Over two million Morgan dollars were struck at the Carson City Mint in 1878, though only a few of these coins found their way into circulation at the time. But like many Morgan dollars, the release and sale of numerous mint bags by the Treasury Department in the mid-to-late 20th century affected the hobby’s understanding of the rarity and scarcity of the 1878-CC. Before the 1950s, uncirculated 1878-CCs were considered scarce, but by the mid-’50s enough had been released from different sources (including Treasury vaults) that numismatists understood the coin to be relatively common in Mint State. Yet when the GSA sales of ’70s dispersed even more bags of Carson City Morgans, the 1878-CC, when compared to the much greater numbers of some other Carson City dates, was found to be relatively scarce. This is the status of 1878-CC silver dollars in high Mint State today.
As far as PCGS goes, the company reports a total of 347 specimens graded MS-66, with only 47 graded higher at MS-66+ and seven in the top pop grade of MS-67. Recent auction records show that prices for PCGS MS-66 1878-CCs tend toward $4,000, with an example selling this September for $3,700. August saw two coins sold: one going for $3,240 and another going for $3,700 again. A third piece sold for $3,700 in July, while another example went for $3,600 in June.
These prices are about a little more than three times as much as an MS-65 1878-CC appears to garner, but prices take off into five-figures once you get to MS-66+ and 67.
For more auction results, you can search through the GreatCollections Auction Archives, with records for over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years.
At the time of publication, the high bid for this 1878-CC Morgan dollar is $2,651 after 21 bids.
History of the Carson City Mint
The Carson City Mint was established by Congress in 1863 to refine and coin the silver coming out of the famous Comstock Lode, where one of the largest veins of silver ore in American history had been discovered just years before. The Civil War precluded actual construction of the mint until 1866, by which time Nevada had become a state (1864). Abraham Curry, the first superintendent of the Carson City Mint, oversaw construction of Alfred B. Mullet’s Renaissance Revival-style brick building.
Producing silver and gold coins, the Carson City Mint began striking coins on February 11, 1870, when the first CC-mint Seated Liberty silver dollars came off Press No. 1. It closed temporarily in 1885, a victim of party politics in Washington, but reopened in late 1889. The facility operated for almost another four years until it closed for good in 1893.
Carson City’s status as an official branch mint was rescinded in 1899 – around the time that the Comstock Lode itself stopped producing. It served as an assay office until 1933 and was sold to the state in 1939 as the home of the newly founded Nevada State Museum.
During its time as a U.S. branch mint, the Carson City facility struck Seated Liberty dimes, Twenty Cent pieces, Seated Liberty quarters, half dollars and dollars, Trade dollars, and Morgan dollars in silver, and Liberty Head $5 half eagles, $10 eagles and $20 double eagles in gold. Several issues from Carson City are considered key dates for their series, such as the 1879-CC Morgan dollar, the 1870-CC Seated Liberty quarter, or the 1870-CC half eagle.
But in general, coins from Carson City–with their connection to the “Old West“–have always held a strong allure for collectors.
History of the Morgan Dollar
The Morgan silver dollar was minted between 1878 and 1904, and then once more in 1921. It was the first standard silver dollar to be struck after the Seated Liberty dollar ceased production due to the Coinage Act of 1873 and the end of the free coining of silver.
The Morgan dollar gets its name from United States Mint engraver George T. Morgan, who designed the dollar coin in competition with then-Chief Engraver William Barber. Contrary to received numismatic wisdom, the two men had a cordial professional relationship.
The new dollar was authorized by the Bland–Allison Act. The effort by mining interests to lobby for the restoration of “free silver” started almost immediately once the 1873 coinage act was passed. Five years later, instead of requiring the Mint to accept all silver presented to it and return it in the form of coinage, the Bland–Allison Act required the Treasury to purchase between two and four million dollars’ worth of silver at market value to be coined into dollars each month.
In 1890, the Bland–Allison Act was repealed by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which required the Treasury to purchase 4,500,000 troy ounces (140,000 kg) of silver each month, but mandated further silver dollar production for only one more year. This law was repealed in 1893.
Always a popular coin with American collectors, the release of millions of Morgan dollars from Treasury Department vaults in the 1960s and ’70s radically reshaped what we knew about the condition and survival rates of these coins.
The obverse exhibits the left-facing Liberty Head motif seen on all issues of this classic dollar series. The central Liberty bust wears a Phrygian cap encircled with a ribbon adorned with the inscription LIBERTY. Miss Liberty also wears a crown of wheat and cotton, which were two of the nation’s most lucrative natural agricultural assets in the 19th century.
The phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed along the upper half of the obverse rim, and the date 1878 is centered at the bottom of the obverse adjacent to the rim. Seven stars appear between the left side of the date and the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM, while six stars fill the gap between the date and motto on the lower right side of the coin. In total, the 13 stars represent the 13 colonies that combined to form the original Union of the United States. At the base of Liberty’s neck is the “M” monogram representing Morgan’s initial.
Morgan designed the Liberty Head bust after the likeness of Anna Willess Williams, a Philadelphia schoolteacher who modeled for the coin. Williams received significant public recognition after her face appeared on the Morgan dollar but she rejected it, refusing offers for acting roles and apparently marriage following her engagement to an unknown suitor.
The reverse is dominated by a heraldic eagle, influenced by Italian Renaissance designs, its wings spread across the upper half of the coin. Between the upper tips of the eagle’s wings appears the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw representing peace and in its left claw are three arrows symbolizing the nation’s ability to defend itself. The central eagle design is partly encircled by a laurel wreath. The “CC” mint mark is right beneath the ribbon that ties the two halves of the wreath together.
Along the rim of the upper two-thirds of the reverse is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with the tip of the eagle’s left wings, which virtually touch the coin’s rim, penetrating the space between UNITED and STATES; the right wing visually divides the words OF and AMERICA. The words ONE DOLLAR, seen at the bottom center of the reverse, are flanked by a single, six-sided star on either side of the denomination inscription.
The edge, of course, is reeded.