Famous 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece Rarity to Cross the Block in our January 2013 New York Americana Auction

One of the most famous and rarest of all Carson City Mint issues is the fabled 1876-CC twenty-cent piece. Mint reports show that 10,000 examples of the issue were struck, but only about 20 specimens have come down through the ages to today’s collecting community. All known examples are from the same die pair, with bold and unmistakable doubling at LIBERTY on the obverse shield. The gorgeous specimen in our upcoming New York Americana event grades MS-65 and is housed in a PCGS Secure holder.

The following narrative is adapted from Rusty Goe’s essay that appeared in our August 2012 Battle Born Collection auction catalog.

The history of the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece reads like a novel to numismatists. The odd-ball ôdouble dimeö denomination made its debut in 1875 at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City mints, though it was doomed to fail almost from the start. Its design and size were close in nature to the circulating quarter dollars of the era, although it did feature an entirely different eagle style from that of the quarter, and a plain rather than reeded edge. Valued at .20 dollars, the denomination seemingly made more sense than the circulating silver issues valued at .25 dollars, but after just four years (the last two of which û 1877 and 1878 — featured Proof-only coinage in the denomination), the twenty-cent piece was terminated in 1878.

The story of the denomination begins back in the 1780s and the days of our republicÆs founders. As early as 1782, Robert Morris, Superintendant of Finance for the new United States of America, urged that our nationÆs money be denominated in tenths which would make the simple arithmetic of pocket change more understandable to the masses. Thomas Jefferson referred to this proposed decimal system as ômoney arithmeticö when he first concurred with MorrisÆ decimal concept circa 1785 in his paper on American coinage. Jefferson advocated a plan that included a fifth of a dollar denomination that he said would equal the familiar Spanish pistareens that circulated freely throughout North America and the former British colonies, where such Spanish-American pieces or ôbitsö (fractions of a Spanish Milled dollar) were the ôcoin of the realmö in America until 1857 when all world issues then in circulation in America were officially demonetized.

The Mint officially began its operations in Philadelphia in 1793, though some pattern and early circulating issues such as the 1792 Birch cents and the 1792 half dismes were struck in Philadelphia in private locations before the Mint facility was up and running. In 1794, the first year of silver coinage production at the Mint, half dimes, half dollars and dollars were struck, the first at .05 dollars, the next at .50 dollars, and the whole dollar. It wasnÆt until 1796 that the dime (.10) and quarter (.25) denominations were produced. At the time it was thought silly that pieces valued at .05 and .25 dollars were part of the denomination pantheon, as these denominations were somewhat out of line with proposed decimal parts of the dollar and made math more difficult for the general citizen who basically counted their needs and wants on their ten fingers. It wasnÆt until the 1870s that agitation began in earnest for a new denomination valued at .20 dollars in government circles as well as in the daily press.

In the West small change was seen regularly, though much of what circulated was still Spanish-American silver coins, particularly the Spanish Milled ôdollarö valued at eight reales and its divisional pieces or ôbitsö (12.5 cents). In an article in the Daily Alta California of August 28, 1871, the writer described his dissatisfaction with one of California’s customs of making change. He said merchants in the Pacific states priced low-cost items at twelve and a half cents — a "bit" in contemporary parlance. Since the only small denomination coins circulating out West were dimes, quarters and half dollars, he found it difficult to pay for a twelve-and-a-half-cent item without getting cheated, or at best ridiculed. He declared, "The whole system is clearly rotten from head to toe." In the November 24, 1871 edition of the Daily Alta California, a staff writer announced that a petition had been sent to Congress, "to provide that no quarter dollar pieces shall be coined, that ‘two-dime’ pieces shall be substituted, and that the half dollar pieces all be called ‘five-dime’ [pieces]." And on December 13, 1871, that same newspaper reinforced the movement to introduce a twenty-cent piece. "The reason we adhere to the term ‘bit,’ and the use of the imaginary twelve-and-a-half-cent coin, is that our Government, departing from its superior decimal divisions, starts us on the [Spanish-] Mexican system, by dividing the dollar into halves and quarters." The writer urged that the U.S. government add a twenty-cent piece to its system, and abolish the quarter. California, the most populated Western state, led the way in getting the proposed twenty-cent piece before leaders in Washington, D.C. Its U.S. House delegate, Aaron A. Sargent, introduced a bill for a twenty-cent piece in January 1872. The Daily Alta California on January 18, 1872, announced that at least 2,500 businessmen, leading officials and capitalists had signed a petition and forwarded it to Washington, D.C. asking that the government substitute "two-dime" pieces for two-bit pieces (quarters).

The legislation stalled. The catalyst needed to break through the logjam and get the new denomination into circulation came in the form of Nevada’s freshman U.S. senator, John Percival Jones. Jones’ close connections with Nevada’s mining industry triggered rumors that his twenty-cent piece proposal was nothing more than a scheme to bolster the price of his friends’ surplus supply of silver. Treasury Secretary John Sherman said long after Congress had rescinded the twenty-cent piece, that the coin only came into existence because Jones wanted to pay back Nevada’s miners. Regardless, twenty-cent piece proposals had predated Jones’s efforts, with notable agitation occurring in 1806-1807, the 1850s, and the early 1870s. Senator Jones’ bill found support but lingered in Congress through the rest of 1874. In December of that year, Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow endorsed the coinage of "double dimes," but as the Daily Alta observed on December 18, 1874, the secretary "does not say anything about the quarter dollar." The newspaper’s editorial staff firmly believed that the quarter "should be cut off entirely, as not only unnecessary, but pernicious." Within months after President Ulysses S. Grant had signed the twenty-cent piece law into effect in March 1875, warning signals flared when citizens learned that the twenty-cent piece bill did not repeal the act to coin quarter dollars. It made no sense to many astute observers to have two coins circulate that differed in value by only 20 percent.

Dashed expectations led to cries of "Failed Experiment" in newspapers across the country in the latter half of 1875. Western journalists stubbornly defended the much-maligned coin. Earlier in the year, the Los Angeles Herald (March 18, 1875) had reported, "We may soon expect an abatement of the ‘bit’ nuisance," once twenty-cent pieces started to circulate. Reporters in other parts of the country claimed the twenty-cent piece could accomplish no more than could the use of two dimes. On the last day of November 1875, the Daily Alta bemoaned the fact that, "some of the newspapers have hastily and unreasonably declared [the twenty-cent piece] a failure." The Daily Alta blamed the unpopularity of the twenty-cent piece on the government, which it said, "has not yet done its duty in the matter." No one would use double-dimes, declared its columnist, until "Congress should prohibit the striking of any more quarters." Despite the support expressed by its advocates, it became clear as January 1876 approached that the twenty-cent piece was a one-year wonder. The San Francisco Mint never issued another twenty-cent piece after 1875, and if not for the Philadelphia Mint’s obligation to furnish examples for distribution at the Centennial Exposition held in that institution’s home city in 1876, and its commitment to collectors to issue Proof examples, we would not have 1876 twenty-cent pieces from that mint today. Even Director of the Mint Henry R. Linderman, who admitted several years later that the twenty-cent piece, "is a convenient decimal division of the dollar and should have been originally authorized in place of the quarter-dollar piece" (Money and Legal Tender in the United States, Henry R. Linderman, 1879, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, NY), said it was a failure.

The three operating mints produced 1,355,000 of these experimental coins before Congress repealed the twenty-cent piece act on May 2, 1878. All told, the government used 196,041.40 ounces of silver to make these unpopular coins. That total represents less than 10 percent of the monthly allocation for silver generated by the Bland-Allison Act, which introduced Morgan silver dollars to the nation’s money supply. The production of twenty-cent pieces did not, as some predicted it would, reinforce a sluggish silver market; and it did not lead to an abatement of the wretched "bit" nuisance.

At the Carson City Mint, a sufficient quantity of 1875-CC twenty-centers settled neatly on a small section of the cashier’s vault-shelf in late winter 1876. At the current rate of distribution, those 1875 issues would last far beyond 1876, and probably never be totally exhausted by the time Congress repealed the twenty-cent law. Yet in March 1876, the Carson City Mint struck 10,000 twenty-cent pieces.

There they sat, along with the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 1875 leftovers, all through 1876 and into early 1877. A handful of examples escaped. Some went to the Assay Commission back East, and some were distributed as favors, presumably to locals but possibly to supplicants out of the area. Director Linderman’s memo to Superintendent James Crawford, dated March 19, 1877, instructed Crawford to melt all remaining twenty-cent pieces at the Carson City Mint. It is believed that more than 99 percent of the ones dated 1876, and another 2,370 or so from 1875, were melted, lost forever to the numismatic community. In 1893, Augustus G. Heaton introduced his treatise that launched a mintmark collecting movement. Heaton declared the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece to be "very rare," and worth at least "two or three times" the price of the much lower mintage Philadelphia Proof issue from 1877.

Like other great prizes in the U.S. coin series, the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece became a measure of the respectability and preeminence of a collection. In the March 1911 edition of The Numismatist, editor Edgar H. Adams reported that dealer Elmer S. Sears exhibited an Uncirculated 1876-CC twenty-cent piece. Adams said he knew of only four examples of this date and named the other three owners: John H. Clapp (whose father John M. Clapp had bought the S.L. Lee specimen in 1899); Virgil M. Brand; and H.O. Granberg — all among the numismatic elite. In early 1914, at the American Numismatic Society’s Exhibition of Coins in New York, distinguished Baltimore collector, Waldo C. Newcomer, displayed his 1876-CC twenty-cent piece. By then, a new price record had been established, when The United States Coin Company auctioned Malcolm N. Jackson’s example for $250 in May 1913 (reportedly bought by Newcomer). Twenty-two years later, in 1935, noted collector F.C.C. Boyd advertised in The Numismatist that he would sell his 1876-CC twenty-cent piece for $350. (Boyd hung onto the coin for 10 more years before it sold for $1,500 in 1945 in Numismatic GalleryÆs WorldÆs Greatest Collection sale.) Three significant events in this date-denomination’s history happened between 1950 and 1966: in 1950, Harold M. Budd, Sr., from Los Angeles, California, bought his 1876-CC twenty-cent piece for $1,325 in Numismatic Gallery’s June 1950 auction. This specimen later wound up in the Norweb Collection, and is now graded MS-66 by PCGS and resides in the Driftwood Collection. Circa 1957, Baltimore coin dealer Tom Warfield unveiled a hoard of ten 1876-CC twenty-cent pieces, all in Uncirculated condition. In 1966 Nevada real estate developer, political powerhouse, and Carson City coin enthusiast Norman H. Biltz, bought his 1876-CC twenty-cent piece for $12,750 in a Kreisberg-Schulman May 1966 auction.

The following history, written by Q. David Bowers, is from our 2012 ANA Convention auction presentation of the Battle Born Collection, a complete collection consisting of 111 coins and representing one of each of every date and denomination ever produced in Carson City, a collection that included the unique 1873-CC No Arrows dime:

ôIn the pantheon of American rarities the 1876-CC has been famous for a long time. The present writer recalls that in the 1950s the classic silver rarities were generally recognized as the 1894-S dime, 1876-CC twenty-cent piece (the 1873-CC dime without arrows was not widely known as only one exists), and the 1838-O half dollar. In later years, studies became more sophisticated; Walter Breen and others wrote much about rarity, with the result that, for example, the 1870-S silver dollar, with just nine or ten known, was recognized as being rarer than the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece. However, the twenty-cent piece still captured all the publicity. This situation has many equivalents elsewhere in coinage, such as the 1804 silver dollar with 15 specimens known, being called the King of American Coins, although in terms of rarity it is eclipsed by quite a few other silver and gold issues. There was virtually no interest in collecting mintmarked coins in 1876, so not even the Mint Cabinet desired an example of the twenty-cent piece, as noted in the introduction to our presentation. The survival of pieces was strictly a matter of chance. It is thought that the 10,000 pieces made for circulation went to the melting pot, but that perhaps 20 or so were saved, possibly including pieces sent for the Assay Commission ceremony held early in 1877. It was not until later that any particular notice was given. In 1893 Augustus G. Heaton’s A Treatise on Mint Marks recognized the variety and showcased it as æexcessively rare,Æ but there was no accompanying story. The issue remained a mystery and anyone looking at the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint could logically think that 10,000 had been distributed and that sooner or later an example would come to hand. However, by the time they were produced by the Carson City Mint, the denomination was rendered effectively obsolete, so apparently nearly all were melted.

ôIn the early 20th century the collecting of mintmarks became more popular, and they were closely studied. Estimates of the rarity of the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece ranged from a half dozen to perhaps ten. As is so often true in numismatics, facts were scarce and guesses were aplenty. Often a guess or estimate was converted by later writers into fact. The situation remained thus until about 1956 or 1957 when Tom Warfield, a well-known Maryland dealer, found a group of Mint State coins in Baltimore, suggesting that these may have been Assay Commission coins. Seeking not to disturb the market he sold them privately, with four of them going to John J. Ford, Jr., a partner with Charles Wormser in the New Netherlands Coin Company; two of them going to Stack’s in New York City; and four going to me. Each of us contacted various clients, and soon they were all gone. Each piece was a beautiful Gem with rich luster on both sides. Today the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece remains a very famous rarity, its attraction undiminished despite some other silver issues from various mints being harder to find. Nearly all are Mint State.ö

For the record, the Battle Born specimen, graded MS-64 by PCGS, brought a resounding $460,000 when it crossed the auction block, and will no doubt be locked away for a lengthy stay in its new steward’s collection. Whether the present piece exceeds that lofty price remains to be seen, but the odds are greatly stacked that our 2013 Americana Sale specimen will likely be placed in an advanced collection of rare and impressive U.S. coins. We wish any and all interested parties the best of luck when the bidding begins for this great American rarity.

A special thanks to Rusty Goe of Southgate Coins and Collectibles for helping to catalog this coin.

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is pleased to be offering the Boyd-Kern-Hydeman-Champa specimen of the fabled 1876-CC twenty-cent piece rarity as lot 13170 in our January 2013 Americana Sale Rarities Night event. Certified MS-65 by PCGS Secure, the complete pedigree of this important coin is as follows:

Ex: F.C.C. Boyd; Numismatic Gallery’s World’s Greatest Collection sale, March 1945, lot 487; B. Max Mehl’s sale of the Jerome Kern Collection, May 1950, lot 1642; Abe Kosoff’s sale of the Edwin M. Hydeman Collection, March 1961, lot 405; Joe Flynn (Kansas City dealer), offered publicly at $23,900; Julian Leidman; American Auction Association’s sale of the Armand Champa Collection, May 1972, lot 791; Ron Winget (Secure Monetary Systems); Bowers and Ruddy; Stephen Tebo; Superior’s ANA Auction Sale of August 1975, lot 349; Quality Sales’ Carlson/Shipkey Sale, November 1976, lot 349; our (Bowers and Merena’s) Danny Arnold and Romisa Collections sale, September 1984, lot 2211; Reed Hawn; our (Stack’s) session of Auction ’85, July 1985, lot 1653; and our (Stack’s) ANA National Money Show Auction of March 2002, lot 352.

Unfortunately, after mailing out copies of our January 2013 Americana Sale Rarities Night catalog, we noticed that we had made an unfortunate and unintended error in the description for this 1876-CC twenty-cent piece (lot 13170). On page 40 in that catalog, in the second paragraph, we accidentally omitted Rusty Goe’s name as one of the members of the cataloging team for the historic Battle Born Collection, auctioned as part of our August 2012 Philadelphia ANA Auction. Stack’s Bowers Galleries apologies for this omission and assures everyone that we meant no disrespect to Rusty.

In fact, the major portion of the description for the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece being offered as lot 13170 in our January 2013 Americana Sale Rarities Night event was adapted from Rusty Goe’s contribution to the description of the Battle Born 1876-CC twenty-cent piece in our August 2012 Philadelphia ANA Auction.

We want to thank Rusty Goe for all of the valuable work he put into creating the Battle Born auction catalog, with all of the enlightening information he contributed to each coin’s description, and for the tremendous effort he put forth in making the sale of the Battle Born Collection one of the most successful numismatic events of the past decade. Because of Rusty’s insightful writing (and that of his team members, Jeff Ambio and Q. David Bowers), the Battle Born catalog will serve as a standard reference work on Carson City coins for posterity.

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