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Three 1876-CC Twenty Cent Coins Sell in Spring 2009; Less than Twenty are Known! (Part 2 – Rarity, Quality & Condition Rankings)

Posted By Greg Reynolds On June 29, 2009 @ 11:30 am In Auction News,Classic Rarities,History and Numismatics,US Coins | 1 Comment

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

The 1876-CC (Carson City, Nevada) Twenty Cent piece is the rarest date of this short lived denomination, and it is a famous Great Rarity. In a Sept. 2008 article on CoinLink, I tentatively estimated that between eighteen and twenty-six exist. As a result of further research, I am changing my estimate to a range of fifteen to nineteen, which is in line with estimates put forth by a few other researchers. The facts regarding 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces in general and the specific sales of three this Spring are put forth in part 1. Here in part 2, discussions involve rarity, quality, pedigrees and tentatively formulated condition rankings.

I have only been able to identify, with a high degree of confidence, fourteen different 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces, of which I have carefully examined eight. I have asked experts about most of these fourteen. Undoubtedly, there exists at least one other. After considering auction records, published rosters, various rumors, and alternate scenarios in my mind, I just do not believe that there could be as many as twenty.

There is an excellent chance that the Norweb 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece is the finest known. It was auctioned in New York as part of the Norweb I sale in Oct. 1987. At some point in the months that followed, it was NGC graded MS-65. The NGC upgraded it to 66 in the 1990s. For several years, Jay Parrino owned it. In 2001, when it was auctioned by Heritage, it was (and still is) PCGS graded 66. More recently, it is (or was) in the Driftwood collection in the PCGS registry.

Of the fourteen that I know about, I tentatively hypothesize that the Eliasberg piece is the second finest known, assuming that its appearance has not negatively changed since I last saw it. This is a sizeable assumption. I had previously thought that the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC was the second finest known.

Though I have yet to see the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC, discussion of its condition with several expert graders, along with recent images, have led me to conclude that it is not the second finest known, though it is an attractive, desirable coin. As discussed in part 1, it is the one that Heritage auctioned in April for $460,000. While I have traced the pedigree of this coin back to the mid 1990s, I am not completely certain that it is the Emery-Nichols piece, which was auctioned by Bowers & Merena (NH) in 1984 and owned by Andy Lustig in the late 1980s.

Rusty Goe regards the ‘Thomas’ 1876-CC as the finest known to him. Goe is enthralled by its stunning “prooflike reverse” (back of the coin). It is a brilliant coin with very few contact marks. I can imagine several dealers regarding it as the finest known 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece. There are collectors and dealers who prefer ‘dipped white’ coins to naturally toned coins.

The consensus seems to be that the Emery-Nichols-Lustig-Thomas 1876-CC has been moderately to heavily dipped, at some point in the last two decades, and is unnaturally bright. John Feigenbaum, president of David Lawrence Rare Coins, states that “it is a little dipped looking” and that he “would like to see more original skin to consider [an 1876-CC] as a finest known specimen.”

Matt Kleinsteuber, lead grader and trader at NFC coins, is “not enthusiastic about” the Emery-Nichols-Thomas 1876-CC and he feels that “the color is a little awkward.” In Matt’s opinion, it is “not in the high end or even the middle of the 66” grade range.

I have heard that the Eliasberg 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece was PCGS certified MS-65, many years ago, and that it still is so certified. Louis Eliasberg’s twenty cent pieces, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars and trade dollars were all auctioned in April 1997, and were not then certified.

Carson City MintI graded the Eliasberg 1876-CC as 65 when I examined it before it was certified. More than a few Eliasberg silver coins, though, were later PCGS or NGC graded at higher levels than I had in mind. It would not have surprised me if the Eliasberg 1876-CC had been upgraded to 66 at some point from 2004 to 2006. My guess is that it was not then re-submitted. It has only a few miniscule imperfections that just experts would notice. Even according to relatively tough current standards, it may now qualify for a solid 66 grade.

The Eliasberg coin’s creamy violet gray obverse (front) inner fields are memorable, and contrast nicely with the light russet figure of Miss Liberty. The green tones about the stars and outlining Miss Liberty are well balanced by the violet-gray and russet hues. The toning is even and natural. This coin really comes alive when tilted under a light, with a cool mix of blue and red colors on the obverse (front), and, on the reverse, the fields turn a deep orange-russet, which is complemented by pleasing blue tones about “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and at the periphery.

In my opinion and that of many experts, natural toning and original (or mostly original) surfaces should receive much greater weight, in determination of a silver coin’s grade, than unnatural brightness. To an extent, the NGC and the PCGS more so, give substantial weight to such natural factors. The trend, since 2007, especially after the advent of the CAC, has been for each coin’s relative degree of originality to be weighed more heavily than it was during the ten years from 1997 to 2006.

Rather than just being an opinion, the value of originality (particularly natural toning) has been central to the culture of coin collecting in the U.S. for more than a century. Indeed, most of the greatest collections that have been formed and auctioned over the past 125 years have been characterized by rare coins that are considered great in large part because of their respective natural toning and mostly original surfaces. Only to a minimal extent did these great collections contain coins that were obviously dipped or chemically altered.

Most of the important, high grade, rare U.S. silver coins in the Eliasberg, Norweb and Pittman collections were (and hopefully still are) characterized by natural toning and/or mostly original surfaces. A very large number of the gem quality silver coins that were in the Eliasberg, Norweb and Pittman collections have been traced to epic collections that were auctioned during the period from 1890 to 1921, or sold in the 1940s. Indeed, each of these three collections contained an astonishing number of naturally toned, 66 to 68 grade, rare or very scarce, 19th century U.S. silver coins. It may be that the James. A. Stack collection did as well. These are the four best collections of U.S. silver coins to be auctioned during the last half century, and all four are probably among the dozen finest collections of all time. Indisputably, Louis Eliasberg formed the greatest, overall U.S. coin collection ever.

The third and fourth finest 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces known to me are both characterized by natural toning and show no, immediately apparent evidence of ever having been dipped. Of course, I am provisionally assuming that the appearances of the 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces mentioned here have not substantially changed since I last saw them.

The Neil-Richmond 1876-CC Twenty cent piece has impressive natural toning. The William Atwater-James A. Stack coin also has neat toning. Both have eye appeal and are characterized by a few minor imperfections. I am not sure which to grade above the other.

The Neil-Richmond coin was NGC graded 64 when DLRC auctioned it in March 2005. At the time, I was puzzled as to why it was not graded 65. Sure enough, by early 2008, it was NGC graded 65. It has terrific medium to deep, natural toning. It is not too dark, though it would be fair to point out that it is not very brilliant. A sensational, dusky, purplish-steel tone dominates. Several of the design elements, including Miss Liberty, are outlined in green. There is a pleasant, rich green tone about the numerals that also covers much of the reverse (back) outer fields. For the time being, I regard it as the third finest 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece known to me.

The William Atwater-James A. Stack piece has soft, thick, light blue and russet toning. It was PCGS graded MS-65 in the middle of 1995, after Stack’s auctioned a portion of the James A. Stack, Sr. collection in March 1995. For this coin, a grade of 65 was then considered to be a little generous. During the recent era of grade-inflation, especially from 2002 to 2006, my guess is that hardly any experts would have considered 65 too high a grade for this coin and many wholesalers in highly certified coins would probably have graded it as 66!

The sixth finest is another PCGS graded MS-65 1876-CC, the Boyd-Hydeman-Hawn piece. John Feigenbaum sold it twice in this decade. When he sold it in Feb. 2003, it was NGC graded MS-65. Feigenbaum reports that “it crossed over” to a PCGS holder in 2007. John sold it again in Sept. or October 2007.

The Boyd-Hawn piece appears unnaturally bright. It is moderately, though thoroughly, dipped. I am not sure about its status when Stack’s auctioned it in March 2002. I did not then see it. It may have been dipped at a later time and/or it may have been dipped more than once. Indeed, Feigenbaum remarks that “it is very dipped looking” and “is not a strong 65.”

Separately, Matt Kleinsteuber seems to agree with Feigenbaum and declares that its grade “is a low end 65.” Matt adds that “it was definitely dipped, recently,” and it is now “commercial white.” Kleinsteuber is a grading instructor at ANA Summer Seminars and he is a very active trader at major coin shows.

In Sept. 2008, I spent several minutes viewing the Boyd-Hydeman-Hawn 1876-CC. It is very lustrous and has minimal hairlines and contact marks. It has begun to naturally retone, or some of its natural toning survived a relatively recent dipping episode, or it has some combination of new and old toning. There are a few very light brownish russet areas on this coin. I would not regard it as having been heavily dipped. If it was, it could not, in my view, grade 65 or even 64. These areas of light toning, however faint, make the coin look relatively more natural and are partly responsible for bringing its grade into (or at least close to) the 65 range. Plus, the frosty design elements and dynamic fields are entertaining. In the culture of coin collecting, however, a rarity that has been moderately, thoroughly and relatively recently dipped will tend not to command the respect of a roughly equivalent coin with attractive natural toning.

I know of four different 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces that are currently PCGS or NGC certified as grading MS-64. I have never seen the NGC graded 64 coin that Heritage sold in their Jan. 2000 FUN auction. It is definitely different from the PCGS graded 64 coin that is in the EHG collection, which I have also never seen. EHG has had it for more than a decade. Pictures of it are in the NGC Registry and these suggest that the EHG piece may have pleasant natural toning.

Stacks Oct 2007In Oct. 2007, Stack’s auctioned an unnamed PCGS graded MS-64 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece. (Please see my report on CoinLink.) It was earlier in Superior’s Feb. 1991 auction. Though it is not so stated in the catalogue, I believe that Stack’s auctioned this same coin in 2003.

John Feigenbaum regards its grade as a “high end 64, maybe even a 65.” He maintains that it is “better” than others that have been certified as grading MS-64. Feigenbaum was the “underbidder,” at $345,000. It realized $350,750.

Kleinsteuber was also in attendance at this Oct. 2007 auction. Matt “likes this coin a lot.” If it did not have a contact mark about the numerals, “there would be no doubt about it being a gem. It is fresh, very attractive, and has nice luster.” According to Kleinsteuber, its grade “is on the upper end of the 64 scale.”

The Norman Biltz 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece that is on display at the Carson City Mint Museum is not certified. Rusty Goe relates that is a choice uncirculated coin. I have never seen it.

The Comstock piece is discussed in in part 1. During a time when the ‘Comstock’ 1876-CC was PCGS graded 62, I communicated my opinion that it really grades MS-63. (Please see my Sept. 2008 article on the ‘Comstock’ collection.)

As discussed in in part 1, B&M auctioned the Peck-Jurgensen 1876-CC for $207,000 on June 11. The quality of the coin will be addressed here. Andy Lustig “likes the coin as an original 58. Yes, the price was strong,” Andy finds, “but, it wasn’t unreasonable.”

I conclude that the Peck-Jurgensen 1876-CC has completely natural toning and is generally exceptional for a certified AU-58 grade 19th century silver coin. There are a few miniscule contact marks and light hairlines from a minor, old cleaning of some small areas. Much of the coin has light to medium brownish-russet toning. On the obverse (front), there is neat, light orange-russet toning in the inner fields, along with some blue, and more blue near the periphery. Additionally, a tasteful mix of orange-russet and blue hues can be found at various parts of the obverse and reverse (back). The orange toning on the eagle and the blend of green and brownish-russet colors in the outer parts of the reverse are well worth noting. Overall, the Peck-Jurgensenn 1876-CC is very appealing.

Feigenbaum exclaims that it is a “really nice coin” and “a perfect AU-58!” He concludes that it “brought all the money and then some. [John] expected 150 to 160” and points out that he “couldn’t sell it for as much as it brought.”

Kleinsteuber believes that it could, when compared to other coins that have brought similar prices, be valued at more than it realized, given the importance of the date and the specific characteristics of the Peck-Jurgensen 1876-CC. “It has honest wear,” says Matt. “It definitely grades 58 and is very nice for the grade.” Moreover, this coin has “original skin.” Kleinsteuber concludes that it is the “coolest 1876-CC Twenty Cent piece that has come up in a long time.”

In the past, there have been a few offerings of circulated 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces. Two or three listings refer to undergraded coins and are really among the uncirculated pieces mentioned above. There certainly exists one that is Very Fine in terms of sharpness and has some technical problems, the EAC-Willing-Auction ’82 coin. Of the three other listings, in published rosters, of 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces that grade less than AU, at least one probably refers to this same ‘Very Fine’ coin and at least one other is probably a different coin. Therefore, in addition to the Peck-Jurgensen, PCGS graded AU-58 coin, there are two to four circulated 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces. Two of them are included in my count of fourteen.

The Norweb, Comstock, Museum-Biltz, Heritage Jan. 2000, Stack’s 2007, and (possibly) EHG coins may all be from the group that was found in Maryland in the late 1950s. There probably exists another one or two from this group. Various references to this Maryland “hoard,” however, are inconsistent, and are sometimes suspicious. In any event, a Maryland dealer must have handled at least four newly discovered 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces. The existence of two additional circulated pieces and two additional Maryland pieces would bring my total to eighteen, though it is plausible that there are only sixteen.

Matt Kleinsteuber agrees that there are likely to be less than twenty. He maintains that these “are wonderful classic rarities and are under-appreciated.” He figures that these logically should be worth more than their current market levels.

I have always had a strong affinity for 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces. The design is very attractive and, with one of these, a set of business strike Twenty Cent pieces can be easily and very quickly completed. It is fun and satisfying to complete a set, especially of an entire denomination. Further, the preparation of the dies is curious and different from dies for other business strikes of this denomination. There are particular, markedly doubled design elements and areas in the fields that have a very unusual, intriguing texture. Moreover, the historical circumstances, and mysterious nature, of the Carson City Mint add extra dimensions to 1876-CC Twenty Cent pieces. Plus, each will always have the allure of a legendary Great Rarity.

©2009 Greg Reynolds

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