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Three 1876-CC Twenty Cent Coins Sell
Fewer than Twenty are Known
by Greg Reynolds

The offering at auction of three different 1876 Carson City (Nevada) Mint Twenty Cent pieces between March 28 and June 11 is astounding. This issue is a legendary rarity, and there are just fifteen to nineteen known. The most curious piece of news, however, in regard to these offerings is that the same person, a Nevada coin dealer, acquired all three.

The physical characteristics and grades of these and other 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces will be discussed in Part 2. Here in Part 1, recent news will be reported and basic information relating to 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces will be introduced. Plus, historical issues relating to this coin issue and to the Carson City Mint in general will be briefly discussed. Finally, it will be explained that the departure of specific coins from a U.S. Mint need not be documented in order for the coins to be legitimate.

On June 11, in Baltimore, B&M auctioned an 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece that is graded AU-58 (on a scale from 01 to 70) by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). It brought $218,500.

On April 30, in Cincinnati, Heritage auctioned the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC for $460,000. It is PCGS graded MS-66, and is certainly among the four finest known. I acknowledge, though, that I have not seen it. Several experts have discussed it with me, including two past-owners of this coin.

The third recently offered 1876-CC did not sell on the date, March 28, that it was offered at auction, in Baltimore. Heritage and other auction companies allow bidders to buy, or offer to buy, unsold auction lots for a few days after each live auction ends. I recorded that, as of March 30, this 1876-CC was being offered at $345,000, on the Heritage website, with notice that any potential buyer had until the early morning of April 3 to commit to this $345,000 price, which I believe was the reserve at the auction. It did sell, via the Internet, under these circumstances, probably on April 1st or 2nd.
This 1876-CC Twenty Cent coin is NGC graded 64. Earlier, on Sept. 15, 2008 in Beverly Hills, Superior Galleries auctioned this exact same coin, at which time it was PCGS graded MS-62. It was then referred to as the “Comstock” 1876-CC and it was part of a complete set of Twenty Cent pieces. ([1] Please see my article on this set.) The Comstock 1876-CC garnered $264,500 in September before, I believe, selling for $345,000 in April, to Nevada dealer Rusty Goe.

The Western collector who consigned the ‘Comstock’ collection prefers that his name not be mentioned. ‘Comstock’ is essentially a code name in this context, though the term ‘Comstock’ does have substantial historical meaning in relation to silver mining in the West. The Comstock Lode refers to an incredibly large deposit of silver ore in Nevada that was found in the late 1850s. This discovery led to a ’silver rush’ that was similar to the ‘California Gold Rush’! Thousands of Americans traveled from East to West to seek adventures and fortunes.

Nevada dealer Rusty Goe acquired the ‘Comstock’ and Emery-Nichols 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces to sell to clients, and a third, on June 11, because he could not resist. Goe sold the Comstock 1876-CC to a collector who specializes in Carson City Mint coins. This buyer is not the same collector who owns the unique, Eliasberg 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime, which is part of the only, current complete collection of all one hundred eleven Carson City Mint issues, silver and gold. In the past, Louis Eliasberg’s collection included such a set. Goe sold this unique dime in late 2004.

Carson City Mint coins are a popular collecting specialty. Silver coins and gold coins were minted in Carson City from 1870 to 1893. Even acquiring eighty of the one hundred and eleven different issues is an interesting accomplishment. Goe has helped many collectors build sets, though only one can be complete at any one time.

Goe was not the successful bidder when Heritage auctioned the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC for $460,000, on April 30. “In mid May,” Goe acquired this coin from another dealer, reportedly for “$500,000.” Goe “is in the process of selling” this PCGS graded 66 Twenty Cent piece. The buyer does not focus on Carson City Mint coins. According to Goe, he “likes rarities,” especially famous ones.

On June 11, Goe successfully bid by telephone for a PCGS graded AU-58 coin. When Goe heard that B&M was going to auction an 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece in June, he “had to pursue it.” Goe has specialized in Carson City Mint coins for many years, and he has authored two books relating to the Carson City Mint. Goe felt drawn to this latest offering. One of the main reasons why he was willing to strongly bid for this 1876-CC is the “historical importance” of this particular 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece.

Goe maintains that “only one other” surviving 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece can be traced back to an owner in the time of its mintage. In general, Goe is intrigued by the historical circumstances of the Carson City Mint and by the people who lived in the ‘Wild West’ in the second half of the 19th century. Goe was instrumental in founding a club for collectors of Carson City Mint coins. (See CarsonCityCoinClub.com.) Goe and other Carson City coin enthusiasts will speak at the ANA Convention in Los Angeles this summer.

According to the June B&M catalogue, this PCGS graded AU-58 coin was owned by the Pick-Jurgensen family from 1876 until it was just auctioned on June 11, 2009. John Seagraves Pick was the first owner. In 1876, he was living in Virginia City, Nevada, which is the site of the Comstock Lode. It is certainly plausible that Pick traveled to Carson City. Pick’s relevant descendants, including the two current consignors, are mentioned in the auction catalogue. The other 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece that can be traced to a contemporary owner is the Dr. S. L. Lee coin, which eventually became part of the Louis Eliasberg collection

Twenty Cent coins are themselves historical anomalies. Twenty Cent coins were produced for circulation for just two years, in 1875 and ‘76. People confused them with quarters, and generally found them to be annoying.

The silver mining industry, directly and indirectly, had influenced several members of Congress to support legislation mandating a Twenty Cent coin. Arguments relating to the need for Twenty Cent coins to help merchants and bartenders make change were not genuine. Five cent coins were needed for commerce in the West, not twenty cent coins. Cents also would have been helpful.

Essentially, those who were involved in, or otherwise stood to gain from, silver mining in the West constituted a special interest group. Prominent members of the group fabricated reasons in efforts to bring about an increase the number of silver coins minted in the U.S. They wanted to maximize the amount of silver purchased by the U.S. Treasury for the production of coins, and thus wanted U.S. Mints to make millions more silver coins than were really needed, or would even have been useful in commerce.

Later in the 19th century, this special interest group succeeded in pushing legislation for the U.S. Government to buy massive quantities of silver to produce millions more Morgan silver dollars than anybody then really wanted or could practically use. (Morgans were not even strongly demanded by collectors until the late 1970s, about a century after they were first minted in 1878.)

Traditionally, Twenty Cent pieces have been popular with collectors. Even in the 19th century, there was significant collector demand for them. Though business strike Twenty Cent coins were minted only in 1875 and ‘76, Proofs were made for two additional years, in 1877 and ‘78, at the primary U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Most of these Proofs were sold directly to collectors. Not long afterwards, Twenty Cent pieces appeared in rare coin auctions.

Only five Twenty Cent pieces are required for a complete set of business strikes: 1875, 1875-CC, 1875-S, 1876, 1876-CC. The ‘S’ stands for the San Francisco Mint. Coins that have no mintmark were made in Philadelphia. Proofs were minted in Philadelphia in all four years. Plus, a very small number of unusual and esoteric Proofs were minted in San Francisco in 1875.

The other four business strikes and the four Philadelphia Mint Proof issues are not very hard to find. No one knows exactly why the 1876-CC issue is so rare. If Mint records are to be taken literally, thousands were manufactured and then melted. Theoretically, four or five were designated for assay purposes. Mint records, however, often contain careless, bizarre, or even deliberate errors.

No one now knows how many 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces left the Carson City Mint, or the circumstances of their departure. As far as silver and gold coins were concerned, from the early 1800s to 1933, politicians were primarily concerned with the inflow and outflow of silver and gold, and the need for the accounting ‘books to be balanced.’

With very rare exceptions, politicians just did not care about the dates on the coins. One silver dime could always be substituted for another silver dime. To illustrate the fact that politicians and bureaucrats in the 19th century did not care much about the dates on coins, consider that all the silver dollars minted in 1804 were dated 1803, and this fact was probably not mentioned in any U.S. Mint documents. Moreover, there is no record of politicians objecting to 1804 dollars being minted in the 1830s for inclusion in special Proof sets to be used as diplomatic gifts. If politically powerful people did not care about the dates on the coins, the U.S. Mint records that survive from the 19th century, which are woefully incomplete anyhow, should not be literally interpreted in efforts to determine the rarity of specific dates.

In 1876, if some curious people in Carson City wished to each trade two dimes for an 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece, it would have then been considered both legal and ethical for Mint officials to cooperate. Usually, such trades would not be recorded. Why should they have been?

If one person asks another for four quarters in trade for a single dollar, is there a need for such a trade to be recorded for researchers and law enforcement officials to examine in the future? Likewise, from 1927 to some point in 1933, almost any collector could have traded a 1925-S $20 gold coin for a much rarer 1927-D $20 gold coin. Further, common 1924 $20 coins could have been traded for very rare dates. As the gold value is the same in each, most Mint officials then would have figured that there was no need to keep a record of such a trade.

The exchange of one Saint Gaudens $20 gold coin for another was considered fair and honest. In 1876, the exchange of one twenty cent piece for another, like an 1875-CC for an 1876-CC, would also have been considered fair and honest, and too non-controversial and harmless to bother documenting. Little is gained by thinking about how 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces left the Carson City Mint.

Before 1934, collectors and Mint personnel knew that politicians and law enforcement officials typically cared about the flows and stockpiles of silver and gold, not the precise characteristics of individual silver or gold coins. In regard to many rarities, coin researchers and non-numismatists in the mid to late 20th century have directed suspicions and accusations of wrongdoing at numerous U.S. Mint officials who served at various times from the 1830s to the 1930s. The vast majority of these suspicions and accusations are unfair and not well reasoned.


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