US Coins: Those Magical CC Morgans

By Jim Fehr – The Winning Edge

Coins disappearing as collectors and investors buy rarities
Hello, all. This article has be updated with new PCGS and NGC census and pricing information as of September 2010. Hope you enjoy.

There are over one hundred and fifty new purchases in this issue of The Edge, so take a close look at this listing. There should be plenty to choose from whether you’re buying rare dates for your set or just starting out.

The market is good – stable prices and strong demand for rarities along with an expanding collector base. In fact, an 1804 Class 1 Draped Bust Dollar just traded for $3.7 million at the Central States Numismatic Society coin convention in Rosemont, IL. It was a record breaking price for this particular 1804 dollar. It last traded for $475,000 in 1993!

The Carson City Dollars

Politically, the pro-silver factions in this country have always been very strong. The Bland Allison Act and Sherman Act in the late 1800’s required the U.S. Government to purchase large quantities of silver and coin it into silver dollars that, at the time, were not being used in circulation. Therefore, Morgan silver dollars flooded into the treasury vaults. In 1918 the Pittman Act was enacted in part, to sell off the excesses holdings of silver in the treasury vaults, not more than 350 million silver dollar pieces were to be melted. But pro-silver factions helped convolute the Pittman Act.

Due to their influence, one provision of the Pittman Act required the U.S. government to buy domestically one silver ounce for each silver dollar ounce the Pittman Act required be melted and sold. The silver was sold to England at $1 per ounce. In other words, as the government was buying up all the silver dollars in circulation and melting them, along with what was stored in the treasury vaults, they were also forced to replace the melted dollars with domestically bought silver bullion – which they then coined into the new 1921 Morgan silver dollars.

Yet, because of the domestic silver purchase provision in the Pittman Act, many of the silver dollars were never melted and in this way the government unintentionally kept a hoard of about 155 million silver dollars for over 40 years. Since silver dollars during the early 1900’s were used frequently only in Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming, circulating Morgans dried up quickly.

Fast forward to Kennedy. From 1960 to 1964, the government suddenly released over 152 million silver dollars, at face value. The government was the last to learn that many of these coins were worth more than face value because they were prized by collectors. Three years later in 1967, silver prices were up enough to make any silver dollar worth over face value in bullion alone. Afraid to let go of any more too cheaply, the government held back 2.8 million of the lower mintage Carson City dollars.

Sen. Key Pittman – Nevada

On the last day of 1970, President Nixon signed into law the Bank Holding Company Act Amendments. The act authorized the General Services Administration to sell the 2.8 million Carson City dollars in any suitable manner, and thereby created the modern market for Carson City silver dollars. The treasury chose to market the CC dollars via several mail bid sales. There were five sales from 1972 to 1974, then two more in 1980. Minimum bid on 1882-CC, 1883-CC, and 1884-CC was $40-$42; minimum bid was $180 for 1880-CC, 1881-CC, and 1885-CC.

The prices were above retail for the time and low grade uncirculated samples of these dates have actually traded for under the government issue price. MS60 – MS62 samples of the 1880CC, 1881CC, and 1885CC dollars are well over the issue price today. But if you were fortunate enough to get any date with minimum bag marks, or a nice prooflike sample from Uncle Sam, you’ve done exceptionally well.

Odds are, if you’re reading this publication, you own or are interested in PCGS or NGC certified higher grade Carson City dollars. Compared to the rarity of most other Morgans, Carson City Morgans cost more, yet they are worth more because they have greater demand and appreciation potential then most Morgan dates. Take a look at the performance of the most common date, the 1883-CC, with respect to grade since its release by the government:

As is almost always the case over time, the better the grade the greater the scarcity; the greater the scarcity, the better the appreciation potential.
Below is a ranking of the 13 regular issue Carson City Morgan dollars. I’ve rank them three ways. The first column shows their ranking in order by MS65 PCGS and NGC combined population. The second column by MS66 PCGS and NGC population and the third column by PCGS and NGC combined MS63 and higher population.

Less than one Morgan in fourteen seen by PCGS and NGC MS63 and higher bears the CC mintmark. As shown, the key to the Carson City Morgan dollar set is the 1889-CC, with only 7 pieces graded MS65, and only 69 pieces certified MS64 by both services combined. The second rarest date, 1893-CC, is tougher in higher grades. It’s the 12th rarest date in MS65 in the complete 104 piece Morgan series and has a PCGS and NGC combined MS64 population of 690 and a MS65 population of just 18. The 1879-CC has an MS63 and higher population of just 2,678 piece graded by both PCGS and NGC making it the 20th rarest date in the 104 piece series. Only three coins have been graded in MS66. The 1893-CC and 1879-CC are semi-key dates that are great coins to own in MS64 and higher. The 1885-CC is the third lowest mintage date in the complete Morgan series, 228,000 minted, and because of this, it’s the second most sought after CC and for that matter, any mint mark Morgan, after the 1878-CC. (1893-S is the lowest mintage Morgan, 100,000 made, and 1894-P follows at 110,000)

Unlike most certified coins we recommend, Carson City dollars are not truly scarcity-oriented coins. For example, the 1884-CC dollar has a PCGS and NGC MS67 population of 146 and goes for about $4,600. An 1883-O or 1903-O Morgan goes for about the same price in MS67, yet they have populations of 54 and 99 respectively, making them scarcer than the 1884-CC. So aren’t they the better buy?

Generally, the answer would be yes, but Carson City dollars are an exception. They are so popular, and their popularity is perpetual. They sell 10 or 15 to 1 to any other Morgan. The 1878-CC may be the single most popular numismatic coin there is. It’s a first year of issuance, a date that comes frosty silver-white, and is available in high grades. Never in my twenty-five years of buying and selling coins has there been a time in which nice Carson City dollars were tough to move – they may be the only coins for which that statement holds true.

High grade Carson City dollars may be the most liquid of all non-generic U.S. rare coins, which means that dealers prefer them to other numismatic coins and collectors and investors always have an efficient market to sell into. With the Carson City dollars, you won’t get the scarcity you’d get with an early 19th century Type coin, but with the Carson City popularity, you will still get the upside potential. And you’ll get liquidity equal too or superior to any other numismatic certified coins.

Naturally, there are some dates of Carson City dollars that are too plentiful to make solid buys in lower grades, but all are sufficiently scarce in higher grades. I have always recommended Carson City Morgans as follows in bold: (Grades showing no prices means the coin is either so scarce and trades too infrequently that there is no pricing information available or there are none graded in that grade)

As indicated, 1880-CC thru 1885-CC (the Carson City Dollar short set), should be put away in grades MS66 or higher. In addition to the dates and grades shown, the 1889-CC is also sufficiently rare to be desirable in any BU grade – its starts at about $22,000 in MS60 and goes for close to $30,000 in MS62. It’s a date that always sells when we get them in any grade from XF to MS64. I have yet to buy or sell one in MS65 but I would be willing to bet that they would be an easy sell at $350,000 to $400,000.

The 13-piece Carson City dollar set is the most sought after sub-set within the Morgan dollar series. With an MS63 1889-CC, an MS64 1879-CC and 1893-CC, and all other dates in MS65 or MS66 as recommended, the whole set would run you a little under $95,000 and take probably 18 months to complete. But what a set it is! Only 9 MS65 and higher sets are possible due to the rarity of the 1889-CC and only 78 sets in MS64 and higher are possible. With the 1878-CC and 1880-CC in MS66; 1881-CC thru 85-CC in MS67; 1890-CC, 1891-CC, and 1892-CC in MS65; 1879-CC and 1893-CC in MS64, and 1889-CC in MS63, you’d have one of the finest quality sets assembled.

In addition to the 13 regular issue Carson City dollars, there are four varieties of CC’s that trade frequently. The 1879-CC capped die and the 1880-CC reverse of 1878 have both been collected varieties for over 40 years. In fact, even the government people assigned to document the coins for the GSA mail bid sales noticed that there were two distinct varieties of the 1880-CC dollar, but they were never separated.

The 1879-CC capped die is recommended in all grades MS63 and higher. Because the variety is considered a slightly detracting error, it has never been as popular as the regular 1879-CC, but population figures show that the capped die is less common and is notoriously rare in MS65 and higher. An MS63 goes for about $6,500 and has a population of 596 PCGS and NGC combined. There are 419 in MS64 and they go for about $9,750. Only 19 have been graded MS65 and they would trade somewhere around $45,000 to $55,000 each. There are none graded higher than MS65.

The 1880-CC reverse of 1878 is about five times as rare as the regular 1880-CC; in popularity it is slightly preferred to the regular reverse. It trades at $2,950 for an MS65 and about $6,850 for a PCGS and NGC population 96 MS66. It is recommended in either grade. Only 2 MS67’s are graded by the services today.

The least well-known of the major Carson City varieties is the 1890-CC tail bar. (A heavy die gouge on the reverse connects the first of the eagle’s tail feathers to the wreath.) It’s not even listed in the Redbook or on the Greysheet but has been known by collectors for decades. Frankly, I think they are vastly undervalued and because it’s a Carson City it has great potential. I sold only one of the 3 known MS65’s and there are only 112 certified MS64 and 230 MS63’s by PCGS and NGC combined. If you’re looking to take a shot, this issue may be of interest because PCGS and NGC have been grading them for several years now; yet combined they’ve seen just 571 coins in MS63 and higher grades. That could mean it’s severely under priced; it could also mean that hype will make it cost too much – no probably not, I haven’t seen all that many of them over the years.

The last of the four major Carson City varieties is really not a CC at all. In fact, the 1900-O/CC Morgan exists because discarded dies from the then-defunct Carson City mint were reworked, poorly it turns out, and used in New Orleans for the 1900-O dollars. Parts of the CC mint mark are clearly seen underneath the newly punched O mint mark. There are seven different major VAM varieties of the 1900-O/CC, but they are generally recognized as one. The 1900-O/CC is recommended in MS65 and MS66 – there are only 90 MS66’s graded by both services combined. They run around $2,000 and $6,000 respectively.

Well, that’s the breakdown of the Carson City dollars. When it comes to which coins to own, dealers aren’t dummies. Most I know would rather own nice Carson City dollars than any other popular date collected coins. It’s nice to own what everyone wants. If you would like to own some or all of the dates in the set call us because we always have a nice selection available and have special prices and terms for the Carson City Short set. Plus, we’ll be glad work with you on building the complete set.

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