By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
For the collector of Morgan dollars, the Carson City Mint represents one of the more interesting areas of focus.
First established in 1863, the Carson City Mint was supposed to strike coinage from the gold and silver mined from the Comstock Lode. However, the physical mint facility was not completed for six years and opened on December 13, 1869 and the San Francisco Mint turned out to be the more convenient location to process the precious metal coming out of the ground.
The Carson City Mint did eventually find its place in the branch mint mix and nine years later, the first CC Morgan dollar rolled off the presses and was put into circulation. Subsequently, the Mint struck 13 distinct issuances in the late 19th century from 1878 until 1893, with a three year break starting in 1886. Many of these types are quite rare and present an enticing challenge to collectors.
On the other end of the spectrum, Carson City’s 1881, 1882, 1883, and 1884 issuances have survived in surprisingly large numbers. This was specifically because all four dates made up large portions of the General Services Administration (GSA) Hoard sold off by the government in the 1970s. Interestingly, despite the 1881-CC having a very small mintage of only 296,000 pieces (the 10th-smallest of the entire series), nearly 50% of this was dispersed as part of the GSA Hoard. Similarly, roughly 53% or 605,000 pieces of the 1882-CC issuance, 63% or 755,000 pieces of the 1883-CC issuance, and 85% or 962,000 pieces of the 1884-CC issuance were represented in the GSA Hoard. All in all, these types are relatively common today, and interested collectors can easily acquire mid-to-high (MS67) Mint State examples.
In 2022 alone, PCGS recorded 3,607 sales, both via public auction and eBay: 642 sales of 1881-CCs, 1021 sales of 1882-CCs, 580 sales of 1883-CCs, and 1364 sales of 1884-CCs. As can be seen in the chart below, these sale numbers were relatively consistent across the year, with a spike in January and in July. Granted, PCGS’ sample does not include all examples of the coin sold on every online platform or in every coin shop across America, but it does show activity in several major market areas. The question is, how much did they cost?
As there were a large number of distinct sales, the most efficient analytical methodology was to combine the grades into several groups and average the sale price per grade. Therefore, I chose the following: Low Grade (PO1 – VF25), Mid-grade (VF30 – EF45), About Uncirculated (AU50 – AU58), Low Mint State (MS60 – MS63), Mid-Mint State (MS64 – MS65), MS66, and MS67. I kept the last two grades separate because the price differences between 66s and 67s, as well as the small number of sales, would skew the final averages. Also, it is important to note that I did not filter out “+” grades.
Starting off with the lowest-graded pieces, of which 107 were sold in 2022, we see the start of an interesting trend.
Firstly (and most notably), the 1881-CC is consistently priced higher than the other three dates, with a premium generally ranging between two and three times. At the same time, the other three years usually sell at a similar price level. There are, however, some months that low-grade examples of the 1884 dramatically outprice the 1881–specifically January and June, when they sold for an average of $600 and $370 USD. This was not due to any seasonal affect but rather because there were several extremely low-graded pieces (e.g., P01s and 02s) that were sold for a large premium.
Additionally, there was a general dip in prices during the spring and fall while prices rose in summer and winter. This is probably attributable to both the scheduling of auctions and the holiday season pushing prices higher. One note, the absence of a “bar” on these charts represents a month when no coins of that grade were sold.
With only 35 and 79 sales of mid-grade and About Uncirculated coins, respectively, these charts are all over the place. Single sales of coins that pull in unusually high or low prices can easily skew the value. Nevertheless we can still see the consistently high price of the 1881-CC as well as hints of the seasonal price shifting. That said, the average price of the About Uncirculated group every month for 1882, 1883, and 1884 falls between $186 and $360. At the same time, the 1881s in both groups (mid-grade and About Uncirculated) range from a low of $372 in July (mid-grade) and $531 in September (About Uncirculated).
As the majority of the surviving examples struck during these four years were preserved in federal vaults and did not circulate, the bulk falls between MS 60 and MS 65. In fact, I counted 1,415 sales of coins graded MS60 through 63 and 1,598 sales of MS64s and 65s. As such, these two groups are the clearest and show the most reliable averages for each date type across the year.
For all Mint State coins, we can see that the 1881-CC’s premium holds steady, with the sales gap closing slightly only for the Low Mint State sales in July and Mid-Mint State sales in December.
While both data sets are similar in this group (Low Mint State), the average 1881-CC price ranges from $648 in April to $796 in December. Meanwhile, the 1882-CC ranges from $334 in November to $412 in March, the 1883-CC from $279 in December to $413 in April, and the 1884-CC ranges from $284 in December to $438 in January.
By MS-66 however, both the 1881-CC’s premium and the seasonal price variation evaporate. While this may be due to the small sample size, there were comparatively very few high-grade Mint State Morgan dollars of these dates sold in 2022, it is also probably a factor of the general scarcity of examples in these grades. For all of these issuances, the vast majority of surviving examples fall between MS60 and MS65.
Besides October, where the average sale price for an 1881-CC MS 66 spiked at $3,525, the rest of the sales for all four types were fairly consistent, ranging from $1,050 to $2,361.
In MS67, the only real trend that can be pulled from the data is that the prices of all four issuances fluctuate dramatically. Not only were a scant 67 pieces in that grade sold over the course of the entire year, but at such a high grade, each sale has the possibility of attracting a lot of attention. Collectors interested in purchasing such an example should bide their time and scope out an attractive coin that is selling for a relatively low price. Don’t worry, they are out there. For example, while Stack’s Bowers sold and example in their Summer 2022 Global Showcase Auction for $14,400, it is also possible to pick up a highly attractive example for between $3,500 and $4,500.
At the top of the grading charts, collecting becomes nearly impossible. An MS68 exhibits all of the same features, sales-wise, as an MS67, perhaps only a bit more dramatically. For example, the cheapest MS68 of 2022 was an 1881-CC sold for $8,050 while the most expensive one was an 1883-CC sold for $80,500! While the former was graded by NGC and the later by PCGS, neither coin had a notable pedigree. Looking past these two outliers, the average price of a MS 68 (regardless of date between 1881-4) sold in 2022 is $40,984.
Unfortunately for collectors seeking the absolute top population grade for these four dates, MS68+, there are only two currently known. PCGS has graded one 1884-CC and NGC has certified one 1882-CC as MS68+. Furthermore, there is only one auction record at this grade. The PCGS 1884-CC was sold by Legend Rare Coin Auctions during their Regency Auction XII in June 2015. This piece, once part of the Jack Lee Collection, sold for a staggering $85,188.
So, what does this analysis tell us about best practices when it comes to purchasing 1881-4 CC Morgan dollars?
If you are looking to purchase an MS65 and below, purchase during the off-season if you can. As prices generally dip in the fall and spring, those are the best times to pick up a reasonably priced example. Also, in these grades, 1881s are nearly always twice the price of 1882-4s. However, if you are looking for a piece graded MS66 or above, my best advice would be to watch and wait. Because so few examples hit the open market, the price fluctuates relatively unpredictably. Therefore, it is best to either actively watch the auctions or work with a reputable dealer to source a reasonably priced example.
* * *
* * *
About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).