linked with the Old West almost by default. Nothing perpetuated this aura more than the T.V. series Bonanza which aired from the late 1950s into the 1970s. The Ponderosa and its familiar faces served as the perfect opening act for the introduction of the GSA "CC" silver dollars. It will never be known how few people may have even heard of Carson City by the time the GSA program was launched if Ben Cartwright's ranch had not been a short buggy ride from it. Virginia City was also heavily promoted by the Bonanza T.V. series, and of course Carson City would always be inextricably linked with this famous mining center. All of this and Mark Twain too, the perfect ambassador and lore-meister for the era in question.

But aside from the above mentioned cultural, sociological, political and historical underpinnings, reasons for the popularity of the Carson City Mint are the coins themselves and the grand assortment of sets available for the collector to pursue. We will explore this subject in future articles.