Whenever the Carson City Mint is mentioned, the discussion invariably recalls tales of grizzled miners, quick-draw gunslingers and saloon gambling. A simple look at the legendary "CC" mintmark and one is immediately carried back to the great coinage bonanza of the late 19th century. It's no wonder that today, the Carson City Mint is synonymous with America's "Wild West" era.
Silver Vein Re-Writes History
Prior to the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the massive silver vein tapped into to produce Morgan Silver Dollars, Carson City was nothing more than a small settlement that sold supplies to a steady stream of prospectors heading west in find of their fortunes in the gold fields of California. When the Comstock Lode was discovered in 1858, prospectors, miners, immigrants and other fortune seekers flocked to the area. As the ever-increasing riches were brought forth from the mines, Carson City became the major supply center. Business boomed and the town flourished. By 1860, Carson City boasted two boarding houses, three restaurants, seven hotels, six breweries and 10 saloons.
Carson City Gets a U.S. Mint
In 1862, a vast amount of silver was being extracted from the Comstock Lode. Congress recognized the need to establish a mint in Nevada near the Comstock Lode for several reasons. First, it would decrease the cost of transporting the silver all the way to San Francisco and Philadelphia. Second, when the Confederates rebelled in 1861, they seized the Southern Branch Mints in New Orleans, Charlotte and Dahlonega, cutting off access for the Government to strike coins for circulation. In March of 1863, legislation was passed to establish a mint in the Nevada Territory. The City of Carson City seemed like a logical choice for the new branch mint. But with the country deeply embedded in the Civil War and then post-war material shortages and financial problems, the construction of the Mint was delayed until it finally opened its doors for business in 1870.
Abe Curry, the founder of Carson City, was part owner of one of the many silver operations that existed in the late 1860's. When the Mint finally opened, he was selected to become the first superintendent. Curry had many political and business enemies, and some of them simply did not want to send their silver to Carson City to be minted under his direction, and instead, preferred to send it to San Francisco even with a longer distance and greater expense. Under Curry's leadership (or lack thereof) the mint was underutilized and much of the Comstock silver was traveling elsewhere. U.S. coinage struck at the Carson City Mint prior to the introduction of the Morgan Silver Dollar in 1878 was struck in relatively small numbers. However, from a collector's point of view, it may have been fortunate to have Curry in charge of operations at that time because many scarce and rare coins, objects of much numismatic desire today, were created!
In today's active collectors market, the Morgan Silver Dollar series continues to be one of the most collected coins in the world. There are several key reasons why the 1878 Carson City Morgan Silver Dollar is one of the most coveted dates:
- When the new Morgan Silver Dollar was unveiled in 1878, the San Francisco Mint was still the mint of choice out West. This is proven by the mintage figures: 9.74 million Morgans were struck with an "S" mintmark compared to only 2.21 million struck with the "CC" mintmark. The San Francisco Mint (and the Philadelphia Mint) struck over 4 times more silver dollars in 1878 than the Carson City Mint!
- The 1878-CC Morgan is also a first year issue silver dollar. First-year coins of any U.S. coin series are always among the most coveted by eager and passionate collectors.
- In 1918, Congress passed the Pittman Act to replenish the government's reserves of silver bullion by officially melting millions of Morgan Silver Dollars in the Treasury vaults. As a result, over 270 million Morgans were melted - nearly half of the entire mintage from 1878-1904. Is it possible there were bags of 1878-CC Morgans that were destroyed forever in the melting pots? We will never know!
When you combine all three of these factors, it's no wonder that finding even a few 1878-CC Morgan silver dollars, in any condition, is extremely difficult.
The numismatic world has a firm grasp on the historical significance of the Carson City Mint and the famous "CC" mintmark. It's far too brief, but storied history lives on through the coinage that was struck there over 115 years ago and that history can still be held in the palm of your hands.