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Choice 1874-CC Halves are

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink - February 20, 2007

Liberty Seated Half Dollars were minted from 1839 to 1891. Those minted in Carson City, Nevada (CC) in the year 1874 are very rare, especially in uncirculated condition.

These are in the news as two were just auctioned in Southern California. Coincidentally, both 1874-CC halves were graded MS-64 by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC). One was auctioned on Feb. 12 by the firm of Ira and Larry Goldberg at the Beverly Hills Crowne Plaza. The other was sold by Heritage on Feb. 15, in the official auction of the Long Beach coin, stamp and collectible expo.
Two 1874-CC Seated Halfs Auctioned in the same week
All 1874, 1874-S and 1874-CC half dollars have arrows at either side of the year on the obverse. So, there is no need to focus on the arrows in a discussion of 1874-CC halves.

It is true that 1873 and 1874 dated halves 'with arrows' constitute a separate type. Those who collect by design type would need only one of six dates for their type sets. Most type collectors would not, however, acquire an 1874-CC for a type set, as it is much rarer and much more expensive than an 1873 or 1874 Philadelphia issue. Before 1942, Philadelphia Mint U.S. coins never had mintmarks.
It is very likely that these two are among the top ten 1874-CC half dollars in existence. Both may rank in the top six!

There are five categories of collectors who would be interested in obtaining one of the two 1874-CC halves that were just auctioned. First, there are those who seek to complete a set of all Liberty Seated Half Dollars, 1839 to 1891. Second, some people collect a subset of Liberty Seated halves such as all those 'With Motto' from 1866 to 1891.

Third, thousands of coin enthusiasts enjoy owning very attractive coins from the 19th century. Indeed, these two 1874-CC half dollars may be of interest to connoisseurs. Fourth, there are many collectors who like to acquire very rare coins, even if such coins are not used to complete any kind of set.

Fifth, Carson City coins are a very popular specialty. Some seek to acquire examples of all Carson City coins of one denomination (such as quarters or half dollars), one series such as Morgans, or one metal (silver or gold).

Carson City Coins can easily be collected by type. They were only minted from 1870 to 1893. Not that many types fall into this time period. A type set of only Carson City coins could be fun to build and would be only a fraction of the cost of collecting the same coins by date.

Of 1874-CC halves, the NGC and the Professional Coin Grading Service have together graded maybe seventy or so different coins? There are at least another forty that have never been submitted to either PCGS or NGC. My guess is that there are fewer than 135 in existence.

Even if two hundred 1874-CC halves survive, it would still be a very rare coin. After all, there are probably a few thousand people who collect Liberty Seated halves by date, and there are many thousands of people who collect Carson City coins in various ways. There are also thousands of affluent coin buyers who do not have logical collecting objectives.

Both these MS-64 1874-CC halves are impressive. It is very likely that these two are among the top ten 1874-CC half dollars in existence. Both may rank in the top six!

1874-CC Half Dollar - Goldberg Auction 39 Lot 1455
The toning on the 74-CC, from the Goldberg sale, is definitely natural and really neat. This coin probably has never been dipped nor cleaned. A large percentage of uncirculated 19th century silver coins have been dipped at one time or another.

About the coin, I consulted Charles Browne who is widely recognized as a leading expert in grading with a finely tuned taste for coins with original surfaces and natural toning. Browne agreed that the toning is natural. He stated, though, that he prefers lighter-colored coins.

I did not find the coin to be dark. The obverse (front) had a great blend of military green and brownish-russet. About the periphery, between the stars and the borders, there are really neat shades of blue-green and greenish-blue.

Miss Liberty has toned a russet-beige color with some deeper russet overtones, along with patches or lines of bright green, especially where her figure meets the inner fields. There are also some touches of orange and peach colored toning.

There are traces of red tones on both the obverse and reverse. Natural red toning is rare on silver coins, though quite common on copper and gold coins.

The reverse exhibits a tasteful combination of colors on the eagle. These tones are red, orange, beige and green, and maybe some others that I do not remember. The right inner fields on the reverse, between the eagle and the motto and 'AMERICA' and below this area, are toned a pleasant orange-russet hue. In the reverse outer fields, about the letters and borders, there is shiny deep green toning.

Continuing with the description of the 1874-CC from the Goldberg sale, the obverse has very few contact marks and scratches. Indeed, there is a patch of microscopic contact marks along with a few very short moderate scratches in the obverse inner field, at the viewer's lower right, Miss Liberty's left. These are amidst brown and tan toning, and most collectors would not notice them. These imperfections are commensurate with a MS-64 grade, and may be factors as to why this coin was not graded MS-65 by NGC.

If graded by itself, the reverse would certainly merit a MS-65 grade. My note regarding an imperfection above the 'H' in HALF is illegible. But, my guess is that it was not significant. There are almost no contact marks or scratches that are noticeable with the naked eye, and very few that can be seen with a 5-times magnifying glass.

On both sides, there are traces of underlying mint luster. The strike is sharp, especially for a branch mint coin of the time period. The strike is the extent to which detail is 'brought up' or generated when the die forcefully pounds into the prepared blank. The level of detail is measured against the best of dies used for the type, or sometimes just for that date. So, if one pair of dies lacks much of the detail found on others, even the best that such a pair can do may be properly termed a 'weak strike'!

The describing of parts and aspects of a coin is hopefully educational and is aimed at contributing to a literature that better enables collectors to appreciate choice and rare coins. Even the most thorough of descriptions along with the best photographs, however, do not come close to providing a total picture. A special coin really needs to be tilted under a light and closely viewed to be absorbed and understood.

The '74-CC in the Heritage auction has similar toning. Over time, collectors have stored coins in similar ways. In each era, collectors often obtained cabinets, envelopes or albums from the same sources. How a coin tones depends in part upon how it is stored.

Trace elements in the alloy and about the Mint can contribute to the kinds and colors of toning that will develop later. A coin that is said to be 90% silver and 10% copper actually is really a little less than 90% silver and a little less than 10% copper. Other elements in miniscule quantities may be irrelevant to bullion (precious metals) issues, but are important in numismatics. Various trace elements can contribute to toning characteristics and to the color and surface texture of untoned coins.

It is thus unsurprising that two properly, though separately, stored coins of the same type and date may often develop similar toning over time.

This 1874-CC that was in the Heritage sale is very attractive, though not quite as much as the one from the Goldberg sale. It also has medium level toning that is neither light nor dark. Likewise, the toning on this coin is definitely natural. The shades of brown-russet and beige are very similar to the tones on the other. This 1874-CC has more of a creamy beige and has only traces of bluish green. It does have some of the same bright green, also in places where Miss Liberty's figure meets the fields, blank areas.

When the coin is tilted under a light at certain angles, it is clear that it has considerable blue toning, especially in the reverse outer fields. I think I remember some patches of orange-russet toning. If so, there is nowhere near as much of this color combination as was seen on the '74-CC in the Goldberg sale. On this one, such colors might have been more of burnt orange or russet-orange, rather than orange-russet! For scientific reasons, there are certain colors of toning that tend to appear together.

There are some black flecks that are barely noticeable with a naked eye. Through a 5-times glass, I saw black flecks especially in the outer fields and periphery (near the borders). This is not a technical problem. It relates only to the aesthetics.

Other than these flecks, there are not many reasons to refuse this coin a MS-65 grade. On the reverse, there is a little remainder of a very faint fingerprint between the eagle and the arrows that the eagle is clutching. This is not unusual for a 19th century silver coin, and its presence provides further evidence that the surfaces have not been deliberately modified.

There are very few contact marks on the obverse, and these are extremely small. The reverse has almost none. The coin has an average strike. The '74-CC that the Goldbergs auctioned has more detail in the eagle's feathers and claws. Even so, the strike on this coin is certainly not weak.

This 1874-CC, from the Heritage sale, is barely semi-prooflike. Perhaps the one in the Goldberg sale could be labeled as such, or not? Both coins have very similar surface characteristics, and other uncirculated 1874-CC halves may also share such characteristics.

A few, short and light scratches near Miss Liberty's foot are minor. This coin could merit a MS-65 grade. I would not be surprised if it upgrades in the future.

Beyond the coincidence of two auctions, two days apart, each offering NGC certified, rare 1874-CC half dollars, in MS-64 grade, with very similar toning and surface characteristics, both realized the exact same price, $44,850. It is considered a high price by those who believe in both the logic and fact of the generally estimated retail level of around $40,000, for this issue in MS-64 grade. I think these coins are undervalued.

These two are special coins. Further, coins with appealing, natural toning often command a premium, especially when they have surfaces that are likely to be original or mostly so. Moreover, 1874-CC halves are so rare in grades above MS-63, it is very difficult to price them. It is hard to imagine that there are as many as three others that are superior to these two. For very rare dates, no one really knows precise market levels for coins that place highly in condition rankings.

Of course, not all 1874-CC halves realize more than $40,000. One in good condition would cost less than $600. An extremely fine example would be likely to retail for around $4000. It is not easy to guess the price of a MS-62, maybe $17,000 to $19,000?

There are coins that are not as rare that sell for a lot more. These two 1874-CC halves each have a great combination of quality, originality, and rarity, along with the special aura of the Carson City Mint, plus a high condition ranking. They are under-appreciated by auction participants, and by the numismatic community in general.

© 2007 Greg Reynolds

Publication Date: 02/20/2007