Carson City Eagles: An Introduction and Overview

The Carson City ten-dollar gold piece or eagle series is the most difficult of the three gold denominations struck by this mint to collect. It contains the single rarest gold coin ever struck by this mint: the 1870-CC eagle, which is even rarer than its more celebrated and far more expensive counterpart, the 1870-CC double eagle. The completion of a Carson City eagle set is a very formidable task. Since only 35-45 1870-CC eagles are estimated to exist, only this number of complete sets of Carson City eagles can be formed. In comparison, 50-60 Carson City half eagle and 40-50 Carson City double eagles sets can be formed. As with the half eagle and double eagle series, completion of a set of the Carson City eagles is difficult but certainly realistic. There are only 19 dates in this series. Unlike the Philadelphia eagle series, the Carson City coinage is short yet, simultaneously, formidable. There are no impossibly rare or prohibitively expensive coins which make finishing a set impossible. Thus, it is a reasonable expectation to finish a Carson City eagle set, given enough time, money, and patience.

If a collector desires more of a challenge, he need only set his sights on higher grade coins. The Carson City eagles are generally rarer in higher grades (in this case About Uncirculated-50 or above) than their half eagle counterparts.

While Carson City eagles have never been touted as an investment vehicle, they have, in fact, shown excellent price appreciation over the past few decades. Values have risen steadily in the past decade despite a large price drop in the levels for common, "generic" coins. The western migration of the American people, along with a related increase of interest in western history and art, has caused Carson City coinage to be in demand among an increasing number of avid, well-heeled collectors and investors. The romance of the Old West along with the rarity of the Carson City eagles has made this a very popular series. These coins are also in demand by general collectors and type collectors.

Regardless of one's time and resources, a complete set of Carson City eagles in Uncirculated grades could never be assembled. Seven or eight of the 19 dates are currently unknown in full Mint State and there are many more dates in the eagle series that do not exist in Mint State than there are in the half eagle or double eagle series.

A partial Uncirculated set is just as daunting. The two most common issues from the 1870's, the 1871-CC and the 1874-CC, are exceedingly rare in Uncirculated. A half dozen or fewer Mint State 1880-CC, 1882-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC and 1893-CC eagles are known and nearly all of the Uncirculated pieces which exist for these dates are either in tightly-held collections or grade no better than Mint State-60. Even the second most obtainable Carson City eagle in Uncirculated, the 1892-CC, is a reasonably rare coin and the only issue that can be located in Uncirculated with any degree of regularity is the 1891-CC.

Choice Mint State (MS-63 and MS-64) Carson City eagles are very rare with probably no more than two dozen of all dates combined in existence. Gem Mint State (MS-65) Carson City eagles are essentially unobtainable. From the entire decade of the 1870's, only one MS-64 Carson City eagle (an 1874-CC) is known. Choice examples from the 1880's are currently unknown. The majority of the choice and gem pieces available are from the 1890's, specifically from 1891.

As with the other gold coin denominations from this mint, the rarity of the Carson City issues in high grades has to do with the fact that there were no coin collectors in Nevada who attempted to save these coins at the time they were struck. The few Mint State pieces that do exist have either survived by good luck or sheer coincidence. They may have been hidden in a bank vault for many years (as were some very high grade Carson City eagles purchased at the beginning of the 20th century by John Clapp, Sr. and later sold by his son to Louis Eliasberg, Sr. in 1942) or they were sent to Europe or South American banks as foreign trade payments. The coins that went overseas or that were found by collectors before the Depression were spared the cruel fate of being melted in the 1930's. Some of the other surviving Uncirculated pieces may have been assay coins that were shipped to Philadelphia and never destroyed after they were weighed and examined.

A careful look at the Carson City eagle series reveals some very interesting trends. Survival statistics depend, to some extent, on the original quantity minted and vary according to the era in which they were struck. In general (with the sole exception being the 1882-CC), the rarest coins in the series are the ones minted from 1870 through 1879. The 1882-CC is rarer than the most available date from the 1870's, the 1870's, the 1874-CC. The Carson City eagles produced in 1880, 1883-84 and 1893 are the next rarest. The 1881-CC is the most common date from the 1880's. The 1890 and the 1892 issues are considerably more difficult to locate than the 1891-CC which is by far the most readily available Carson City eagle.

The coins minted during the heyday of the Comstock Lode (1870-1879) have survived roughly--although not strictly--in proportion to their original mintage figures. I estimate that between two percent and as little as one half of one percent of each year's original production of eagles has survived. In general, the older the coin, the lower the average surviving grade and the fewer the high grade specimens that are known. This is intuitive reasoning as much as anything. The longer a coin remains in circulation, the more likely it is to become heavily worn or destroyed. Thus, the rarest Carson City eagle (the 1870-CC) is the oldest, despite the fact that this issue has only the sixth lowest mintage figure in the series.

The 1879-CC is the next rarest coin in the series and it has the lowest mintage figure of any Carson City gold coin with just 1,762 pieces produced. I estimate that around 40 to 50 of these survive. This makes it only a bit less rare than the more famous and far more expensive 1870-CC double eagle. Given the fact that it has such a low mintage, the 1879-CC eagle is actually a bit more available than one might assume. This issue has an estimated survival population of between 2.5% and 3% which is far and away the highest survival percentage of any pre-1890 Carson City eagle. This strongly suggests that there was a hoard of this date at one time.

The third rarest Carson City eagle is the 1878-CC. This date has the second lowest mintage figure--3,244 coins. I estimate that between 45 and 55 pieces exist. The survival percentage of this issue is higher than average and its rarity is primarily attributable to its very small original mintage. Interestingly, all of the 1877-1879 Carson City eagles have higher survival percentages than the rest of the coins in this series. This suggests that the hoard of 1879-CC eagles that was described above may have also included pieces dated 1877-CC and 1878-CC.

The 1872-CC is just a bit more available than the 1878-CC with an estimated 50-60 pieces known. This date has the fifth lowest mintage figure of all Carson City eagles with 4,600 pieces struck. However, as the 1872-CC is one of the earliest dates in this series, it had more time to acquire wear in circulation and/or to be destroyed. This has made the 1872-CC eagle rare both in terms of total numbers known and the average grade of its surviving population.

The 1873-CC and the 1877-CC eagles are similar to the 1872-CC in terms of the total numbers known. Each of these has an estimated surviving population of 50-60 coins. The mintage figures for these issues are fairly similar with 4,543 for the former and 3,332 for the latter. The comparable mintage figures for these two dates and the fact that they were struck just four years apart probably best explains why they are so similar in terms of their overall rarity.

A relatively high proportion of the surviving 1877-CC eagles grade Extremely Fine or higher. Of the 50-60 pieces believed to exist in all grades, twenty five to thirty one of these grade Extremely Fine or above. This is a disproportionately high percentage of high grade pieces when compared to the other dates from the 1870's. Interestingly, the same scenario is true in regards to the 1877-CC half eagle. This strongly suggests that there was, at one time, a small hoard of 1877-CC half eagles and eagles which included coins in the Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated.

The 1875-CC has one of the lowest survival rates of the 1870's dates and a much lower rate than the 1876-1879 issues. There has never been an explanation for this but my research has uncovered a fact that may provide an answer. It is possible that a quantity of newly minted 1875-CC eagles were damaged while stored in banks, shops or saloons during the great fire that ravaged Virginia City, Nevada in October, 1875.

The second most available Carson City eagle from the 1870's is the 1871-CC. Of the 8,805 that were originally struck, approximately 80-90 survive. With the exception of the 1874-CC, the 1871-CC has the highest mintage figure of any of the 1870's Carson City eagles. However, its rarity is maintained by its status as a very early date and its subsequent high rate of heavily worn and/or destroyed coins.

The most common Carson City eagle from the 1870's is the 1874-CC. Its mintage figure of 16,767 is more than double that of any other Carson City eagle struck during this decade. Much of this production was sent to Eastern states to meet a severe coin shortage. Despite its comparatively high mintage figure, the 1874-CC actually has one of the lowest survival rates of any Carson City eagle from this decade. This explains why this issue is still scarce despite its comparatively high mintage figure. It should also be noted that the 1874-CC half eagle also has a low survival percentage. It is likely that a similar fate befell both of these issues and destroyed an abnormally high percentage of the original mintage.

The 1882-CC is the only post-1880 Carson City mint that can be termed as scarce in any grade. An estimated 130-140 survive from the original mintage figure of 6,764. It has a relatively high survival percentage since it is a later date and, possibly, because a small hoard existed at one time.

The 1880-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC, and 1893-CC eagles are similar in regards to their original mintage figures and their estimated survival figures. The mintages for these four issues were 11,190, 12,000, 9,925 and 14,000 respectively. I estimate that between 125 and 175 of each issue have survived. Despite a slightly higher mintage figure and its later date of issuance, the 1893-CC may actually be the rarest of these four coins. The 1881-CC is the most common Carson City eagle struck prior to 1890. There are as many as 300 coins surviving from the original mintage figure of 24,015. This comparably high mintage figure accurately predicts that this date would be the most available from the 1880's.

The 1890-CC and the 1892-CC eagles are relatively close in rarity. The former has an estimated 350-400 known while the latter has approximately 400-450. These figures are interesting as the mintage figures for these two (17,500 for the 1890-CC and 40,000 for the 1892-CC) are so dissimilar. I noted in the overview on Carson City half eagles that fewer high grade 1892-CC half eagles have survived than of the other high mintage dates of the 1890's. The same is true with 1892-CC eagles. I cannot offer an exact reason for this curious anomaly. It does seem likely that many of the 1892-CC half eagles and eagles at some time underwent a similar destructive fate. Perhaps a large quantity of coins was not released and was later melted.

The 1891-CC eagle is by far the most common date of this series, as clearly suggested by its large mintage of 103,732 coins.

Carson City gold coins were struck for use in circulation. During the western gold and silver rushes, paper money was suspect. Thus, gold and silver coins were the accepted method of payment and saw very active commercial use. It is not surprising to find that those Carson City gold coins that did survive show extensive wear and heavily marked surfaces from their years in circulation.

It remains very curious that more higher grade Carson City eagles, especially from the 1870's, did not survive. Every eagle struck during this decade is now very rare in About Uncirculated and either unknown or excessively rare in Mint State. Why is this so, especially when quantities (albeit small ones) of eagles from Philadelphia and San Francisco from the 1870's are known in these higher grades?

One of the most likely reasons is the fact that, in the 1870's, ten dollars was so much money that only a tiny handful of people could even think of saving an eagle as a collectible item. But, conversely, there were some very wealthy people in the West at that time. Some of these newly made millionaires appreciated art and were collectors in their own right. So why didn't even a single one of these people decide to keep a newly-minted Carson City eagle from each year as a momento? It is even more surprising that no one bothered to save a new 1870-CC eagle as a first-year-of-issue souvenir, especially when one considers that a number of 1870-CC silver dollars were saved in this fashion.

The few Mint State Carson City eagles which do exist are invariably less choice than comparable Carson City half eagles. There is a sensible explanation for this. Eagles are larger than half eagles and they weigh more. When they come into contact with each other during transfer and storage, they cause larger marks. These coins were thrown loose into bags after they were struck and little care was given to them. This is precisely why they are so rare in high grades. And, Carson City double eagles are even more difficult to find in high grades since they are the heaviest of the three gold denominations produced at the Carson City mint.

For the collector, locating attractive Carson City eagles in higher grades (I.e., Extremely Fine and better) is very challenging. The typical coin, especially for the 1870-1879 dates, grades Very Fine or so and is characterized by excessive bagmarks and poor overall eye appeal.

The rarest Carson City eagle in Extremely Fine or higher is the 1870-CC with an estimated population of 11-13 coins. I estimate that only 12-15 1873-CC eagles are known in Extremely Fine or higher, making this the second rarest Carson City eagle in this grade range. Only 13-15 of the 1872-CC eagle are known to exist in Extremely Fine or higher. The 1875-CC and the 1878-CC have estimated population of 17-20 and 17-21 coins, respectively, in Extremely Fine or higher grades. The extreme condition rarity of these issues is a combination of their status as early dates and their very low original mintage figures.

The next rarity tier for higher grade Carson City eagles is led by the 1879-CC with an estimated 20-25 coins known in Extremely Fine or higher grades. Even though this issue is the second rarest Carson City eagle in terms of its overall rarity, it is more obtainable in higher grades than generally believed. This means that while this date does not appear for sale very often, when it does come up for sale, the average piece is likely to be in a higher grade than for such dates as the 1870-CC, 1872-CC, 1873-CC and 1875-CC.

As one would expect as mintage figures increase for these coins and the dates of issuance become more recent, the rarity of higher grade pieces diminishes. The two highest mintage dates of the 1870's are the 1871-CC and the 1874-CC and these are, not surprisingly, the two most available Carson City eagles of this era in higher grades. I estimate that there are between 32 and 37 1871-CC eagles known in Extremely Fine and above and between 44 and 61 of the 1874-CC.

Despite its very low mintage, the 1877-CC is more common in Extremely Fine than other Carson City eagles of this era. There are an estimated 19-22 known in Extremely Fine. However, this date is very rare in About Uncirculated, and it compares favorably to issues such as the 1872-CC, 1873-CC, 1875-CC, 1876-CC and 1878-CC in this very high grade range.

Like the similarly dated half eagle, the 1874-CC eagle is the most available issue from the 1870's both in terms of overall rarity and availability in high grade. In the overview on half eagles earlier in this book, I proposed a hypothesis which, I feel, explains this. The 1874-CC does have the highest mintage figure of any Carson City half eagle from the 1870's. But being an early date, one would guess that it would be less available in higher grades than it actually is. I feel that many 1874-CC eagles were shipped to the east coast to meet a need for circulating coins. It is very conceivable that a decent-sized group of 1874-CC eagles stayed in an eastern bank where they sat for many years and were later melted.

The 1882-CC eagle is a rare coin in terms of the total number of specimens that are known to exist. But it, too, is a bit less rare in high grades than one might assume. I estimate that 89-97 are known in Extremely Fine or above with approximately three dozen in About Uncirculated and just one or two in Uncirculated. For some reason, this date has an odd distribution of specimens known. One would expect there to be more lower grade and fewer higher grade 1882-CC eagle than there actually are.

The 1880-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC, and 1893-CC are fairly similar in terms of their high grade rarity. The 1880-CC is the most available of these issues in About Uncirculated while the 1880-CC and the 1884-CC are the most available in About Uncirculated. Taken as a group, all of these issues are reasonably available in Extremely Fine, scarce to very scarce in About Uncirculated and very rare in Uncirculated.

The 1881-CC is the most common Carson City eagle struck prior to 1890. The number of Uncirculated pieces has swelled in recent years, due to the discovery of a moderate-sized hoard in the late 1990's. The 1881-CC is now actually slightly overvalued in higher grades, based on its availability in About Uncirculated and Uncirculated.

The 1892-CC, on the other hand, is an underrated coin. This is due to its higher mintage and its late date of issuance. The 1892-CC is almost comparable to the 1881-CC in terms of the number believed to exist in About Uncirculated to Uncirculated but it is priced considerably lower.

The existing Carson City eagles from the 1880's and the 1890's are found in considerably higher grades than those struck in the 1870's. This may be the result of the diminishing use of gold coins as the 19th century drew to a close and also because the older coins were in circulation for ten to twenty years longer. By the 1880's, mintages of Carson City eagles had increased and a greater percentage of these coins were sent overseas to banks for debt payment. The existence of such a large number of 1891-CC eagles in higher grades is clear evidence that the coins of this era served a much different function than did the coins produced two decades earlier. These coins exist in higher grade today mainly because they were sent overseas and avoided the melting pot. There is no telling how many Carson City eagles from the 1870's and the 1880's were melted in the 1930's.

I estimate that more than 50% of all remaining Carson City eagles, regardless of date, are from the 1890's. This implies that these four issues have more surviving specimens than the other fifteen years combined. Approximately 90% of all existing Carson City eagles are from the 1890's. Furthermore, I estimate that around 75% of all the existing About Uncirculated Carson City eagles are from this four year period. The 1891-CC eagle is more plentiful than the other three dates from the 1890's combined. Approximately 90% of all the Uncirculated Carson City eagles which exist are from this one date. In fact, the only other date which is available with even the slightest degree of regularity is the 1890-CC, of which maybe five dozen are known.

Many of the early issues are weakly struck. This weakness of strike is most noticeable in the central portions of the coin, where the most pressure is needed to raise the metal of the planchet to give definition to the design. On the obverse, these softly struck coins often display considerable flatness on the neck of Liberty and brow as well as on the top and the rear of her hair. On the reverse, the weakness of strike is usually obvious on the neck feathers of the eagle, the central portion of the shield and the talons. This weakness of strike is often erroneously described as wear. Because of this, the Carson City eagles from the 1870's are often incorrectly graded; even by professional grading services.

The 1870-CC is often found with weakness of strike on Liberty's neck and the eagle's neck feathers. The 1871-CC is typically found with a reasonably sharp strike. The 1872-CC is usually seen with a very soft obverse and the 1873-CC is another issue that is often found flatly detailed. The 1874-CC shows a better overall strike. The 1875-CC, like its similarly dated half eagle counterpart, is probably the worst struck date in the entire series. The 1876-CC eagle is often weak at the centers while the 1877-CC tends to be found with a better quality of strike. The 1878-CC and the 1879-CC are both frequently seen with noticeable weakness at the centers.. The issues from 1880 to 1893 are generally better struck although it is not uncommon to find pieces with some weakness at the centers.

The survival estimates given in this book are based on current knowledge as of 2000. As time passes, it is inevitable that more coins will surfaces from previously unknown collections, hoards or accumulations. This will lead to even more accurate survival estimates and Condition Census listings. In some cases, future revisions may show that fewer examples of a particular issue are known than is currently estimated. In addition, today's grading standards will change the grades of some coins currently assumed to be a certain grade. Depending on the coin, certain pieces could lower or rise, considerably affecting the Condition Census.

My review of auctions, price lists and known private treaty sales should provide the reader of this book with some idea of how difficult it is to complete a collection of Carson City eagles. The rare 1870-1879 issues tend, on average, to reach the market at the rate of 0-3 pieces per year. For the rarest dates, it is not uncommon for a year or two to pass without a single decent quality coin being available. And often times the only coins that are available are rejects from someone's collection; pieces that are well-worn, extensively abraded and visually unappealing. Carson City eagles, like all rare coins, may experience both droughts and gluts of specimens. In some years, a rare date may come onto the market as many as seven or eight different times while in other years, this same date may be completely unavailable. As a rule, the rarer the date, the less frequently available it is. A good percentage of the Condition census or above-average Carson City eagles are tightly held by private individuals, families or institutions and are essentially not for sale at any price.

A nice quality Carson City eagle collection will probably take a minimum of one to three years to complete. This is a series that requires a fairly substantial budget but it can be completed by someone of slightly above-average means if this person is patient and willing to purchase Very Fine examples of the truly rare dates, Extremely Fine examples of the scarce dates and About Uncirculated examples of the more common dates.

The collector with a large budget is probably going to be more inclined to purchase Extremely Fine examples of the rare dates, About Uncirculated examples of the scarce dates and Uncirculated examples of the common dates.

The true connoisseur with a nearly unlimited budget and a great deal of patience can put together a set which contains About Uncirculated examples of the rare issues, Choice About Uncirculated to Uncirculated examples of the scarce issues and Choice Uncirculated examples of the common issues.