The gold coinage from 1870 is among the rarest and most famous issues from the Carson City mint. It has a number of factors that make it very appealing to collectors: low original mintage figures, very small surviving populations, low average grade and numismatic significance as the very first gold issues from this historic mint. Gold and silver were discovered in Northern Nevada in the late 1850's and the area was experiencing a full-blown gold rush by the early 1860's. In 1863, a mint was authorized in the Territory of Nevada. After experiencing some construction delays, a new branch mint opened in the booming town of Carson City in 1870. It actively produced coins until it was closed in 1893.
In 1870, the Carson City mint struck silver dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars. Three gold denominations were produced as well: half eagles, eagles and double eagles. All three are interesting and worthy of a closer inspection.
I. 1870-CC Half Eagle
A total of 7,675 1870-CC half eagles were produced. It has been estimated that 50-60 pieces are known today and this number can be broken down as follows:
Uncirculated: 4 About Uncirculated: 7-9 Extremely Fine: 13-15 Very Fine: 26-32
The half eagle is the most available of the three gold denominations produced at the Carson City mint in 1870. It is likely that a few were saved as souvenirs by local residents. Still, this is a rare coin in all grades. The typical piece is likely to show extreme wear, deep marks on the surfaces and poor luster as a result of mishandling. Any 1870-CC half eagle that grades Extremely Fine-45 or better is quite rare and properly graded About Uncirculated pieces are very rare.
Very high-grade 1870-CC half eagles (in this case AU-55 and above) are extremely rare and very desirable. These are the only 1870-CC dated gold issues that are known in this level of preservation (the eagle and the double eagle are essentially unknown above AU-50) which means that a number of condition-oriented collectors are actively seeking to locate a choice 1870-CC half eagle.
Here are some buying tips for collectors who are thinking of purchasing an 1870-CC half eagle:
Many examples show weakness of strike on the eagle's neck feathers. This is not considered a negative when determining the grade of an 1870-CC half eagle. It is likely that, in the future, examples with sharp neck feathers will sell for a premium.
Despite the fact that this is a first year of issue coin, it is actually one of the better produced early date Carson City half eagles. The collector can expect an 1870-CC half eagle that has decent luster and a lack of the planchet problems found on other half eagles from the early-to-mid 1870's.
Very high-grade pieces (AU-50 and better) come on the market and they seem to appear at an average of around one coin per year. If you see an 1870-CC half eagle that you really like, it makes sense to purchase it, as another example may prove frustrating to locate.
Of the dozen or so pieces known that grade AU-50 or better, nearly every piece is off the market in private collections. These are coins that tend to "stay put" once they are acquired by collectors.
II. 1870-CC Eagle
A total of 5,908 1870-CC half eagles were produced. It has been estimated that 35-45 pieces are known today and this number can be broken down as follows:
Uncirculated: O About Uncirculated: 4 Extremely Fine: 9-11 Very Fine: 22-30
The 1870-CC is the rarest Carson City eagle. Very few were saved and it appears that most of this issue went right into circulation and stayed there for many years. Today, the typical survivor is in the Very Fine-20 to Very Fine-35 range and shows extensive marks. An 1870-CC eagle that grades Extremely Fine-40 is well above-average and an Extremely Fine-45 coin is very rare. In About Uncirculated, this is an extremely rare coin with just four or so currently accounted for. There are no 1870-CC eagles known (or rumored to exist) in any grade approaching Uncirculated.
Many experts feel that this is an extremely undervalued coin. It is nearly as rare as the 1870-CC double eagle in higher grades but it sells for a fraction of the price. As an example, a PCGS AU-50 1870-CC double eagle was recently offered for sale by a dealer for $225,000. At the same time, an 1870-CC eagle in PCGS AU-50 was offered in the $40,000 range. When one considers the fact that the eagle is one of approximately four known in AU (with none better) while the double eagle is one of three or four known in AU (with none better), it would seem that the eagle is an extremely good value at one-fifth the price of its more famous "big brother."
Here are some buying tips for collectors who are thinking of purchasing an 1870-CC eagle:
As of late 2002, PCGS or NGC certified Extremely Fine-40 and 45 examples of the 1870-CC eagle could be purchased be for $20,000-30,000 per coin. When compared to other important branch mint rarities of comparable value, this is very reasonable and it is easy to conclude that the 1870-CC eagle is extremely undervalued.
Nearly every known 1870-CC eagle shows extensive abrasions on the surfaces. A piece with only moderate marks is extremely desirable and will sell for a large premium in the future.
The finest known example of this date is a PCGS AU-55 that is currently off the market in a private collection. No other examples are currently known that grade better, in my opinion, than AU-50.
An investor with $250,000 or so to spend could quietly buy a large number of the higher grade 1870-CC eagles that exist and literally "corner" the market.
III. 1870-CC Double Eagle
A total of 3,789 1870-CC double eagles were produced. It has been estimated that 30-40 pieces are known today and this number can be broken down as follows:
Uncirculated: 0 About Uncirculated: 3-4 Extremely Fine: 9-11 Very Fine: 18-25
The 1870-CC is the rarest Carson City gold coin and is easily the most popular (and highly priced) gold issue from this mint. In the past decade, it has assumed an almost legendary status among collectors. There are a number of reasons for this. The most obvious is its size: this is the biggest coin ever produced at the Carson City mint and people like big coins. Another reason is the popularity of this denomination. Double eagles have become the mostly avidly collected gold coin and there are a number of well-heeled collectors who are actively seeking an 1870-CC to complete their set. Another less obvious reason is the fact that the 1870-CC double eagle is a coin with multiple levels of demand. It is considered desirable not only by Carson City specialists and double eagle collectors but by investors who seek to purchase big, "sexy" coins with a great story.
There are fewer than three dozen known and most are in very low grade. Less than a dozen 1870-CC double eagles exist in Extremely Fine grades with most of these being low-end EF-40's. This date is extremely rare in EF-45 and excessively rare in About Uncirculated with just three or four known. There are none graded higher than AU-50 and none of this tiny number is regarded as being choice for the grade. Most 1870-CC double eagles are seen with very heavily abraded surfaces, a lack of luster and softly struck peripheries.
This is an issue that has risen dramatically in price over the years. A decade ago, an average quality 1870-CC double eagle traded in the $40,000-50,000 range. Today, any problem-free piece is worth at least $90,000-100,000 and a relatively nice coin will sell quickly in the $125,000-150,000+ range. Given its extreme popularity (and a limited supply), prices are likely to continue their rapid climb.
Here are some buying tips for collectors who are thinking of purchasing an 1870-CC double eagle:
There is no such thing as a "pretty" 1870-CC double eagle so the traditional standards of eye appeal need to be relaxed when discussing this issue.
A few lower grade "problem" pieces exist. These have not been encapsulated by PCGS or NGC. Such coins should be avoided by the collector.
If an Uncirculated 1870-CC double eagle were to ever surface (which is unlikely but certainly not impossible) it would probably be the first $1 million+ Carson City coin.
All genuine 1870-CC double eagles show noticeable weakness of strike on the left obverse stars and Liberty's hair. These are regarded as hallmarks of authenticity for the issue.
The three 1870 gold coins that were struck at the Carson City mint are a rare and extremely interesting trio. A very compelling case can be made for calling these coins undervalued as there are very few United States gold coins that have as compelling a story as these three issues. In addition to having a great story, they are legitimately rare and already have a solid collector base.
I strongly recommend the purchase of these coins in Extremely Fine-40 and higher grades. In the case of the 1870-CC eagle, I would even recommend purchasing nice Very Fine-30 to Very Fine-35 coins, given their current favorable price level of $10,000-12,500.