If you take a short drive from Reno, Nevada, you will quickly find yourself transported back more than 100 years to a time when silver and gold ruled the western economy. Tiny Virginia City - it's a gem of a town, and I've had the pleasure of visiting it several times. Many of the old saloons and stores from the last century are still standing (and doing very well, I might add!). The surrounding hills are honeycombed with the silver mines of the fabled Comstock Lode, a few of which are still producing silver.
As I drove south out of town, I saw the remnants of several abandoned mines and stamping mills, and suddenly I came across Nevada's capitol, Carson City. Near the center of town stands the original Carson City Mint, looking much as it did when it struck its first U.S. "CC" mint-marked coins in 1870. Now a Nevada State museum, I enjoyed seeing the original ingot molds, tools, and minting dies on display. But most of all, it was a thrill to find the original old coining machine, "Press No. 1", which actually minted many of the Carson City silver dollars and double eagles so coveted by collectors. It's still being used today on special occasions, and the opportunity to own any silver or gold piece bearing the legendary "CC" mint mark should not be passed up.
Chronology of the Comstock Lode & Carson City Mint 1859 - Present
1859: The richest silver deposit in US history is found in the mountains near the town of Carson City. Discovered on property partly owned by Henry Comstock, it soon came to be known as the "Comstock Lode". That very year, the bustling boomtown of Virginia City sprang up as miners poured in. Between 1860 and 1880, the Comstock produced nearly 7 million tons of ore.
1861: Lured by the riches of the Comstock, the U.S. admits Nevada as a territory, with Carson City as its capitol. Also in 1861, Samuel Clemens deserted from the Confederate Army to seek his fortune in Nevada. He failed as a miner, but instead went to work for a Virginia City newspaper in 1862, and changed his name to Mark Twain in 1863.
1863: Desperate for money to finance the Civil War, Congress passes a law authorizing a territorial mint to be built in Nevada.
1864: President Lincoln admits Nevada into the Union - despite the fact that Nevada did not have enough people to qualify for admission under the Constitution! Thus, explaining the state's motto, "Battle Born".
1866: Carson City is chosen as the site for the new U.S. Mint, and the cornerstone is laid on Sept. 24th.
1868: Rolling mills and other blanking equipment are shipped around the horn of South America to the new Nevada mint.
1869: Coin Press #1 is built in Philadelphia by Morgan & Orr, then shipped to Carson City, NV. Weighing 12,000 pounds, it's capable of striking 1,500 silver dollars per hour. It is believed to have been used to strike the first Carson City silver dollars, along with Double Eagles in 1870. The press resides in the Carson City Mint museum, and it's currently being used to mint commemorative medals.
That same year, Abraham Curry - founder of Carson City - is named Superintendent of the CC Mint and begins testing his new equipment. On the mining front, construction of the Sutro Tunnel begins. Carved out of nearly four miles of solid rock to drain water seeping into the mines, it takes eight years to complete. Ground-breaking for the Virginia & Truckee railroad begins in 1869 as well.
1870: On February 11th, the new mint begins striking Seated Liberty Silver Quarters and Half Dollars, along with five and ten dollar Liberty Heads. They also began to strike Gold Double Eagle coins bearing the "CC" mintmark.
1871: The first Carson City Mint Seated Liberty Silver Dimes are released.
1873: Congress enacts the Coinage Act of 1873 - also known as the "Crime of '73" - effectively converting the country from a bimetallic monetary system to only gold. That same year, the greatest of the silver strikes, the "Big Bonanza", is made by the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company. Between 1873 and 1882, the Comstock and its Big Bonanza ore vein yield more than $100 million in silver and gold.
Today, the only known surviving 1873-CC dime is valued at $3.5 million.
1875: The first CC 20 Cent coins are struck. Also, "the Great Fire" nearly destroys Virginia City.
1876: Centennial of the United States; Carson City Mint produces the last 20 Cent coins.
1877: Comstock Lode production peaks at $35 million in silver and gold - which is about $670 million in today's dollars.
1878: The last CC Seated Liberty dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar are struck, as well as the last Trade dollar.
Aggressive lobbying by western silver miners results in passage of the Bland-Allison Act, requiring the U.S. Treasury to buy $2-4 million worth of silver each month and mint it into silver dollars.
The First Carson City Morgan Silver Dollar is Minted
1885: Democrat Grover Cleveland becomes President and promptly fires the pro-Republican Carson City Mint appointees, and then shuts the Mint down.
1886-89: No Carson City Mint coins struck.
1889: Republican Benjamin Harrison takes the White House in 1888. In 1889, the CC Mint is allocated funds to resume producing coins, which it does in October.
1893: The last coins were struck at the Carson City Mint.
1895-1933: Carson City Mint continues to operate as a U.S. Assay Office. It closes its doors in 1933.
1941: The State of Nevada purchases the Carson City Mint from the United States.
1964: The Carson City's Press #1 is shipped to the Denver Mint and put back into service to help alleviate the national coin shortage. It strikes more than 118 million U.S. coins.
1967: Press #1 retires once again and is sent back to the Carson City Mint.
1975: Press #1 returns to active duty, minting commemorative medals for the State of Nevada at the Carson City Mint museum.
1999: Hundreds of canceled coining dies bearing the CC mintmark are discovered buried behind the Carson City Mint during construction of a public park.
For more information about one of the legendary coins struck at the Carson City Mint, the 1878-CC Morgan Dollar, read this Coin Authority article.