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1870-CC Twenty Dollar, AU50
A Remarkable Example of This Key Carson City Issue

1870-CC $20 AU50 PCGS. Variety 1-A. The year 1870 witnessed the first striking of double eagles at the newly opened Carson City Mint, with a low production of only 3,789 coins, the lowest of the Carson City double eagle series mintages. A complete set of Carson City double eagles comprises 19 coins, with the initial 1870-CC the key to the set. Indeed, the 1870-CC is one of the key dates in the entire double eagle series and the coins are tightly held by collectors, making the acquisition of such a piece extremely challenging. Estimates are that the surviving population comprises only 35 to 45 examples, with the grades ranging from Fine to AU58.

Carson City double eagles were minted with gold mined in Nevada, and they circulated extensively in the Old West. The pieces were widely accepted for payment, as opposed to the paper money circulating at the time. The coins were also used to pay international debts, and many were stored for decades in overseas bank vaults on several continents, saving them from the 1933 Gold Recall in the United States and the melting pot during that era.

Few collectors could afford to assemble a collection of double eagles in 1870 because of the high intrinsic value of each coin. In addition, most collectors were only interested in collecting date runs of whatever denomination they specialized in, with no consideration for which mint a particular coin in their set came from. Virtually all 19th century collectors with the financial resources to collect a date set of double eagles opted to order a proof example from the Philadelphia Mint every year to update their collection, and paid no attention to the branch mint issues. This situation persisted until 1893, when Augustus Heaton published his famous treatise on mintmarks and popularized the branch mint issues throughout the hobby.

Although a few prominent collectors like Virgil Brand and John M. Clapp began collecting mintmarked double eagles in the 1890s, the large-denomination gold coins were not avidly collected until the late 1930s. By that time some serious numismatists, like Louis Eliasberg and Dr. Charles W. Green, began systematically collecting double eagles, partially as a legal means of stockpiling gold in the period after the Gold Recall of 1933. Of course, by the time this numismatic interest in the coins developed, the 1870-CC double eagles had been circulating heavily for decades, with no high-quality examples saved by contemporary collectors. As a result, the 1870-CC is unknown in Mint State grades today.

Auction appearances of the 1870-CC double eagle were few and far between in the 19th century and early 20th century. One of the earliest citations we could locate was in lot 25 of the B.W. Smith Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1915). Smith was a collector from Redlands, California, and being located far from the Philadelphia Mint, his collection was unusually rich in branch mint issues, which he apparently culled from circulation. The lot description in the Carson City double eagle section of the catalog reads:

"1870 First $20.00 gold piece of this mint. Fine. Rare. Seldom offered."

As Mehl said, public offerings of the 1870-CC are seldom encountered, especially with high-grade examples. The last time Heritage offered an 1870-CC double eagle in AU50 condition was in lot 5645 of our Denver Signature in August 2006. That lot realized $359,375.

The 1870-CC issue is known for a weak strike, particularly on the obverse, presumably due to technical difficulties at the mint, with the coins incorrectly centered within the collar. The areas of incompleteness generally include the stars, especially on the left, and the hair detail on the obverse. The reverse usually exhibits weakness of the stars encircling the motto, with a lack of central detail. The tail feathers are also known for their lack of a full strike.

Surviving examples all exhibit numerous abrasions, as is the case with the present coin, an AU50 PCGS representative. The surfaces reveal several shades of attractive yellow-gold color, with the protected areas exhibiting traces of mint luster. A tiny spot of orange-red color is present under the lower-right corner of the star below the S in TRUST. Aside from a few abrasions in the left obverse field and one on the reverse to the right of the shield, none of the marks are worthy of mention.

Truly a remarkable and extremely important specimen, this desirable survivor is tied with only seven other coins at PCGS and NCG combined, with a total of five finer at the two services (10/13). We suspect those figures include some resubmissions and crossovers. The roster below includes all high-grade specimens (AU50, or better) that we are aware of.

Roster of High-Grade 1870-CC Double Eagles
1. AU58 NGC. The finest-known specimen, recently discovered and stolen during a Brinks transport soon afterward.
2. AU55 NGC. Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 3/2009), lot 3909, realized $414,000.
3. AU53 NGC. Denver Signature (Heritage, 8/2006), lot 5645, realized $359,375; Philadelphia ANA Sale (Stack's Bowers, 8/2012), lot 11039, Realized $345,000.
4. AU53 PCGS. Isaac Edmunds Collection (Bowers and Merena, 6/2002), lot 2371; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2004), lot 3129, realized $368,000.
5. AU53 NGC. Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 9/2003), lot 8296; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 5/2010), lot 1712; Chicago ANA Sale (8/2011), lot 7762.
6. AU50 PCGS. The present coin. This piece matches none of the other coins on the roster.
7. AU50 PCGS. Classics Sale (American Numismatic Rarities, 1/2004), lot 546.
8. AU50 NGC. Richmond Collection (David Lawrence, 7/2004), lot 2288.
9. AU50 Cleaned, Uncertified. Baltimore Auction (Bowers and Merena, 2/2008), lot 2749.
From The Usibelli Collection.(Registry values: N14284) (NGC ID# 2542, PCGS# 8958)

View all of [The Usibelli Collection ]

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Auction Dates
January, 2014
8th-12th Wednesday-Sunday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 9
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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