Carson City Gold
Comstock Lode Origins
Costs of shipping gold and silver ore from the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada Territory, to San Francisco became expensive and risky, creating demand for a mint closer to the metal source.
On March 3, 1863, Congress established the new mint. Groundbreaking occurred on July 18, 1866 with the cornerstone laid on September 18th that same year. The mint was completed on December 13, 1869. Nevada became a state in 1864 with the new mint beginning operations six years later. On February 11, 1870, the first coin produced was the Seated Liberty silver dollar with the CC mint mark from Coin Press No. 1, still there today.
Although famous for the Morgan Silver dollar that began minting in 1878, the Carson City mint produced 57 different gold coin varieties in three denominations: $5 (Half Eagle), $10 (Eagle), and $20 (Double Eagle).
The Carson City Mint also produced eight coin denominations, including dimes, twenty cent pieces, quarters, halves, Trade dollars, Morgan dollars.
Carson City Mint History
Most (All?) Carson City Gold & Silver Came from the "Comstock Lode."
If you own a CC, you know exactly where that metal came from.
"The Comstock Lode is one of the most important mining discoveries in American history, in output and in significance. It was the first major silver discovery in United States history: of the total ore taken out from the district, best estimates are that 57 per cent was silver, yet it was a considerable gold camp, given that the remaining 42 per cent was of that metal. Certainly it is the most dramatic event in Nevada's nineteenth century history, and, without it, Nevada could not have attained statehood when it did." [ See: https://www.onlinenevada.org/articles/comstock-lode ]
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.
The Wild West of American Gold
Carson City gold coins are among the most alluring and intriguing items in American numismatics. They boast an exciting combination of extreme rarity and fascinating history. Indeed, all coins struck at the Nevada branch mint are both scarce and desirable due to their connection to the Wild West.
Like most branch mints, the Carson City facility was established because precious metals were being mined in the area. Silver was the primary metal extracted from the earth in Nevada; relatively little gold was found in the vicinity. Thus, tiny numbers of Carson City gold coins were struck.
Just as the California Gold Rush led to the San Francisco Mint’s creation, the discovery of Nevada silver precipitated the Carson City Mint. In particular, the massive Comstock Lode created immense fortunes for prospectors in Nevada. It was first identified by two veterans of the California Gold Rush in 1857, but a miner named Henry Comstock was one of the first to lay claim to the area. Word of the massive discovery spread quickly and Northern Nevada exploded in population.
A problem soon arose - what should be done with the massive amount of silver extracted from the earth? Nevada was truly isolated from the rest of the nation, which made selling and refining the silver difficult. The closest major population center was San Francisco, but transporting metal to California was logistically challenging and treacherous. Railroads had not yet reached Nevada, so the only way to move metal was via horse or mule.
Finally, in 1863, Congress authorized the establishment of a branch mint in Carson City. Unlike in San Francisco, where the new branch mint opened extremely quickly, construction of the Carson City Mint dragged on for years. The facility eventually opened with just one solitary coin press in 1870. Not surprisingly, the very first coin struck at Carson City was a silver dollar – a reflection of the tremendous quantity of silver available in the area. Indeed, for the mint’s entire history, the primary focus was on issuing silver coins instead of gold.
US Branch Mint Years of Operation
Following is a synopsis on the years of operation for all the main and branch US mints.
Can you guess why Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans mints closed in 1861? The US Civil War!
Main Mints (active)
Philadelphia, PA - 1792 onwards
Denver, CO - 1863 onwards (First a Mint, then used for Assay, and once again a Mint in 1906)
San Francisco, CA - 1854 onwards
West Point, NY - 1988 onwards [1938 predecessor]
Branch Mints (closed)
Charlotte, NC - 1838-1861
Dahlonega, GA - 1838-1861
Carson City, NV - 1870-1893 (with a 3-4 year break)
New Orleans, LA - 1838-1861 and 1879-1909
We are not counting one foreign mint, the Manila Mint established in 1920 overseas for currency in the Philippines .
The 1870-CC $20 is rare!
The earliest Carson City gold coins are wildly rare and extremely valuable. For example, in 1870, only 3,789 Double Eagles were issued at the branch mint – and just several dozen are known to collectors today. They routinely sell for hundreds of thousands each.
The Carson City Mint also began producing $5 Half Eagles and $10 Eagles for circulation, but in relatively limited quantities. The number of coins struck was purely a function of how much gold was mined in the area. With silver being the primary metal extracted in Nevada, there was only a small amount of gold ore available for coinage.
The Carson City Mint continued operations until 1893, when the mining bonanza began to end. The “low-hanging fruit” was completely spoken for by that point, and remaining mineral deposits were either too difficult to access or commercially unviable. Some silver and gold was recovered from the Comstock Lode in the 20th century, but only as a result of new technologies and dramatically higher bullion prices. Whereas hundreds of mining companies existed in the mid to late 19th century, just a few were in existence by the 1920s and 1930s.
In the end, Carson City gold coins were struck for just a brief period of time. The $20 Double Eagles were issued for a grand total of 19 years: 1870-1879, 1882-1885 and 1889-1893. You will notice the gaps in production; this was due to limited availability of raw gold in the area. Mintages were always small, especially in comparison to the major quantities issued in Philadelphia and San Francisco. There is no such thing as a common CC Double Eagle; every date is rare and valuable. The only question is whether they are worth thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Not only are all Carson City $20s rare, but they tend to be heavily worn, cleaned and abraded. These coins were almost never stashed away into bank vaults; Carson City gold coins entered directly into circulation. Thus, Uncirculated specimens are extremely difficult to source, and always trade for five-figure amounts. High-grade Mint State coins are essentially non-existent.