Littleton Coin Company’s Collector’s Corner

Carson City Morgans Not in the GSA Sales


The sales of Carson City Morgan dollars by the General Services Administration (GSA) were a spectacular offering of historic coins. As the publicity suggested, these were "The Coins That Jesse James Never Got." It was a great time for collectors to get good deals on Carson City Morgans. And with the sheer volume of coins involved, it can be easy to forget that there were not large numbers of every date available in the sales.

In fact, it was basically Carson City dollars from 1880-1885 that were found in the GSA sales in large numbers. It would appear that those coins were sent from Carson City to Washington, where they sat in the Treasury vault for decades. As they were among the first Morgan dollars to arrive, they were almost certainly placed in the back of the vault. Later, it became a classic case of the first coins in being the last ones out. Since they were placed in the vault around the beginning of the new century, those Carson City dollar bags never emerged when dollars were needed for melting under the terms of the Pittman Act in 1918. As the years passed, other Morgan dates may have been paid out, but those bags from the 1880s remained. Eventually the sale of dollar bags stopped, leaving only those bags in the back of the vault. These were the Carson City dollars that became the basis of the GSA sales in the 1970s.

However, the historic Carson City facility had not just produced Morgan dollars from 1880 to 1885. There had been other years of Morgan dollar mintages, yet the coins from those years appeared only in small numbers in the GSA sales. What happened to the other Carson City Morgan dollars becomes an interesting question – one with a number of potential answers.

The first Carson City Morgan was the 1878-CC, and it had a large mintage by Carson City standards – 2,212,000 pieces. Yet when the GSA sales were held, only 60,993 1878-CC Morgans were offered, or just 2.75% of the original mintage. That’s in stark contrast to 84% of the entire mintage, as was found with the 1884-CC.

What happened to the remainder of the 1878-CCs becomes a reasonable question. In fact, it was the first year of production, and that makes it very likely that the 1878-CC was paid out in large numbers the year it was issued. Some of those coins might well be among the relatively large number of circulated 1878-CC examples known today.

The 1878-CC also a ppears to have found its way closer to the front of the Treasury vault than other dates, as it was released regularly from the 1930s until 1962. There were simply more examples of the 1878-CC to go around than most other Carson City dates.

The 1879-CC is actually one of the harder-to-locate Carson City Morgan dollars, yet it had a mintage of 756,000. The GSA sales included just 4,123 pieces, while the famous Redfield Hoard also included a few hundred examples. There were reports of a few thousand being paid out in the early 1950s, but even when you add up all the assorted sources of the 1879-CC, the total is very low. That makes one conclusion possible – that when just over 270 million silver dollars were melted under the terms of the Pittman Act in 1918, a significant percentage of the 1879-CCs were probably included. That makes for relatively few available coins today.

In the case of the 1889-CC, we have (along with the 1892 and 1893 issues) one of three Carson City dates without a single example in the GSA holdings. With a relatively low mintage of 350,000, we do not need to speculate about melting, as circulated examples of the 1889-CC are about the only examples available today. That suggests that this was a date where the majority were simply released into circulation. Many might have been released around 1889, while others could have been distributed in the 1930s. Whenever they were released, it is clear that few Mint State examples were saved, making it one of the most significant Mint State Morgan dollar rarities today.

With 2,309,041 struck, the 1890-CC had the largest mintage of any Carson City Morgan dollar – yet only 3,949 were offered in the GSA sales. The reason is probably due to melting under the Pittman Act, along with others being placed into circulation. Only a few bags paid out in the 1950s provided any significant supply of Mint State examples today.

The 1891-CC is interesting, as it is available in Mint State, but not because of large numbers in the GSA sales, where a total of just 5,687 pieces were paid out. We cannot really be sure who saved the 1891-CC, but clearly someone did. It may not be a common date in Mint State, but it is available and they are usually quite nice.

The 1892-CC is similar, with some availability in Mint State but none of it coming from the GSA sales. The most likely source was a reported 50 bags paid out by the Treasury in 1955. Apparently, collectors and dealers back in 1955 did some saving from those bags, as the 1892-CC has always been seen as a relatively available date in Mint State.

The final Carson City dollar was the 1893-CC, which had a mintage of 677,000 pieces. Like some other dates, it appears that the 1893-CC was paid out at various times over the years. But unlike the other dates, the 1893-CC pieces seen today are frequently bag marked. We don’t know who banged these coins around, but the bag marks keep most examples in lower Mint State grades. That was not helped when many of the few thousand examples in the Redfield Hoard were damaged by a counting machine. Bad luck and bad handling make the 1893-CC a tougher date in top grades, but one that is available in lower Mint State and circulated grades.

Carson City production ended with the 1893-CC, leaving us with far too few of the historic silver dollars made from silver of the Comstock Lode. The GSA sales helped provide many with Carson City dollar dates, but for those dates not in the GSA sales, finding a nice example can be much tougher. Finding the story behind those not appearing in the GSA sales can be equally difficult.