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What’s the Big Deal about 'CC' Morgan Dollars?
By Dr. R.S. "Bart" Bartanowicz
March 06, 2014

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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His friend was showing off a recently acquired Carson City Morgan dollar. “I really do love Carson City Morgan dollars. I think everyone admires them, even though they can be pricey compared to some of the other Morgan dollars.”

Looking at our numismatist, he said, “I can see you have a case of Carson City envy.”

Our numismatist grumbled, “I like Carson City Morgan dollars. I’m also fond of the other coins struck by the Carson City Mint, such as the Trade dollar. My concern is the way you’re fondling the coin. You’re creeping me out. I think you need professional help.” His friend smirked and had a quick comeback. “OK. Tell me what’s on your mind.” Our numismatist smiled, “I was waiting for you to ask.”

“Collectors love Morgan dollars. Of the five mints, no doubt, the Carson City Morgan has been a favorite. Over a period of 13 years (1878-1885 and 1889-1893) Carson City struck just under 14 million Morgan dollars. This was the lowest Morgan production of the five mints.

The Denver Mint, which only struck the 1921 issue, had an output of more than 20 million coins, easily besting the entire Carson City production in just one year. Six of the Carson City issues were under 1 million coins. Another five are under 2 million. The two largest issues were 1878 (2,212,000) and 1890 (2,309,041).

By way of comparison, the Philadelphia Mint led all mints by producing more than 305 million Morgan dollars from 1878 to 1907 and 1921 before ending the series.

His friend chimed in, “Don’t forget, an awful lot of Morgan dollars also went to the melting pot, so low mintage doesn’t always translate to rarity.”

Our numismatist replied, “You’re absolutely correct. Still, I think the combination of low mintages and the Old West pedigree have a lot to do with the coin’s popularity. The Nevada Comstock Lode was so large that there was immense political pressure to find a use for all the silver. The answer was easy. What better use could there be than having the government strike up big silver dollars to keep the price of silver up. The various mints were soon striking large numbers of Morgan dollars, including the newly established Carson City facility.”

“In addition to the Comstock Lode story, the Carson City Morgans (as well as other mint issues) received considerable publicity when they were discovered to be in large numbers in federal vaults in what was called the GSA hoard. The Morgans were offered for sale by the General Services Administration during the 1970s-1980s. Surprisingly enough despite the buzz, it took a while to sell all of them. This was attributed to less than adequate marketing efforts by the GSA.

“Anyway as a result of all this, everyone, including non-collectors, seem to know about the Carson City Morgans. I remember hearing beginning collectors say, ‘If I had the money, I would like to have a Saint-Gaudens double eagle and a Carson City Morgan dollar.’ To me this sounded like the end goal of being a coin collector. Get both coins and your numismatic life is complete.”

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His friend nodded and asked our numismatist, “Do you have any Carson City Morgan dollars?” Our numismatist sadly shook his head yes and said, “My numismatic life is over.”

If you’re new to the hobby the question is: “Does a coin’s place of manufacture increase its desirability solely because of that pedigree?” The answer is no. If the Carson City Mint had produced prodigious numbers of coins, such as the Philadelphia Mint, the Carson City mystique or pedigree would probably not be as important. It is the small mintage production coupled with a good story that makes it work. It’s all there: politicians, political intrigue, shady characters, cowboys, miners and regular folks of the Old West. Robert R. Van Ryzin’s book the Crime of 1873: The Comstock Connection is a terrific read on this subject.

As an aside, another mint with a colorful history is New Orleans. The story takes place during the Civil War, following the capture of the city by Union Gen. Benjamin Butler, known as the “Beast of New Orleans.” Butler ordered the hanging of a civilian suspected of carrying out anti-Union acts. The individual was hung from the New Orleans Mint building. While the above story takes place before New Orleans began striking Morgan dollars, it certainly adds to the lore of the New Orleans Mint as a onetime public gallows.

If you don’t have a Carson Morgan dollar, consider it. A Carson City Morgan dollar is pretty cool and affordable. I routinely see Carson City Morgans in the grade of Fine and Very Fine priced around $100. Coins in these grades usually have decent detail including the important CC mintmark. And yes, it’s easy to brag about having a Carson City coin.

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