Carson City Mint

History and Information About The Carson City Mint

In 1859 two prospectors, Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O’Reilly, discovered a silver deposit on Mount Davidson at Washoe, in Nevada Territory, on land claimed by Henry Tompkins Paige Comstock. The last sold his interest, but his name remained on the deposit, which was found to be huge, the Comstock Lode. In the next several years the district was developed, and Virginia City was built and became the epicenter of activity. The newspaper of record in the community was the Territorial Enterprise, under the editorship of Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), who in time achieved great fame and became a giant of American literature. One of Twain’s many stories told of a potential silver mine that had been “salted” so that naïve investors could inspect the site and see for themselves the valuable silver ore. Unfortunately, one of the perpetrators of the intended fraud melted down some regular Liberty Seated silver coins into little lumps to strew here and there around the mining area, but part of the reverse design of a coin wasn’t completely melted away and was seen by one of the investors!

Although the San Francisco Mint had been operating since 1854 and furnished a depot for gold (in particular) and silver bullion, the citizens of Nevada wanted their own mint. Appropriate legislation was passed through Congress, and the town of Carson (as it was generally called) was selected, later known as Carson City, but nearly always referred to as Carson in Mint Reports in the early years of its operation. A beautiful stone building was erected in what was essentially a very quiet community about 15 miles from the center of silver mining activity at Virginia City. In the latter place there were many silver operations, the largest and most impressive of which was the Gould & Curry Mine, complete with refining and smelting facilities and grandly appointed offices, the last decorated with gardens and sculpture. Quite a scene this must have been! Abe Curry, an owner of that business, was appointed to be the superintendent of the Carson City Mint. The move was stupid, or wise, depending on your point of view.

Curry had many political and business enemies, and some of them simply did not want to send their silver to Carson City to be minted under his direction, but instead preferred to send it to San Francisco at a distance. Accordingly, while the San Francisco Mint produced vast quantities of Morgan silver dollars from Comstock Lode metal, the production at Carson City was much smaller. The negative side of this, perhaps from the overall viewpoint of government efficiency (although efficiency is certainly not a word that can be used in connection with federal mintage of silver dollars) the appointment of Curry was unfortunate, as the Carson City Mint was underutilized. However, from a numismatic viewpoint, it may have been fortunate, for many scarce and rare coins, objects of numismatic desire, were created! Indeed, this was true from the first year of coinage, 1870, onward.

By 1878, Curry was long gone as superintendent of the Carson City Mint, and James Crawford was in his place. However, San Francisco still tended to be favored, as evidenced by production that year; of the 1878-CC dollars, 2,212,000 were struck, compared to 9,994,000 of the 1878-S. In the next year, 1879, there were 756,000 1879-CC dollars made as opposed to a flood of 9,110,000 1879-S dollars.

Production of Carson City dollars seems to have been accomplished in a workmanlike manner, and today most of the coins from this romantic western mint are well struck, and more than just a few have deep mirror prooflike surfaces. The coiner at the Carson City Mint retired the dies long before they showed stress marks or excessive wear. Production of dollars continued in Carson City through 1885, then was stopped, to resume in 1889 and continue through 1893. During that span the silver coinage consisted nearly entirely of silver dollars (except the first year, 1878, in which dimes, quarters, half dollars, and trade dollars were also struck), and gold coins of the denominations of $5, $10, and $20, with the double eagle being by far the most popular.

After coinage operations ceased in 1893, the Carson City Mint was kept open as an assay and refining facility, but was referred to as a mint in reports until 1899. In that year some reverse dies with the Carson City mintmark were converted to New Orleans dies by partially effacing the CC mintmark and punching an O mintmark in the same place, as by that time it was realized that no more dollars would ever be made in Carson City. Thus was created the 1900-O/cc dollar.

At the turn of the century, long stored silver dollars were moved by railroad car from Carson City to the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, where they were put in vaults, and most (but not completely) forgotten, to achieve their finest hour in 1964 when vast quantities of sparkling Carson City dollars came to light, including hundreds of thousands each of the previously rare 1882-CC, 1883-CC, and 1884-CC. In 1942 the Carson City Mint building became the Nevada State Museum, which it is today. On view is a coining press, some cancelled dies, and other exhibits relating to the numismatic tradition of this facility.

Today, Carson City Morgan dollars occupy a special affection a special place in the hearts of collectors. Although the 1879-CC is rare in comparison to demand, and the 1889-CC is even more so, the majority of Morgan silver dollars from 1878 to 1885, and again from 1889 to 1893, can be acquired in Mint State for reasonable cost.