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Complete Set of Twenty Cent Pieces
by Greg Reynolds

On Monday, Sept. 15, an appealing Uncirculated 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece will be the star of an auction by Superior Galleries at The Tower Beverly Hills hotel. This coin is graded “MS-62” by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). The ‘CC’ mintmark indicates that it was manufactured at the Carson City, Nevada Mint. I tentatively estimate that there are between eighteen and twenty-six 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces in existence, so it is likely to be a Great Rarity!

The Superior Catalog provides the following background: “Carson City Mint records state that 10,000 pieces were coined for general circulation, although demand for this unpopular denomination was anything but brisk. It was our Centennial year, and most of the coinage produced in 1876 shows special care in preparation, although the blundered (die doubled) obverse here shows a decided lack of attention to detail. The public rejection of the new twenty cent piece was immediate and unrelenting, thus on May 19, 1877, Mint Director Henry Linderman instructed the Carson City Mint Superintendent James Crawford, “You are hereby authorized and directed to melt all 20-cent pieces you have on hand, and you will debit ‘Silver Profit Fund’ with any loss thereon.” This amounted to 12,359 coins dated 1875 and 1876 - the amount on hand March 1, 1877. Very few 1876-CC pieces escaped this fate and this particular issue became an instant rarity as virtually the entire mintage was lost. Of course, collecting coins by mintmarks was many years away and few collectors paid any attention to obtaining more than a single example from a given year of any particular denomination.

The 1876-CC twenty cent piece is one of the great American numismatic classics and is a coin that puts any collection on the map - each offering becomes an important numismatic event. The 1876-CC twenty cent piece earned place as number 16 in The 100 Greatest U. S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, placing it among some rarified company; it is arguably one of the most sought-after American coins.”

A Western collector consigned a complete set of business strike Twenty Cent pieces, and four Proof Twenty Cent pieces. His set of Proofs is practically complete as well, as the Proof 1875-San Francisco Twenty Cent piece is an exotic and extremely rare issue that is not typically included in sets of Proof Twenty Cent pieces. This ‘Comstock’ collection contains the four Philadelphia Mint Proofs.

All of the Twenty Cent pieces in the Comstock collection are PCGS certified: 1875 Philadelphia (MS-63), 1875-CC (MS-63), 1875-San Francisco (MS-63), 1876 Philadelphia (MS-62), 1876-CC (MS-62), 1875 Proof (63 with Cameo contrast), 1876 Proof (63), 1877 Proof (65 Cameo), and 1878 Proof (61). In 1877 and 1878, Twenty Cent pieces were minted only in Proof format.

The Comstock 1876-CC was purchased by the consignor from veteran dealer Fred Weinberg in 1986. Weinberg is best known as a leading dealer in Mint errors.

The Comstock 1876-CC is certainly attractive. Unlike some coins that are PCGS or NGC graded MS-62, it is definitely uncirculated as this term was defined throughout the 20th century. There is no significant wear or friction on the highpoints. Plus, this coin does not have any serious problems.

The few light scratches, hairlines and contact marks are of the sort that an expert might associate with an MS-63 grade not an MS-62 grade. It does not have completely original mint bloom, but most MS-63 grade silver coins do not either. The reverse, which is the back of the coin, is of higher quality than the obverse (front). The eagle is neatly frosty. Indeed, except for a minor weak area at the top of the left wing, the eagle is very sharply struck and has a cool look.

The Comstock 1876-CC is appealing overall. It is mostly white or whitish. There is some orange-russet and tan toning about the numerals and about stars 7 to 13 (if counted left to right).

On the whole, MS-63 would be a fair grade for this 1876-CC. Moreover, I like the coin. Collectors pay megabucks for Great Rarities of other denominations that have all sorts of problems or are just not attractive. This is a pleasant coin, and the 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece is one of the most famous rarities in the history of coin collecting in the U.S.

As for the Comstock 1875 Philadelphia Mint business strike, plenty of very faint hairlines and two or three scratches keep it from grading MS-64. Otherwise, it is sharply struck and very attractive. Most of the imperfections are not visible without a magnifying glass. It is a nice, mid-range MS-63 grade coin. If the reverse could be graded by itself, it would probably merit an MS-64 grade. It would not shock me if some experts grade the whole coin as MS-64, though I contend that its PCGS grade of MS-63 is accurate and I hope that it stays in its current holder. I did not feel completely comfortable about the Comstock 1875-CC.

The 1875-S Twenty Cent piece is not rare. More than one million were minted, and thousands exist. I like the Comstock 1875-S. It is moderately brilliant with areas of light natural toning. Though some design details are not sharply struck, the weak areas should not be interpreted as wear. There is no wear. It is truly uncirculated. Crossing hairlines are very faint, and this coin has some underlying original mint luster. Though PCGS has graded more than two hundred distinct 1875-S Twenty Cent pieces as MS-63, this is one of the better ones.

The Comstock 1876 Philadelphia Mint Twenty Cent piece is sharply struck and attractive. Its grade is a high end MS-62, or possibly 63, though I certainly would not count on a 63 grade upon re-submission. In any event, for the collector who does not want to spend a lot more money for a higher grade 1876, this coin may be a very good value.

The Proof-63 Cameo 1875 is okay. My guess is that most knowledgeable collectors would feel comfortable about it.

I did not feel comfortable about the Comstock Proof 1876. The Comstock Proof 1877 is almost very attractive, has full strong mirrors and probably makes the 65-grade.

It is clear that the Comstock collector was aiming for completeness rather than for quality. Some of these issues are easy to find in higher grades. Even so, I am puzzled as to why the Comstock set was not entered into the PCGS set registry.

For business strikes in the PCGS registry, there are two categories for Twenty Cent pieces, and two for Proof Twenty Cent pieces. A fifth category includes all business strike and Proof issues of this denomination.

There are fourteen entrants in the business strike category where the ‘76-CC is not required, and just two in the category that requires a ‘76-CC. One of these two entrants does not seem to be serious. The other is the collector known as “Driftwood.” He has the only complete set of business strike Twenty Cent pieces in the PCGS registry, though the Comstock collection certainly qualifies, is complete, and could have been entered at any time.

In the NGC registry, the 1876-CC date is listed in the sole category of business strike Twenty Cent pieces, though a coin of this date is not required for a ‘complete’ set. It is said to be for “non-competitive display only.” The collector known as “EHS” seems to be the only entrant in the NGC registry who has an 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece. The EHS 1876-CC is PCGS graded MS-64 and was added to the NGC registry in July 2005.

The EHS 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece is not the same coin that was auctioned in October 2007, which I then discussed on CoinLink. That 1876-CC, also PCGS graded MS-64, is (or recently was) in the possession of Adam Crum, principal of Monaco Rare Coins. Crum handled another one this year, an NGC graded MS-65 1876-CC, for which Monaco paid more than $500,000 in a private transaction in April.

The 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece is a legendary rarity. Someone who could afford one could also easily afford to complete the set. This design type is attractive and is noticeably different from the design of Liberty Seated Quarters. Moreover, completing a set of an entire denomination, however short, must be satisfying. Plus, the four Philadelphia Mint Proofs are not really hard to find. Besides, Twenty Cent pieces are fun conversation pieces. When I tell people about them, they are puzzled and pleasantly curious.

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