The Queen of Carson City Gold: The 1870-CC $20 Double Eagle
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
An 1870-CC Double Eagle ($20 gold coin) is ‘again in the news’ as one will be auctioned by B&M during the evening of Friday, Nov. 21st, at the Baltimore Convention Center. It is graded “EF-45” by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC). It is certainly the same 1870-CC Double Eagle that was sold by Stack’s on January 16, 2008 in New York, at which time it was not certified.
Stack’s auctioned another, the Husky collection 1870-CC, in June 2008, which was NGC certified Extremely Fine-40 at the time. For a price of $299,000, George Huang of Legend Numismatics bought the Husky 1870-CC. Though I am not certain, it is probably the same 1870-CC that was sold, in July, at the Legend Numismatics table during the ANA Convention. That 1870-CC is PCGS graded EF-40 and has a green sticker of approval from the CAC. Reportedly, it privately sold for $345,000 at the ANA convention, though I have not confirmed this price.
The Ohringer 1870-CC was auctioned for this same amount, though it might have later privately sold for more. The offering of the second part of the ‘Ohringer’ collection was a centerpiece of the September 2008 auction extravaganza conducted by the Beverly Hills firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg. Bob Green of Park Avenue Numismatics did not acquire this 1870-CC during the Ohringer 2 auction session, however he later made arrangements with the owner of this coin, or with the owner’s representative, and then Green sold the Ohringer 1870-CC to a collector.
While the 1870-CC that Legend sold in July might be technically stronger, the Ohringer 1870-CC certainly has more detail. It is PCGS graded EF-45 and is very sharp for an Extremely Fine grade 1870-CC. The numerous contact marks on Miss Liberty’s face and other issues keep it from grading AU-50 or higher. As a rule, 1870-CC Double Eagles have a very large number of imperfections, much more so than most other rare date Double Eagles.
One of the highest quality 1870-CC Double Eagles sold privately in the middle of August 2007. It had surfaced at the 2007 ANA Convention. As it did not come from a famous collection, at least not in recent decades, I will refer to it as the Green 1870-CC to distinguish it from others. It is NGC graded AU-53 and was PCGS graded AU-50. I have identified it as the 1870-CC that Heritage auctioned in Sept. 2003 in Long Beach, California. Bob Green of Park Avenue Numismatics sold this 1870-CC to a Nevada collector for an amount greater than $400,000!
I am not aware of any 1870-CC Double Eagles that grade MS-60 or higher. Many of those that currently grade AU were graded as Extremely Fine in the 1980s or early 1990s. Likewise, many that were graded Very Fine in the past few decades have been certified as “Extremely Fine” over the past ten years. There are two Extremely Fine grade increments, EF-40, EF-45, and four in the Almost (or ‘About’) Uncirculated range: AU-50, AU-53, AU-55, and AU-58.
Grades of MS-60 to -70 roughly approximate the range relating to the traditional grading concept of ‘Uncirculated.’ In 1988, the late researcher Walter Breen asserted that the 1870-CC is “unknown” in uncirculated. David Akers, the foremost expert on U.S. gold coins, stated that he never saw an uncirculated or “Mint State” 1870-CC. Curiously, one other expert, in a somewhat recent book on Double Eagles, estimates, without any pertinent references, a population of one or two Mint State 1870-CC Double Eagles.
I have not found any convincing evidence of an ‘Uncirculated’ or ‘MS’ 1870-CC ever existing after 1870. It may be true that no one saved any before these coins went into circulation.
The ‘CC’ mintmark stands for the Branch Mint in Carson City, Nevada, where coins were minted from 1870 to 1893. For many dates in several denominations, uncirculated ‘CC’ pieces are extremely rare. In the late 19th century, a very large percentage of coin collectors lived in the Eastern United States, particularly New England and the Middle Atlantic States. In 1870 in Nevada, there may not have been anyone who was seriously collecting $20 gold coins.
There are four categories of potential buyers for an 1870-CC Double Eagle. (1) There are a significant number of people who collect all Liberty Head Double Eagles (1850-1907) ‘by date.’ (2) There are many collectors who specialize in Carson City coins, usually of more than one denomination. (3) There are always speculators and others who seek to buy and resell important and expensive coins for profit. (4) There are a sizeable number of collectors who enjoy owning very rare coins, especially famous ones, even if such coins are not intended to be parts of sets.
Most of the demand for an 1870-CC Double Eagle comes from collectors who specialize in Carson City Coins. Some collect all silver and gold Carson City coins. Others focus on just silver or just gold.
The 1870-CC is much rarer than any other CC Double Eagle, and is rarer and more famous than all CC Half Eagles ($5 gold coins) and Eagles ($10 gold coins). The 1870-CC Double Eagle is the Queen of Carson City gold.
It is not the rarest, business strike Liberty Head Double Eagle. Please see my CoinLink articles on the 1854-O and the 1856-O, both of which are rarer. If the 1861 with the Paquet reverse is deemed to be a date of its own, then it is the rarest business strike Double Eagle. Among Type 3 Double Eagles (1877-1907), there are four Philadelphia Mint dates from the 1880s that are extremely rare in business strike format. The 1854-O, ’56-O, and 1861 Philadelphia Paquet are all Type 1 ‘No Motto’ Double Eagles (1850-66).
In addition to being the first and rarest Carson City Double Eagle, the 1870-CC is the rarest Type 2 Double Eagle (1866-76). The Motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ was added in 1866, and, in 1877, design changes were made including the ‘spelling out’ of the word DOLLARS on the reverse (back of the coin). From 1850 to 1876, an abbreviation, ‘D.’, was used.
Douglas Winter estimates that from thirty-five to forty-five 1870-CC Double Eagles exist. Walter Breen, Don Taxay, and David Akers all thought that this date is considerably rarer than Winter’s estimate would indicate. Several other experts, however, have followed Winter’s lead, without really providing an explanation or any evidence of at least thirty-five existing.
There are two varieties of 1870-CC Double Eagles. I have attempted to simplify and clarify the distinction. (1) The CC mintmark lies above the N and the T of TWENTY D., and the mintmark sort of straddles the area above these two letters. As the CC mintmark is largely in between the N and the T, this is the ‘in between’ variety or just ‘B’ for short. (2) On the other variety, the first C in CC is clearly above the N and the second ‘C’ is almost above the ‘N’ as well. In my view, there are thus the B and N varieties, for ‘Between’ and the letter ‘N.’
So far, I have individually identified seven 1870-CC-B coins and fourteen or so 1870-CC-N Double Eagles. It may be true that the variety ‘B’ is rarer than variety ‘N’. If so, very few collectors would care. Does anyone seriously collect Carson City gold coins, or Liberty Head Double Eagles, by die variety?
Coins are struck with dies, and, often, more than one pair of dies is used to manufacture a coin of a specific date and type. Collecting by ‘die variety’ would involve seeking coins struck from every single pair of dies, even if that means obtaining a dozen examples of one date. There are hundreds of people who collect Bust Half Dollars (1794-1836) by die variety. For technical, financial, and practical reasons, it is very unusual for anyone to collect late 19th century gold coins by die variety.
The two 1870-CC die varieties are important as they play a role in authentication and better enable experts to identify individual 1870-CC Double Eagles. For example, I am certain that the Green 1870-CC is not the 1870-CC Double Eagle that was formerly in the famous Amon Carter Collection. One reason that I am certain is that the Green 1870-CC is of variety ‘B’ while the Carter 1870-CC is of variety ‘N.’
I have not specifically identified an 1870-CC Double Eagle that has been, or plausibly could be, certified as grading AU-55. The Jeff Browning ‘Dallas Bank’ collection contained many rare gold coins that are among the finest known for their respective dates. The ‘Dallas Bank’ 1870-CC was graded ‘Extremely Fine’ when it was auctioned in 2001. In the PCGS registry, it is stated that the Browning 1870-CC is not PCGS certified and this coin was “estimated,” a while ago, by at least one PCGS expert to grade “EF-45.” It is unlikely, but perhaps plausible, that it could it have been NGC graded as high as AU-55?
In January 2004, Heritage auctioned an 1870-CC that has been graded AU-53 by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). It then realized $368,000, the auction record for the date. I have not seen it. Could this 1870-CC have been ‘cracked out’ of its PCGS holder and then submitted to NGC? Of course, it could have been, but did the NGC grade it AU-55?
The Eliasberg 1870-CC was catalogued as Very Fine 20/30 in 1982. Later, it was “estimated” in the PCGS registry that the PCGS would, if it was ever submitted, assign an “EF-40” grade to the Eliasberg 1870-CC Double Eagle.
Bob Green reports handling two that are NGC graded AU-53. These are the one that he sold in August 2007 and another that he sold to a Nevada dealer in October 2006. My impression from Green is that he bought the “Wyoming” collection 1870-CC that Heritage auctioned in August 2006 for $359,375. Before October 2006, the NGC upgraded it to AU-53.
At least three different 1870-CC Double Eagles have, at one time or another, been NGC graded AU-50. When the Richmond 1870-CC was auctioned in July 2004, it was NGC graded AU-50. Bob Green successfully bid $218,500 for it at the DLRC Richmond 1 auction in New York. Green then submitted it to the PCGS. It ‘crossed over’ and became PCGS graded AU-50. Green sold it to a “Hawaiian collector.”
In Orlando, during January 2004, Green purchased a PCGS graded AU-50 1870-CC from Christine Karstedt. She was probably acting as an agent for a collector. Green, in turn, sold it to a collector who is from Nevada, not the same collector who bought an 1870-CC in August 2007. It is common for collectors who live in or near Nevada to specialize in Carson City gold or silver coins.
PCGS and NGC listings of 1870-CC Double Eagles that grade “AU-50” include resubmissions of the same coins, coins that were upgraded from EF grades, and at least one coin that has since been certified as AU-53. Resubmissions are unsurprising. After all, an AU-53 graded 1870-CC Double Eagle may be worth $40,000 to $100,000 more than an 1870-CC that is certified as AU-50. Grading standards for circulated, rare-date gold have certainly become ‘looser’ over the past six to twelve years, though have tightened since the middle of 2007.
The significant numbers of 1870-CC Double Eagles that the PCGS and the NGC have graded EF-40 or EF-45 probably amount to five to eight different coins that have not since been graded AU-50 or -53. The 1870-CC Double Eagle in the epic Harry Bass collection was PCGS graded EF-45 back in 1999. It sold for $97,750 in October 1999, a very high price at the time. Many of the coins in the Harry Bass collection have since received grades from PCGS that are higher than the grades PCGS assigned in 1999, though I am not sure that the Bass 1870-CC has or ever will be graded higher.
Another PCGS graded EF-45 1870-CC was auctioned by the Goldbergs in June 2000. A third PCGS graded EF-45 1870-CC was auctioned by Heritage in August 1999, for $92,000. As already mentioned, the Ohringer 1870-CC is PCGS graded EF-45.
In January 2002, the “Eagle Collection” 1870-CC, NGC graded EF-45, was auctioned by Heritage for $97,750. Brett B. assembled this set. It was strange and confusing to name a set of Double Eagles the “Eagle Collection”! An Eagle is a $10 gold coin.
I have concluded that the Bass 1870-CC, the Brett 1870-CC, the Ohringer 1870-CC, the PCGS graded EF-45 coin that the Goldbergs auctioned in 2000, and the one that Heritage sold in August 1999, are four distinct coins. I am not sure, though, how these four compare, quality-wise, to each other, or whether any of the four have since been certified AU-50.
An NGC graded EF-40 1870-CC was auctioned by Heritage in Sept. 2005, at the Long Beach Expo, for $184,000. It is not one of the PCGS or NGC graded 1870-CC Double Eagles that I mentioned above.
Relatively recent auction records include two problematic 1870-CC Double Eagles that have been certified by the ANACS, and one that was certified by NCS, plus one that B&M auctioned in Feb. 2008 that is certified by the PCGS as just “Genuine” without a grade. The PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder is partly analogous to the NCS holder. The NCS is an affiliate of the NGC. An authentic, expensive U.S. coin in an NCS holder or a PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder usually has serious problems that preclude it from qualifying for a numerical grade.
An NCS certified 1870-CC, from the Barry Donnell collection, was auctioned by Heritage in June 2004, at Long Beach. It garnered $97,750. Not long afterwards, it was auctioned by Stack’s, in March 2005, at which time it was not certified. My guess is that a dealer bought it in 2004 and removed it from its NCS holder. Stack’s graded it as “Extremely Fine” without a numerical designation. It realized $138,000 in March 2005.
The uncertified 1870-CC that Stack’s auctioned in January found later its way into an NGC holder, with an EF-40 grade, perhaps after being “conserved”? It may be worthwhile to compare the images of this same 1870-CC from the January 16 Stack’s auction catalogue to those in the online catalogue of the Nov. B&M auction. Uncertified and problematic coins, with consideration of the changes in the respective status of some of these, must be strongly considered when estimating the rarity of this date
I have almost definitely identified twenty-one different 1870-CC Double Eagles. I have found records of another three to five that are likely to be distinct from these twenty-one.
Bob Green has provided a rather startling list of the 1870-CC Double Eagles that he has personally handled. He is the foremost trader of coins of this date.
The total of twenty-one mentioned above include 1870-CC Double Eagles that I have seen and those for which I have carefully examined pictures. After taking a variety of additional factors into consideration, including Green’s list, I hypothesize that there exist between twenty-eight and thirty-eight 1870-CC Double Eagles. It may be true that Winter, Garrett and Guth have all over-estimated the number of survivors. In contrast, Akers’ estimate of twenty to twenty-five is too low. There is no doubt, though, that the 1870-CC Double Eagle is extremely rare. The traditional appeal of extremely rare Double Eagles and the popularity of Carson City coins in general suggest that the 1870-CC Double Eagle will be famous forever.
©2007, 2008 Greg Reynolds
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.
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