Background and History
The twenty cent piece is one of the oddball denominations of the United States monetary system, along with the 2 and 3 cent pieces and the $3 gold piece. It was extremely short lived issue, which proved to be highly unpopular and was never generally accepted in commerce. The coins were struck for circulation during only two years from 1875 to 1876, followed by two additional years of proof strikings for collectors in 1877 and 1878. Of all the issues, the 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece stands alone as the rarest issue for the denomination and also one of the rarest coins ever struck at the Carson City Mint.
The Twenty Cent denomination was created by a bill from Senator Jones of Nevada introduced in 1874 and enacted in 1875. It was a direct result of the rising importance of the Western States and the miners of the Comstock Lode, a huge silver deposit discovered in Nevada in 1859 which would lead to the opening of a federal Mint in Carson City in 1870. After the introduction of the bill, a large number of patterns were created at the Philadelphia Mint. The eventual design for the denomination would combine a modification of Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design (found on all other silver coins in circulation at the time) with William Barber’s Trade Dollar design. The size would be slightly smaller than a quarter, which had a reeded edge. To prevent confusion, the twenty cent piece would have a plain edge.
The denomination quickly failed. There was virtually no support from the general public who thought the denomination was awkward and too easily confused with the quarter dollar. The plain edge was a minor difference which was not noticed. A bill to repeal the failed denomination was introduced in July 1876, although it would take two more years for the bill to be enacted. In the meantime the Philadelphia Mint produced a small number of proof strikings for collectors, but no further circulation strikes were produced at any of the Mints that had struck the coins in relatively large quantities in 1875.
Key Date Coin Mintage
The Carson City Mint produced 133,290 twenty cent pieces in 1875, most of which were released into circulation. The following year in 1876, production would be halted after only 10,000 pieces had been struck, with none of these pieces released into circulation. In 1877, Mint Director Linderman instructed the superintendent of the Carson City Mint to melt all 1876-CC Twenty Cent Pieces that were on hand. Somehow a small number of pieces managed to escape the melting pot.
Some may have been set aside for the annual assay commission to review, although the number of survivors is greater than the number typically used for this purpose. Another possibility is that Mint employees, always looking for ways to make extra money, traded a few of the previous year pieces for 1876-CC Twenty Cent Pieces and sold them to collectors, or perhaps kept them as a numismatic curiosity and a remembrance of the short-lived denomination.
The issue was recognized as a rarity even before the end of the 19th century and maintain this status through the present day. No hoards of 1876-CC Twenty Cent Pieces have ever been found in Carson City or elsewhere, except for a single group of approximately 8 pieces, a large part of the present population. The coins were found in a Maryland estate (presumably in Baltimore or its vicinity) in the 1950’s. The earlier pedigrees of these coins was unknown, and all were quietly dispersed into the collectors market.
It is estimated that slightly over a dozen examples of the rarity are known to exist, mostly in uncirculated condition, with the highest estimates still numbering less than 20 coins. It certainly is an extremely rare issue which almost always is the highlight of any advanced collection of Carson City silver coinage.
Finest Known and Values
The finest known examples of the 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece comprise two pieces graded MS-66 by PCGS, with NGC having no coins graded higher than MS-65. One of the MS-66 pieces sold for $460,000 in April 2009, holding the record for the highest auction price ever realized for a Twenty Cent piece.
Unsurprisingly, for an issue of this rarity, other auction results are high as well. An example graded PCGS AU-58 sold for $207,000 in June 2009. An MS-62, certified by PCGS sold for $264,500 in September 2008. A PCGS MS-64 was sold at auction in October 2007 for $350,750.
The value of 1876-CC Twenty Cent Pieces has increased tremendously over the past decade. The other PCGS MS-66 that is known sold for $138,000 in 2001, indicating a true bargain compared to current valuations. Nonetheless, compared to many other rarities within American numismatics, there still seems to be room for higher prices. If price levels continue to escalate, any example of this rarity purchased in the last decade or so might prove to be an excellent part of a rare coin portfolio.