Having just acquired one of the two or three finest known examples of this date (a PCGS AU58 that is illustrated below) I thought it would be interesting to share some information about one of my favorite half eagles from this mint.
The 1878-CC is among the rarest Carson City half eagles, both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. It is not nearly as well known as the 1870-CC and it doesn't have the cult following that the rare and undervalued 1873-CC has. That said, it is still a coin that is very well respected by specialists.
A total of 9,054 were struck. When I wrote the second edition of my book "Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint" back in 2001, I estimated that there were just 60-70 known in all grades. A decade later this estimate seems a bit on the low side and I'd probably revise the total number known up to the area of 75-100.
As of May 2010, PCGS has graded a total of 64 examples in all grades with none in Uncirculated and a total of twenty in About Uncirculated including five each in AU55 and AU58. NGC has a total of 48 in all grades with one in Uncirculated (more on this in a second) and nineteen in AU including five each in AU55 and AU58. My previous estimate of just three to five known in About Uncirculated now seems very low but I believe that the PCGS and NGC populations for AU are significantly inflated by resubmissions. My best guess is that there are around ten or so properly graded AU's known today.
A few years ago, an example graded MS63PL appeared on the NGC population report. I have never seen this coin and am assuming it is a data entry error. If it does actually exist, it is one of the most significant Carson City half eagles in existence and it is a coin that I would really like to view in person.
The finest 1878-CC Carson City half eagles that I have seen are a small number (around three or four) that grade AU58 by today's standards. The all-time auction record for this date is Stack's 5/08: 4235, graded AU58 by PCGS, that brought $63,250.
The 1878-CC half eagle has a very recognizable "look" and it is an issue that can be distinguished from the Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles dated 1878 with relative ease.
The 1878-CC has a somewhat fuzzy strike unlike the Philadelphia and San Francisco half eagles of this year which are very sharply impressed. This fuzziness is most evident around the borders and the denticles on a number of pieces are not fully formed. A number have significant weakness at 4:00 and 7:00 on the obverse border.
This is a hard issue to find with good luster. One of the things about the PCGS AU58 that is special for this issue is the fact that the luster is frosty and visible. This is clearly not the case on most 1878-CC half eagles which are not lustrous and have been stripped by processing. The coin shown above has some scattered marks in the fields bt these are fewer than usual for the issue.
The PCGS AU58 1878-CC half eagle shown in the photo above will be available for sale in a few weeks along with some other remarkable Condition Census CC half eagles from the same collection. For information on any of these coins please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.