1876 20C MS67 PCGS Secure. CAC – Lot 3302 in Heritage’s Beverly Hills Auction Novenber 8-10
The twenty cent piece was born out of Free Silver movement, an important political lobby that perceived the gold standard as a threat to poorer citizens, particularly farmers and silver miners. In the early 1870s many of the world’s preeminent powers, including Germany, France, and the Latin Monetary Union, adopted the gold standard and either suspended or demonetized silver coinage.
The Mint Act of February 12, 1873, deemed the Crime of ’73 by the silver interests, discontinued the silver dollar (as well as the two cent piece, silver three cent piece, and the half dime) and reduced the weights of the remaining silver coins to further widen the ratio between gold and silver. This was the de facto adoption of the gold standard by the United States. The actions by the U.S. and other countries, combined with the discovery of massive silver deposits in Nevada during the prior decade, greatly diminished the value of silver.
The Free Silver movement argued for the free coinage of silver: unlimited production of silver coins at a ratio that maintained their value relative to gold. This inflationary policy would benefit debtors, many of whom were farmers, because it would dramatically lower the real amount that would have to be paid back to the banks (inflation makes preexisting debts cheaper), and would be an obvious boon to the silver mine owners.
The Act of March 3, 1875 was the first piece of legislation passed by the silver interests and it authorized production of a silver twenty cent piece. Although the case was made that there was a need for small denomination coins in the West, the twenty cent piece was simply unnecessary because the dime and quarter already filled that void. In the first year of the denomination more than 1 million pieces were struck; the following year, 1876, fewer than 25,000 circulation strikes were produced. Only 14,640 of these coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
On the other hand, in 1876 the dime and quarter each had mintages of more than 30 million pieces, easily supplying enough small change for the rural states. The twenty cent piece was simply redundant and production of circulation issues ceased in 1876 after only two years. (Proofs were manufactured for another two years before the denomination was completely abandoned.)
From a lowly mintage of just 14,640 pieces, this MS67 specimen is a remarkable survivor. It is tied with only two other examples for the status of finest certified at PCGS, and NGC does not report any examples higher (9/11).