Rarest Twenty Cent Coin: an 1876-CC
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, a Choice Uncirculated 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece will be offered by Stack’s in New York City. It is graded “MS-64” by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). As of 01:30 AM on Tuesday, Internet bidding already pushed the price over $200,000. A large variety of U.S. coins and many other numismatic items are included in this auction event.
This 1876 Carson City (NV) issue is an attractive coin, and is moderately brilliant. Its reverse (back) is very attractive and features a cool, very frosty eagle that glows in vivid contrast to gray-silver fields. There are a few hairlines and small contact marks here and there, but these are not particularly distracting. As on all 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces, the letters in LIBERTY are doubled. Other design elements are doubled as well.
Twenty Cent coins were only minted for circulation for two years, in 1875 and ‘76. People confused them with quarters, and generally found them to be annoying. The silver mining industry, directly and indirectly, had influenced several members of Congress to sponsor legislation mandating a Twenty Cent coin.
Twenty Cent pieces have been favorites with collectors for a very long time. Even in the 19th century, collectors demanded them. For two additional years, in 1877 and ‘78, Proof Twenty Cent pieces were specially made, many of which were sold directly to collectors by the Philadelphia Mint.
Estimates vary widely regarding the number of 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces in existence. As it is very likely that there are fewer than twenty-five are known, it can be concluded that it is a Great Rarity. For a definition of a Great Rarity, please see my CoinLink articles on 1841 Quarter Eagles or 1856-O Double Eagles, and my relevant discussion of the concept of rarity in my article on 1888 $3 gold coins.
In the 1980s and 1990s, quite a few 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces were auctioned. The James A. Stack 1876-CC was auctioned by Stack’s in March 1995. A West Coast dealer was the successful bidder, at $99,000. It has mellow light russet and green toning, with touches of blue. After the auction, it was PCGS graded “MS-65.” James A. Stack Sr., who is not related to the family that founded the coin auction firm, bought this coin from Mehl’s mail bid sale of the very famous William Atwater collection.
Two of the finest known 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces were sold by Bowers & Merena (NH) in the 1980s, the Emery-Nichols and Norweb pieces. Unfortunately, I have not seen either of them. My understanding is that, by 1988, both had been graded MS-65 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp (NGC). Many silver coins that were graded MS-65 in 1987 or 1988 have since been graded MS-66 or -67. As the PCGS has, along the way, graded two as MS-66, could these be the two?
The Norweb coin has (or had) attractive medium toning, while the Emery-Nichols 1876-CC is (or was) naturally bright, or so I have been told. In 1988, Andy Lustig owned them both. A few years later, Jay Parrino owned them both. My guess is that the PCGS graded MS-66 1876-CC that Parrino advertised in 1995 is the Norweb piece.
Now, the PCGS registry listing of the “Driftwood Collection” includes an 1876-CC that is said by the owner to be the Norweb coin. This listing is not accompanied by images. I have no reason to doubt that the Driftwood 1876-CC and the Norweb 1876-CC are the same. Could the NGC graded MS-66 piece that Heritage auctioned in October 2001 also be the Norweb-Driftwood 1876-CC?
In March 2001, Superior offered at auction an NGC graded MS-66 1876-CC that reportedly sold for $161,000. Coin markets were very weak at the time. The Superior cataloguer identified it as the Emery-Nichols 1876-CC. The serial number on the NGC holder was 700000-001. The evidence that I have collected so far suggests that the Emery-Nichols 1876-CC was auctioned by B&M in Nov. 1984, was owned by Lustig in 1988, was owned by Parrino in the mid-1990s, and was offered by Superior in 2001 (and maybe in 2003 as well?).
From all the hearsay that has come to my ears over the years regarding the quality of particular 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces, it seems very plausible that the Emery-Nichols and Norweb pieces are the two that are PCGS graded MS-66. It is also possible that someone at NGC made a clerical error, and the Emery-Nichols piece is still in an NGC ‘MS-66′ holder, but not included in the NGC census.
Other 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces have ‘entered the marketplace’ in recent years. In March 2002, Stack’s auctioned an uncertified 1876-CC. It was sold privately in 2003 by the firm of David Lawrence (DLRC), after it had been NGC graded MS-65. Later, it was graded MS-65 by PCGS. Within the last thirty days, DLRC sold it again. It is said to have been earlier in the famous F.C.C. Boyd, Edwin Hydeman and Reed Hawn collections.
If I had seen the Emery-Nichols and Norweb pieces, I would probably be writing about them in more definitive terms. After I gather more information from experts who have seen these and have attended some of the pertinent auctions that I missed, I hope to put together a clear roster incorporating condition rankings and pedigrees. I would then include my comments regarding the Eliasberg 1876-CC and a couple of others that I saw long ago.
In recent years, the nicest 1876-CC that I have seen is the Neil-Richmond coin. It is a really appealing Twenty Cent piece that has been overlooked collectors, researchers and other coin enthusiasts.
This 1876-CC was auctioned by DLRC in the Richmond III sale on March 7, 2005. It is (or then was) NGC graded MS-64, and its grade is certainly at least in the high end of the MS-64 range. It has medium to deep, natural toning, though it is not too dark. It features a neat, dusky, purplish-steel tone. Several of the design elements, including Miss Liberty, are outlined in green. There is a pleasant, rich green tone about the numerals and covering much of the reverse (back) outer fields.
The Neil-Richmond 1876-CC has very few marks, all of which are minor, and has a small number of faint hairlines, especially in the upper reverse inner field. Many collectors would not even notice these imperfections.
Overall, the Richmond 1876-CC is very attractive with a soothing, balanced blend of natural tones. It was earlier in the famous Neil collection that B. Max Mehl sold, with some fanfare, in 1947. In 2005, it sold for $158,125. John Hammrick was the successful bidder. He was acting on behalf of a Southern collector.
Buyers for 1876-CC 20 cent pieces are usually either looking to complete a set or wish to enjoy owning a special rarity and view it as an entity that stands on its own. A set of business strike Twenty Cent pieces requires only five coins: 1875, 1875-CC, 1875-S, 1876, and 1876-CC. Before 1942, the absence of a mintmark almost always indicated that a coin was struck at the main branch in Philadelphia. There are a large number of collectors who have the other five dates, and need only an 1876-CC to complete their respective sets.
There is no doubt that the 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece is legendary and attracts more attention than some other Great Rarities, such as 1829 $5 gold coins. Many adult coin collectors started as kids, and kids tend to acquire at least one Twenty Cent piece, as this ’strange’ denomination is so curious. Further, kids tend to dream about owning an 1876-CC. It is common for wealthy adult collectors to acquire rarities that they dreamed about when they were kids. Moreover, thousands of coin collectors get started as adults and are intrigued by Twenty Cent pieces. Most beginning collectors learn fast that the 1876-CC is a Great Rarity and is the key to whole twenty cent denomination.
©2007 Greg Reynolds
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About the Author
Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.