Rusty's Snippets - Analyses of "CC" Twenty-Cent Pieces

Read Rusty Goe's article about this short-lived denomination which created a major rarity in the "CC" coinage series.

 The 1876-CC Carson City Liberty Seated Twenty Cent Piece

Small Denominations Reap Big Rewards in Carson City Coinage Series

Part 2

By Rusty Goe

Carson City Twenty-Cent Pieces

Every once in awhile, the government makes a mistake in selecting a solution to the coinage needs of the country. In recent decades, the ill-fated Susan B. Anthony Dollars quickly come to mind. Occasionally these misguided attempts to ameliorate the nation's monetary system result in meaningful opportunities for numismatists. The Susan B. Anthony Dollars are not necessarily an example of a short-lived series that entices a collector's taste buds. Yet on the other hand, the subject of this article, twenty-cent pieces, has always stimulated the senses of curious hobbyists. No more is this evident than in two dates of the twenty-cent piece struck at the Carson City Mint.

The first examples of this peculiar denomination displaying the "CC" mintmark were struck at the Carson City Mint at a special ceremony on Tuesday afternoon June 1, 1875. The first one of these was presented to the author of the act introducing the twenty- cent piece, Senator John P. Jones by Carson Mint Superintendent James Crawford. Jones' bill authorizing the coinage of twenty-cent pieces, S-468, became law on March 3, 1875. The senator had proposed his twenty-cent bill to the Senate in 1874 in only his second year in office. The object of this legislation was to rectify an embarrassing situation prevailing in states from Texas to California. Due to a lack of five-cent denomination coins, made either of silver or of copper-nickel, whenever someone offered a quarter in payment for an item priced at ten-cents or the Spanish-inspired twelve-and-a-half-cents, he would receive only ten cents in change, resulting in a loss of two-and-a-half to five cents on the transaction. The issuance of a twenty-cent coin would theoretically eliminate this disparity in the western states. A side-benefit of the enactment of the twenty-cent law would be the undergirding of the slumping silver market at a most opportune time, just as the first waves of the epic Big Bonanza period in Nevada were signaling a proliferation in the production of precious metals. Senator Jones' friends in the mining industry acknowledged their gratitude for his efforts on their behalf.

Coinage of the new twenty-cent pieces was concentrated on the two western mints, especially the one in San Francisco, primarily because this denomination was practically unnecessary in the east where myriads of five-cent coins circulated as well as an abundance of fractional paper money in various small denominations. By the end of 1875, the San Francisco Mint had banged out 1.155 million twenty-cent pieces, nearly ten times the Carson City Mint's output. Senator Jones' noble plan failed miserably, however, for several different reasons. Paramount of which was the reluctance of the citizenry to embrace the new coin primarily because of its close resemblance to quarter dollars. This is in spite of the Mint's attempts at slightly modifying the design, including the use of smooth instead of reeded edges. Different suggestions were offered by merchants and newsmen in an attempt to stoke the publics' interest in the new denomination; including this one from the Cedar Rapids Times in Iowa, on May 23, 1878: "We suggest that everyone who gets hold of one of these Twenty Cent coins takes his knife and cut a cross on both sides deep enough to be seen. In this way the nuisances would soon all be so marked as to prevent deception." All such efforts to encourage the use of twenty-cent pieces were to no avail and by 1876; the denomination was all but doomed. Finally, in June 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed the bill abolishing this short-lived coin once and for all. Writing of this event on June 20, 1878 a reporter at the Ohio Democrat summed up the sentiments of the majority of the nation when he commented that, "It has been 'a regular snare' for the unwary, looking so much like a Quarter Dollar that it was as deceptive as it was unnecessary."

Almost 130 years after the law went into effect eliminating twenty-cent pieces from the mix of denominations in the country's coinage system; collectors are as intrigued as ever with surviving specimens from this failed experiment. Of greatest interest are the two issues from the Carson City Mint, which are profiled in the following section. Please refer to Part 1 of this article in the April edition of the Coin Dealer Newsletter Monthly Supplement for information concerning the statistics used in this study.

1875-CC

Original Mintage 133,290 
Survival Population 4,000 - 5,500 
Total Certified 1,002 
Certified in MS  506 
Highest Grade PCGS / NGC  MS-66 / MS-66 
UNC Value 1957 $50
MS-65 Bid 2007 $8,500 

Senator John P. Jones of Nevada had placed James Crawford in the superintendent's position at the Carson City Mint six months prior to the passage of the act authorizing twenty-cent pieces and nine months before the first example of this denomination dated 1875-CC was coined. In my new book, James Crawford: Master of the Mint at Carson City, I describe how Superintendent Crawford proudly presented this first strike to his mentor Senator Jones. There has been speculation through the years that this presentation piece may have been a Proof coin or at least a Specimen strike, although no evidence supporting this theory has ever surfaced. Certainly, numismatists would be mesmerized by the discovery of the Jones' specimen of an 1875-CC twenty-cent piece, if in fact such a coin exists.

For all other examples of this popular date/denomination combination there is still much to appreciate. Considering that there was practically no support for this denomination during its brief two-year run (four if Proof mintages are counted) and that mass quantities were melted after the act abolishing it became law in 1878, it is a wonder that there are as many surviving examples of the 1875-CC twenty-cent piece as there are. Although no one knows for sure how many of them are extant in all grades, I estimate that between three and four percent of the original mintage survives today. These figures have been revised downward since first being published in my book, The Mint on Carson Street in 2003.

Whatever the true quantities are, they are certainly not sufficient to supply the ever-increasing demand for this popular issue from the Carson City Mint. This is especially so for collectors seeking 1875-CC twenty-cent pieces in Choice Uncirculated or better condition ratings. And it becomes even more challenging when collectors insist on bold strikes in these higher-grade categories. For it is commonly known to specialists that the majority of surviving 1875-CC twenty-cent pieces are seen with typically weak strikes, usually on the upper corner of the eagle's left wing (facing front) and the upper portions of Liberty's head. Fully-stuck specimens with radiant luster will always command significant premiums.

While the majority of high-end Mint State specimens of this date display attractive, multi-colored toning, there are a few examples in grades MS-64 and MS-65 that are snow-white in appearance with bright flashy surfaces. Some specimens have been seen with Prooflike fields displaying clusters of die polishing lines. Such examples generally provide distinct contrast between the devices and the fields.

Collectors seeking the most pristine pieces in grades AU-58 and up, whether the coins display lovely toning or are brilliant and white, and assuming that they possess full strikes, should be prepared to pay considerably more than wholesale bid.

At the lower end of the grading scale are numerous examples, generally uncertified, in Good to Very Fine. These will generally have smooth surfaces, numerous hairlines, scattered contact marks and unless they are in Very Fine will probably have no letters in "LIBERTY" visible. Coins in this category are increasing in demand at a steady rate as more collectors operating on limited budgets are assembling 10-piece "CC" type sets. Wholesale bids listed in the Coin Dealer Newsletter for these grades appear to be within twenty percent of what the coins have been selling for in auctions.

1876-CC

Original Mintage 10,000
Survival Population 20
Total Certified 16
Certified in MS  16
Highest Grade PCGS / NGC  MS-66 / MS-65 
UNC Value 1957 $3,800
MS-65 Bid 2007 $120,000 

This is one of those dates by which the greatness of collections from the past has been measured. Even before the two rarest issues from the Carson Mint, the 1873-CC Without Arrows dime and quarter, were recognized for their scarcity ranking in U.S. numismatics, the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece was revered as a true classic. In one of its first auction appearances, dating back to January of 1890, in the R. C. Davis sale conducted by the New York Coin and Stamp Co., the cataloguer wrote in his description that, "We know of no duplicate" of this issue. The coin, which graded Brilliant Uncirculated, sold for $7.00. Nine years later, another specimen, pedigreed to the prestigious doctor from Carson City Simeon L. Lee, was conservatively graded by the J. W. Scott Co. in their auction catalog as a Fine, with Proof surfaces. The cataloguer added that it was "very rare." This lovely example shattered all price records when it was hammered down for $26.25 on June 12, 1899. Ninety-eight years later this same coin, having been a part of the Eliasberg collection for almost fifty-five years, brought $148,500 in the famous sale jointly conducted by Bowers and Merena and Stack's. This time around, it was catalogued as a Gem Mint State MS-65 and was well deserving of the description.

It has been well-documented how Superintendent Crawford was ordered in March of 1877 to melt approximately ninety-nine percent or more of the 10,000 1876 twenty-cent pieces minted in Carson City. It is also common knowledge to most long-time numismatists that until the eight or so specimens of this date were introduced onto the market by a Baltimore coin dealer in the 1950s, survival estimates had ranged from a low of four to a high of ten pieces throughout the first half of the twentieth century. There appears to be little chance at this late stage of the game that more than twenty specimens of the 1876-CC will ever be accounted for, firmly establishing this date as one of the all-time greatest U.S. coins, especially considering that it was minted as a regular federal issue.

If there are twenty examples extant then approximately fifteen are in Mint State condition and five are in various grades of Circulated, with the highest of these being in AU-55 or thereabouts. Before the Dr. S. L. Lee - Eliasberg specimen set a new price record in 1997 the closest any 1876-CC twenty-cent piece came to reaching the six-figure mark occurred in March of 1995 when the James A. Stack specimen realized $99,000 in a Stack's sale (No relation to consignor). This was the same coin that had sold in the William C. Atwater sale in 1946 for $1,625. In the decade since the Eliasberg sale, a specimen of the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece has crossed the $250,000 barrier.

Probably one of the last opportunities collectors have had to purchase an Uncirculated example of this historic coin for under $100,000 came in January 2000 at Heritage's FUN sale, when a piece graded MS-64 by NGC brought $69,000. A year later in 2001, the unthinkable occurred when two examples graded MS-66, one colorfully toned, and the other white, sold within seven months of each other. The white one brought $161,000 in Superior's March Mid-Winter ANA sale, the same auction in which the Eliasberg 1913 Liberty head nickel sold for $1,840,000. The 1876-CC twenty-cent piece in this sale had at one time been in the Emery and Nichols cabinet and had sold for $66,000 in 1984 when Bowers and Merena auctioned that famous collection. The toned MS-66specimen that sold in 2001 brought $138,000 in Heritage's October sale.

Because of the allure of the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece there is a wide diversity of interest in the collector community, which intensifies the competition for any specimens that happen to come on the market. At the top of the list of those seeking this coin are specialists in the Carson City coinage series. The 1876-CC twenty center is considered one of the "holy trinity" in this category joined by the two very scarce (one is UniqueWithout Arrows coins dated 1873. At least a few brave collectors have scaled the formidable mountain in attempting to complete a 111-piece set of "CC,” only to be turned away from conquering the summit by not being able to obtain these last three coins. Two notable "CC" enthusiasts from a bygone era, considered their acquisition of an 1876-CC twenty-cent piece as the final touch on their momentous collections. One was Harold M. Budd from Southern California who obtained his 1876-CC twenty center in June 1950 for $1,325 at the same auction that produced the 1873-CC Without Arrows Dime that eventually wound up in the Eliasberg collection. Mr. Budd had also obtained an example of the 1873-CC Without Arrows quarter prior to this auction and considered that his "CC" collection was as complete as it would ever get.

The other individual was Nevada real-estate magnate Norman Biltz who obtained his 1876-CC twenty-cent piece for $12,750 in 1966 via his agent in a Kreisberg-Schulman sale. Biltz, who did not possess an example of the 1873-CC Without Arrows quarter, was gleeful over finally adding a 76-CC twenty center to his set of "CC" coins and considered that he had gone as far as he could go in his collecting pursuits. His entire collection was eventually donated to the Nevada State Museum twenty-three years after Biltz died. It is on permanent display at that institution. Last year (October 2006), I appraised the museum's collection and estimated the value of its 1876-CC twenty-cent piece at between $250,000 and $300,000.

As you can see, there is much to become absorbed in when considering the small change issued by the Carson City Mint. Once you open one door to the legacy left behind by this historic mint, many more beckon you to knock and enter. If you would like to learn more please considering becoming a member of the Carson City Coin Collectors of America.

(Reprinted by permission of the Coin Dealer Newsletter)

Rusty Goe
Southgate Coins
5032 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89502
Phone (775) 322-4455