|The reverse side of an
1870-CC Liberty Seated silver dollar. Theoretically, at least, this
could have been the very first coin minted in Carson City. Photo
courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.,
The very first Carson City Mint coin to debut
was the 1870-CC Liberty
Seated silver dollar. On February 11, 1870, Mr. A. Wright, an
individual who had earlier deposited silver at the Mint, received 2303
of these dollars. Three days later, gold eagles ($10 gold coins) were
struck, followed closely by half eagles ($5 gold) and double eagles
Several denominations of US coins were never minted at Carson City,
even though they were contemporaries of the Carson City Mint. These
included all coins composed of copper and nickel, half dimes, gold
dollars, quarter eagles, and three dollar gold pieces.
Oddly enough, the most short-lived American coin series ever, the 20-cent
piece, was in fact produced at Carson City. Actually, the 1876-CC
is one of the rarities most cherished by modern day coin collectors,
worth over $400,000 in top uncirculated condition.
During its time of service, politics often impacted the status of the
Carson City Mint. Years earlier, in 1834, the US government announced
it would value silver and gold at a ratio of 16 to 1, (up from the 15:1
ratio established in 1792,
bimetallism). In doing so, Uncle Sam also continued to specify the
weight of silver or gold to be coined into one dollar's worth of hard
money. Anyone could bring their bullion to the Mint and receive "Y"
dollars worth of coins in exchange for "X" ounces of bullion, based on
these criteria. In effect, this practice set the price the government
was willing to pay per troy
ounce for silver and gold (example: a $10 gold eagle, containing
.48375 troy ounces of pure gold, put the governmental value of gold at
$20.67 per troy ounce).
This worked well until the late 1840s and 1850s, when the supply of
gold increased dramatically, upsetting the existing gold-silver balance
Gold Rush). Consequently, silver became more scarce relative to
gold than before, meaning silver barons could sell 16 ounces of silver
to private buyers, many of the foreign-based, for more than one
ounce of gold. As a result, they often preferred to sell their silver
this way rather than take it to one of the US mints for conversion into
|This political cartoon,
sympathetic to the Silverites, prophesied that a gold standard would
destroy prosperity by 1894. A severe economic depression did indeed hit
the US in 1893, but as with all things political, the causes of the
downturn were hotly contested. Public domain image.
As the prolific Comstock Lode and mines in
Colorado dumped silver into
the open market, this situation reversed itself, and by the mid 1870s,
private buyers were purchasing 16 ounces of silver for less than one
ounce of gold.
Recalling the Treasury's offer to buy silver at the ratio of 16 to 1,
silver owners came to the Carson City Mint and other US mints, desiring
their silver to be coined into dollars.
Much to their disgust, they learned that Congress had already enacted
the Coinage Act of 1873, eliminating the silver dollar, and in effect,
demonetized silver and committed our country to a gold standard only.
Silver advocates, or "Silverites," as they came to be known, denounced
the law as the "Crime of '73". This touched off a bitter political feud
between Silverites seeking the return of bimetallism, and the "Gold
Bugs", those who favored the gold monometallism concept. Throughout the
remainder of the 19th century and then some, this controversy dominated
American political debate.
|The issuance of the Morgan
silver dollar in 1878 was a victory for silver advocates in their long
standing feud against the Gold Bugs. Morgan dollars, just like the
Carson City Mint product above, were well received in western states.
Eastern power brokers viewed the white metal and the political movement
behind it as a threat to their economic security. Photo courtesy of
Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills,
Furious at the loss of a profitable market for
their bullion, the
"Crime of '73" became a rallying cry for groups, mostly from the West,
insisting the government buy silver. The persuasive Silverites
arm-twisted Congress to pass the Bland-Allison Act in 1878.
This was not a full return to bimetallism, but under Bland-Allison, the
Treasury Dept was required to purchase $2 to $4 million of silver
monthly and mint it into dollar coins, in a quest to stabilize the
price of silver at artificially high levels. The dollars were named
after George T. Morgan, the designer of the new coin. Accordingly,
large quantities of Morgan silver dollars were minted, but many did not
circulate well, especially in eastern states where silver was resented.
Millions of the unused coins ended up in Treasury storage vaults for
|Grover Cleveland (left)
squared off against Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 election, with
Harrison thwarting Cleveland's bid for re-election. The voters returned
Cleveland to office in 1892, the only president ever elected twice to
The election of 1884 sent Democrat Grover
Cleveland to the White House.
At that time, the top Carson City Mint officials had been placed there
by Republican presidents, and were loyal members of the GOP. In
September 1885, Cleveland fired all mint employees and completely shut
down the facility.
The doors reopened a year later, but only to function as an assay
office. When Benjamin Harrison recaptured the presidency for the GOP in
1888, the Democratic appointees were replaced by Republicans. In 1889,
Carson City was allocated funds to resume coining operations.
The Bland-Allison Act was modified by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act
of 1890. The Act mandated a government purchase of 4.5 million ounces
of silver each month, to be paid for with Treasury bonds redeemable in
either gold or silver. Unexpectedly, most bond holders redeemed their
notes in gold, depleting the Treasury’s gold reserve and throwing the
entire country into a severe financial panic in 1893, leading to the
repeal of the Sherman Act and greatly slowing the production of silver
dollars. This is explains the scarcity of silver dollars minted in the
years 1893 through 1895.
|May 5, 1893, stock values on
the New York Stock Exchange suddenly spiral downward, plunging the
United States into a severe depression. Thousands of businesses and
factories closed their doors. Among the Panic of 1893 casualties was
the Carson City Mint, viewed by Treasury Department officials as
expendable. Public domain image, from August 12, 1893 Harper's
Simultaneous to the national political and
economic developments of the
1890s, the once plentiful Nevada silver mines were tailing off. Add to
that a persistently low silver price, the already mentioned national
economic crises, and whiff of scandal (a Mint employee was accused of
attempting to smuggle out gold bullion in a lunch box), it came as no
surprise when on June 1, 1893, Mint Director Robert Preston ordered a
cessation of coining operations at the Carson City Mint.
Because the facility was to remain open as an assay office, many
assumed that when conditions improved, coins would once again emanate
from Carson City. But, sadly, as we now know today, the world had seen
the last of the "CC" coins.