Carson City: two little words that paint big pictures of the Wild West, the Comstock Lode, and big silver and gold coins that clang when you drop them on a bar in a saloon. The discovery of the Comstock Lode – the first big deposit of silver ore in the US – inspired the silver rush of 1859. Prospectors swarmed into Nevada, scrambling to stake their claims.
Comstock Lode yields $400 million
Between 1859 and 1878, the Comstock Lode yielded $400 million in gold and silver. The Mint was built between 1866-69; coining machinery was brought to Carson in late 1869 and the first coins produced there were dated “1870.”
Bland-Allison Act saves silver “barons”
Bowers tells us that by the 1870s silver “had become more plentiful than anyone would have imagined a decade earlier.” The industry was slowly dying. The “Silver Barons” of Nevada, however, had two heroes in Congress: Rep. Richard P. Bland of Missouri and Rep. William B. Allison of Iowa. Their legislation–the Bland-Allison Act–was passed in Congress on February 28, 1878, over the veto of President Rutherford B. Hayes. Thus the Treasury had to purchase $2-$4 Million of silver bullion every month–and turn it into silver dollars.
Collectible Carson City Morgan dollars
One of numismatists favorite series to collect is the Morgan dollar. Designed by George T. Morgan, the big coin weighs in at 412.5 grams and is .900 silver. It was minted from 1878 to 1904 and then again in 1921. Carson City Morgan dollars were minted from 1878 to 1885 and again from 1889 until 1893.
The rich legacy of the CC Mint includes rare Morgan dollars that are scarce, as well as rarities that are not scarce. Huh? Some of the mintages are relatively large, while others seem almost impossible to acquire. So then why is the lowest mintage coin, the 1885-CC (228,000), not very expensive in UNC while the 1892-CC (1.3 million) is thousands of dollars in UNC?
Silver dollars were used in everyday commerce, but the number produced far exceeded those actually needed. Thus hundreds of millions of Morgan dollars sat around in 1,000-coin bags in vaults.
The Treasury release of Morgan dollars
The ‘Treasury release’ saw silver dollars being sold to consumers at face value. People could buy a single coin, a dozen or a 1,000-coin bag. This started when silver dollars were still being minted, when casinos bought bags of them for their gaming tables. The Treasury halted the distribution in March of 1964. By that time, however, there were only three million silver dollars left. Most of them were brilliant uncirculated Morgan dollars with the CC mint mark of the Wild West. Many of them have beautiful rainbow toning.
GSA mail bids for Carson City Morgan dollars
What the Treasury release started, the GSA (General Service Administration) finished. GSA coins are housed in a large rectangular plastic case with black felt. Four mail bids were held by the GSA from October of 1972 to June of 1974. That emptied the vaults of two million CC (and some other) Morgan dollars.
The final one million CC’s were sold via GSA mail bids during the speculative silver madness of 1980. The sale of these millions of coins through the 1962-1964 Treasury release and the GSA turned the hobby on its head. It was nothing short of a numismatic revolution!
1885-CC Morgan $
Most of the 1885-CC dollars were bagged and stored. About 80,000 (all UNC!) of them were sold in bags up to 1964. When the dust cleared, the GSA had the remaining 148,285 (65.03% of the entire mintage!), which they subsequently sold to the public. That accounts for their relatively low price in UNC in relation to the entire mintage. It’s a true rarity, but far too many examples exist for it to be scarce!
1892-CC Morgan $
The 1892-CC, however, with its mintage of 1.3 million is a scarcity. How is that so? Many of them were released into circulation in 1892. The number of coins in government vaults numbered in the tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands, as was the case with the 1885-CC coins. Bowers tells us that “many bags were paid out over a long period of years, including in 1926-1927, accelerating in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Most of these went into circulation.” In 1955, about 50 bags were sold. All but one coin was gone by the time the GSA sales began.
How to buy Carson City Morgan dollars
Only you know how much you can afford on coins for collecting or investing. The best resource available to you for pricing is the Coin Dealer Newsletter or “greysheet,” as it is called in the trade. Look at their website and get the weekly “greysheet” that reports on the Morgan dollar market. On those pages you will see all Morgan dollars listed in conditions from VG (Very Good) up to MS-67.
Study it and see what coin you would like to purchase. Some are affordable in mint state, while others are prohibitive. If you cannot grade coins on your own, then it is strongly recommended that you buy Carson City (or any other) Morgan dollars that have been encapsulated and certified by PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) or NGC (Numismatic Guarantee Corp.); these two third-party certification companies give you the most value, liquidity and bang for the buck.
In the greysheet, each coin has a ‘bid’ price and an ‘ask’ price. You want to pay as close to the ‘bid’ price as possible. In today’s economy, you will find bargains, but you have to look for them. If you want, ask the dealer how much they paid for it. Reputable dealers will tell you. You will pay a premium for beautifully-toned coins. If you are interested in coin collecting or investing, but have no experience, please read this.
End of the Carson City Mint
The 677,000 Morgan dollars of 1893 were the last coins produced at the Carson City Mint. “By direction of the secretary of the Treasury coinage operations at the Mint at Carson City was suspended on June 1, 1893.” Why was there a need to close down this branch mint? The annual report of the director of the Mint continues, “The mint at Carson City being of limited capacity…the expenses for coinage were much greater at Carson than at San Francisco.”
Thus ended an exciting and colorful chapter in numismatic history. The Mint at Carson City is now a museum, but there are plenty of “CC” Morgan dollars to collect and study. Pick one up and take a close look at it. Do you hear the saloon doors swinging open? Can you smell the whiskey?