Background and History
The twenty cent piece is one of the oddball denominations of the United States coinage system, along with the 2- and 3-cent pieces and the $3 gold piece. It was an extremely short-lived issue, which proved to be highly unpopular and was never broadly accepted in commerce. The coins were struck for circulation for only two years from 1875 to 1876, followed by two additional years of proof strikings for collectors from 1877 to 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 authorized under a bill introduced by Senator John P. Jones of Nevada 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 which would lead to the opening of the Carson City Mint in 1870. After the introduction of the bill, a large number of patterns for the twenty cent piece 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) and William Barber’s Trade Dollar design. The coins would be slightly smaller than a quarter and have a plain edge, as an attempt to differentiate the denomination from others.
The twenty cent pieces were struck in relatively large quantities in 1875, with more than 1.3 million produced across three different Mint facilities. However, these coins experienced little success in circulation as the public found the denomination awkward and too easily confused with the quarter. A bill to repeal the denomination was introduced in July 1876, although it would take two more years for the bill to be enacted. In the meantime, a small number of circulation strikes were produced in 1876, followed by two years proof only strikings at the Philadelphia Mint.
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 pieces 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 traded a few prior year coins for the 1876-CC Twenty Cent Pieces and sold them to collectors, or perhaps kept them as a numismatic curiosity and remembrance of the short-lived denomination.
The issue was recognized as a rarity even before the end of the 19th century and maintains this status through the present day. No hoards have ever been found in Carson City or elsewhere, except for a single group of approximately 8 pieces, which comprise a large part of the current population. The coins were discovered within a Maryland estate in the 1950’s. The earlier pedigrees of these coins were unknown, and all were quietly dispersed into the collector market.
The estimated number of surviving examples ranges from 12 to 20 pieces, with most known specimens in uncirculated condition. Needless to say, this is an extremely rare issue, which would represent one of the highlights of an advanced collection of Carson City silver coinage.
Finest Known and Values
The finest known examples of the 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece are two pieces graded PCGS MS-66, with NGC having no coins graded at this level. PCGS and NGC have graded four coins each at the MS-65 grade level, with the majority of the remaining known specimens falling into the lower uncirculated grades.
Auction appearances for the coin are infrequent and have shown a tremendous increase in price levels over the past two decades. This is evidenced by the prices realized for each of the two finest graded pieces. One of the PCGS MS-66 pieces sold for $138,000 in 2001. The other PCGS MS-66 piece reached a price of $460,000 only eight years later in 2009.
Since this time, coins graded at lower levels have seen similar and even higher prices. In 2014, a PCGS MS-64 piece realized a price of $470,000, representing the record price for the issue. Most recently, a different PCGS MS-64 piece sold for $456,000 in 2019.