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The Other CC Coins
By Mark Benvenuto

To some, the 19th century may be another line in the history books, but the latter half of the century must have qualified as undoubtedly heady times as they unfolded. The year 1849 saw the discovery of gold in the young American West. By 1860 the "united" in the United States of America had unraveled to the point where the nation went into a four-year war with itself.

In the aftermath of that bloodiest of American conflicts, silver was found in numerous places in the western territories, as well as gold. The fever for precious metals hit people all over the country. It seemed a person could make it rich just by finding the right spot to dig in the sands of the Western deserts.

The government even recognized that with all that newly mine metal came the need for mint facilities in the West, first opening a branch mint in San Francisco, then a branch in Carson City, Nev. The legacy of the latter of these facilities today seems too often to be just a string of silver dollars, Trade dollars, and gold coins, all carrying high price tags because of the CC mintmark. But there is quite a bit more when one does a bit of modern-day digging. It's up to us collectors to look for that.

When silver was discovered in what is now called the Comstock Lode, in 1859, the Lode wasn't even in Nevada technically. A large portion of what became Nevada was the western part of the Utah Territory in 1859, and wouldn't become a part of Nevada for another two years.

But political lines on a map in a lightly populated territory were hardly going to stop the miners, fortune hunters, and the army of supporters who were aching to pull a fortune in silver out of the newly found Lode, or who were willing to steal and scam it from the people who pulled it from the Lode. They all had a common mission, and the mission was to be rich.

The Philadelphia Mint was weeks to months away from the site of all this, and even the San Francisco Mint was a long and dangerous trek over some rough territory for the miner who wished to turn his find into silver coinage. The solution was to build a branch mint in Carson City. It ended up being just over a decade between the discovery of the Comstock Lode and this branch mint opening for business, but we shouldn't be too hard today on the government of the time for taking so long to put the operation in place. No one at the time knew just how big the Lode was. No one knew when it would run out. No one knew if it would be a wise use of federal funds to build a mint in Carson City, certainly not right after the discovery.

By 1870, silver and gold coins with the now coveted CC mintmark were coming out of the new mint in a dusty new city in Nevada. They definitely hold a special place in collector hearts today. Unfortunately, these very same silver dollars, Trade dollars, and gold coins also can produce a nearly empty place in a person's wallet. With that in mind, what's a collector of modest means to do?

The answer to that might be to put the big coins on hold and start small. Instead of pining for a CC silver dollar, what about looking for a CC dime or two? Starting in 1871, the Carson City Mint was producing silver dimes, although there were several years in the run in which these coins seemed to be of little concern to the powers that be. At least, the small mintages for the first couple of years would indicate that.

The first of the CC dimes a collector can obtain without a major outlay of cold, hard cash is the 1875, and that is simply because the mintage for that year went up to 4.6 million. That may not seem like a particularly high number, especially when viewed it in light of the multi-billion mintage totals for cents, or the hundreds of millions for a specific state quarter, but when you consider that the 1871-CC Seated Liberty dime had an output of 20,100 coins (and this wasn't the lowest total from 1871-1874), the 1875-CC seems almost as common as dirt.

Prices for an 1875-CC Seated Liberty dime are certainly higher than dirt, but not horridly so. One of these little guys in Fine-12 runs about $23. In Mint State-60 the price climbs to $190. That's a lot for a single dime, to be sure, but not necessarily a crippling amount. Drop all the way down to Good-4 and the cost plummets to $15.

The Carson City Mint got out of the dimes business in 1878, but not before producing a couple more years with high totals. The 1876 saw more than 8 million CC Seated Liberty dimes, and the 1877 saw almost as many, ringing in at just more than 7.7 million.

Both of these dates command pretty much the same prices I've just quoted. The 1878 commands a bit more, but looks to be a sleeper, since there were only 200,000 produced that year. However, even though there are some pricey CC dimes at the front of this short series, there are three easy dates where you can add a bit of Comstock Lode silver to your collection, and do so inexpensively.

Moving up in denominations, don't forget to stop at the Seated Liberty 20-cent pieces before moving on to the quarters. Minted from 1875-1878, there are only two dates that saw production in Carson City. They are the 1875 and 1876, and most references point out that the most of the 1876 mintage is believed to have been melted, making it a rare coin.

The 1875-CC isn't all that common either, with mintage of 133,290 coins. Since this is far less than the 1.15 million pieces that came out of San Francisco that year, expect prices to be high. In G-4, the current price tag is $385. The entrance fee to get into the club of those who own one in MS-60 or higher is considerably steeper.

But don't fret about the CC 20-cent pieces being up there in price. Let's move up to quarters.

Quarters made from Comstock Lode silver came out of the Carson City from 1870-1878, with a break during 1874. As with the dimes, the first few years span the range from scarce to extremely rare. It's amazing to think that an 1870-CC Seated Liberty quarter, with a mintage of 8,340 coins, costs $4,500 in G-4.

But, as with the CC dimes, there are a few years at the tail end of the run that won't cost a fortune. The 1876-CC quarters were minted to the tune of 4.9 million, making it a $30 coin in G-4, a $50 purchase in F-12, and a $325 item in MS-60. That mint-state number is getting steep, but a few steps down, into the lower end of About Uncirculated-50, drops the price to a more reasonable $150.

The 1877-CC has a slightly lower mintage, with 4.19 million to its tally. It has essentially the same prices as the earlier date though.

Two remarkably interesting CC Seated Liberty quarters are the 1875 and the final year, the 1878. First, the 1878-CC has a total of 996,000 posted to it. Its prices come in at $35 in G-4, $55 in F-12, and $450 in MS-60.

With only 140,000 to its tally, the 1875-CC its prices are $75 in G-4, $225 in F-12, and $1,600 in MS-60.

The last CC set of coins I want to look at are the half dollars. When it comes to these bigger Seated Liberty coins, the Carson City Mint again went to work producing them from 1870-1878, but seemed to start with a bit more gusto, as even the leaner totals are somewhat higher than what we saw for the dimes and quarters.

It was only the 1870, 1874, and 1878 that posted mintages under 100,000. On the flip side of things, the 1875 total is just over 1 million, the 1877 comes in at 1.4 million, and the 1876 takes first place (at least from Carson City) with 1.956 million pieces. It's these final three dates that give us some hope of a CC half dollar that costs less than a small fortune.

The mintages correspond to some more reasonable prices for the three dates I just mentioned, but they are also holding a minor bomb shell of a surprise. For the 1875-CC, 1876-CC, and 1877-CC Seated Liberty half dollars, the price in G-4 is about $50, in F-12 it's no higher than $75, and in MS-60 it's between $600 and $650. The bomb shell goes off when you look back at the prices of the quarters I just mentioned as the common CC dates. They are the same, or slightly more. Yes, the smaller pieces cost a bit more, which makes the half dollars seem to me like a bargain.

Despite waiting to be sure the Comstock Lode wasn't just a flash in the pan, the Carson City Mint was only up and running for nine years, at least when it comes to making what are referred to as the minor silver coins of the day. Gold continued to be coined there into the 1890s, as did Morgan silver dollars, but silver half dollars, quarters, 20-cent pieces, and dimes were bowed off stage in 1878.

The coins today are something of a legacy of the time. And, importantly, we've just seen that there are a few dates that just about any collector can round up when it comes to dimes, quarters, and half dollars.

The coins I focused on are hardly investor items, but they do let anyone hold a piece of the American Wild West in their hand. That's something to think about when you purchase your first CC dime, quarter or half dollar.


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