Carson City Morgans
BY PAUL GREEN
There is nothing more historically interesting than a Carson City Morgan dollar. It can get even better, as there are still a small number of Carson City Morgan dollars available in the original General Services Administration holders. The holders show that the coin inside came from the historic government holdings which were sold in the 1970s and 1980. For a Morgan dollar collector, it is hard to beat a Carson City Morgan in an original GSA holder, and this is one of the reasons that Littleton has been the market leader in acquiring and offering the historic Carson City Morgan dollars years ago offered by the GSA.
Any Carson City dollar is a true piece of history. The historic Carson City Mint began coin production back in 1870. Located in the heart of the Comstock Lode, the Carson City facility was expected to be a center for the production of silver coins. It did not really turn out that way, as there were political problems surrounding the facility, and while there was certainly more than enough silver in the area to keep a mint busy, the fact is Carson City never produced the numbers of coins it might have made under better circumstances.
By the time the Morgan dollar was approved in 1878, the political problems were over. Even then, Carson City never produced the numbers of coins it might have, and that was unfortunate, as any Carson City silver dollar is a real souvenir of the Old West. With its proximity to the Comstock Lode, Carson City was a truly historic institution of the Old West. Any Carson City Morgan dollar containing actual silver recovered from the most famous silver mine of the Old West is a coin virtually everyone wants to own, but for many years, any Carson City Morgan dollar was scarce and usually expensive.
The problem with Carson City Morgan dollars was that they generally had very low mintages. In addition, being released in a mining town in the Old West, they tended to have lives of hard use sliding across the bars in Old West saloons and generally not being treated with much care. For decades, it was simply assumed that most Carson City dollars were either heavily worn or possibly destroyed as part of the more than 270 million silver dollars melted by the government in 1918 under the provisions of the Pittman Act. Many collectors felt that if they were able to obtain a Carson City silver dollar, it was likely to be one of a few more available dates and probably in a lower grade.
Realistically, there was a problem with supplies of Carson City Morgan dollars not only because they hadn’t been produced in large numbers, but also because they had not been made for very long. The Carson City Mint produced Morgan dollars from 1878 through 1885 before stopping production. It resumed in 1889, but lasted only through 1893. At that time, the mint ceased coin production, meaning that there were not many "CC" Morgan dollar dates, and most tended to have those famous Carson City lower mintages.
In fact, for decades, Morgans were even tougher than their low mintages and limited years of production would have suggested. Many thought it was Pittman Act melting, and in fact, some Carson City Morgan dollars probably were melted. But many had simply been taken from Carson City by railroad car around the turn of the century and placed in Treasury vaults in Washington, D.C., where they were basically forgotten, as relatively few collected silver dollars at the time. These Morgans simply sat in the Treasury vaults for decade after decade. If a bag of Uncirculated "CC" Morgan dollars was released, it was generally not big news simply because not many were collecting them. A few collectors aware of the historic importance of Carson City and also aware that any Carson City Morgan dollar was tough would snap up an example at a favorable price, but generally, the few Carson City Morgan dollars that reached the market did so with little publicity.
Literally for decades, bags of Uncirculated Morgan dollars from Carson City and other mints sat in Treasury vaults. In 1958, there were a reported 219 million dollars in the vaults, but then they began to be snapped up by dealers and collectors. Sometimes there were good dates in the $1,000 bags and other times they were well-circulated common dates, but when the sale of bags for face value was stopped on March 26, 1964, only a few million dollars remained.
The Treasury decided to take an inventory, and much to the amazement of most, the majority of the coins still in the vaults were never-opened bags of Carson City silver dollars made in some cases just a few years before Wyatt Earp and his brothers had the famous gunfight in the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, not that far from Carson City, Nevada, where the dollars had been made.
It was like opening a time capsule, going straight back to the dusty streets and duels at high noon in the Old West. The dollars were sorted into various groups of uncirculated and circulated coins, with President Nixon signing a law on December 31, 1970, authorizing the sale of the dollars at premium prices through the General Services Administration.
Flyer from the 1980 GSA sale advertising Uncirculated "CC" Morgans
Although the Carson City dollars were sorted by date, the sale was still something of a numismatic lottery. Everything was done in haste, and errors and unknown varieties were mixed in with more available coins. Over the course of more than a decade, the Carson City Morgan dollars which at one time were promoted as "The Coins Jesse James Never Got" were sold to collectors and others who simply wanted to own a historic silver dollar from this mint.
The "CC" Morgans sold over the course of a decade were packed in special holders which were larger but similar to current grading service holders. The majority of the coins were eventually removed from the holders and placed in other holders, but small numbers still remain in the original holders, and these have become very desirable. The ones still in their original holders give the coins a "pedigree" other coins do not have, even though they too may once have been in one of the special GSA holders. Over time, there have been owners (who in a couple of cases have sold their coins to Littleton) who have had dozens or even hundreds of Carson City dollars still in the original holders.
Collectors wanting a historic Carson City dollar today can acquire every date, although some such as the 1879-CC and 1889-CC are very tough. If, however, you want a truly special Carson City Morgan dollar in one of the original GSA holders, they are tougher. Only a small number of dates are available, as not every Carson City dollar date was found in any numbers in the GSA sales. Despite that fact, a Carson City dollar such as the lowest mintage of all "CC" Morgans, the 1885-CC, can still be found in an original holder. And if you love history, it is hard to do better than a historic dollar from a historic mint in the original holder from a historic sale. Whatever date you might choose, a Carson City Morgan dollar in an original GSA holder is a special numismatic treasure and a true souvenir of the Old West.