Satiny 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece
1876-CC 20C MS66 PCGS. The 1875 introduction of the twenty
cent denomination was a direct outgrowth of the increasing power of
Western silver-mining interests and the "Crime of '73," the Mint
Act of 1873 that among other things demonetized the silver dollar
and eliminated the half dime. According to Don Taxay's The U.S.
Mint and Coinage:
A Celebrated Foundational Rarity
MS66, Tied for Finest Certified
"For some years following the gold rush, inflation had stayed the need of small coins in California. No dimes were struck at the San Francisco Mint until 1859, and no half dimes until 1863. Thereafter, the coinage of half dimes increased steadily, and during 1872 and 1873 the output at San Francisco almost equalled that of its entire preceding nine years. The figure would have even been higher but for the fact that the coin was abolished by the Act of February 12, 1873. Since minor coins were not struck at the San Francisco Mint, the loss of the half dime caused some difficulty in making change. Many items were priced at a dime, or "short bit," and persons paying for one of these with a quarter had often to accept a dime or Spanish bit [12.5 cents] as change. To alleviate this problem, Nevada Senator J.P. Jones, in February 1874, introduced a bill for the coinage of a twenty-cent piece. The bill was supported by Director Linderman, and enacted on March 3, 1875."
It is certainly no accident that a Nevada politico introduced the ill-fated denomination, one that today is merely a numismatic curiosity (or curio?). The Comstock Lode, the richest lode of silver ever discovered in the United States, lay within its borders. Its discovery in 1859 hastened the territory's admission into the Union in 1864. The peak production years for the massive deposits of gold and silver were from about 1876 through 1878, with about $36 million of silver ore extracted annually from the ground during that time.
Patterns for the denomination were developed in 1874 and 1875 (Judd-1354 through 1358; Judd-1392 to 1415), with the first production strikes occurring that same year.
The denomination was a disaster, a total failure.
The size was too similar to the quarter dollar (a diameter of 22 mm versus 24.3 mm for the quarter), for which it was constantly confused. Mint officials, most notably Director Henry R. Linderman, apparently thought that the plain edge (the quarter's edge was reeded) and the raised LIBERTY (it was incused on the quarter) were enough. Incredibly, the obverses used the exact same design, although the reverses were somewhat different (if one considers two dissimilar eagles "different").
A bill to repeal the denomination was introduced in July 1876, although it took two more years, until May 1878, for the bill to pass and the denomination to finally end with a whimper of proof-only coinage.
In 1875 the Philadelphia Mint produced about 37,000 business strikes, while Carson City made 133,290 1875-CC twenty cents and San Francisco 1.155 million. In 1876 the total mintage in Philadelphia was a token 14,640 coins, and 10,000 pieces were recorded struck in Carson City, with none in San Francisco. However, nearly all of the 1876-CC twenty cent pieces were melted, except for a few assay pieces, or possibly a few examples saved by employees of the facility. Rusty Goe, the author of The Mint on Carson Street, takes up the thread:
"For nearly 60 years after coinage operations ceased [in Carson City], this date was the solitary representative from the entire production of the Carson City Mint to be included in Classic Rarities lists. The rarity of the 1876-CC 20-cent piece had been established within 17 years of the date of its production, as one prominent author, most famous for bringing mintmark collecting to the limelight, certainly must have had access to the now legendary document sent from Mint Director Linderman to Carson City Superintendent Crawford in 1877, ordering Crawford to melt the entire (or nearly entire) mintage of 1876-CC 20-cent pieces, and thus create a numismatic classic. This author of course was Augustus G. Heaton, who in 1893 wrote in his Treatise that the 1876-CC 20-cent piece was 'excessively rare.'
"For the 57 year period from 1893 to 1950, the 1876-CC 20-cent piece served as the Carson City Mint's claim to fame. ...
"After Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. purchased his 1873-CC Without Arrows dime in 1950, the rarity of the 1876-CC 20-cent piece was bumped to second place in the standings of scarce Carson City coins. Eventually, the 1873-CC Without Arrows quarter would be recognized as the second scarcest in the Carson City series, relegating the 1876-CC 20-cent piece to third place. In the final two decades of the 20th century, other selected coins from Carson City's progeny of rarities proved to be scarcer than the 1876-CC 20-cent pieces in terms of condition rarity, but the 1876-CC will always be spoken of reverently by numismatists."
Goe expertly places this issue correctly in the context in which it is regarded today, as among the most venerated ever produced by perhaps the most legendary of the nation's various coinage facilities. And although Goe does not quite come out and say it, he alludes to the critical concept of foundational rarity versus conditional rarity. The 1876-CC twenty cent is a coinage issue that has been rare ever since its production, regardless of condition. Acquisition of any example, much like an 1804 dollar, must be considered a crowning achievement for any numismatist, specialist in branch mint coinage, or indeed for connoisseurs in other fields looking to broaden their horizons.
This is the second time this year we have had the pleasure to offer a specimen, although it had been nearly a decade before since we last had one. The total surviving population is estimated at 16 to 18 pieces. This piece in MS66 is two points finer than the example in our Baltimore Signature Auction (3/09, lot 983). Like all known examples, it shows prominent doubling on LIBERTY in the shield, and the shield's upper border, as well. The remnants of a misplaced 8 and 7 in the denticles below the date. Doubling shows on several of the peripheral stars, most boldly on stars 2-8. Although some minor strike weakness appears on the top of the eagle's left (facing) wing, there are few other distractions of any sort, as expected at the Premium Gem level. The satiny, silver-white surfaces are highly reflective and free of all but the most picayune evidence of contact, mostly a couple of tiny hits on Liberty's thighs. This Premium Gem is tied for the finest certified with another coin so graded at PCGS, and the finest at NGC is a handful of MS65 examples (3/09). Expect the action to be fierce when this piece comes up for live auction.
From The Joseph C. Thomas Collection.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 23R9, PCGS# 5300)
Weight: 5.00 grams
Metal: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
View all of [The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part Two ]
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