Monday, November 2, 2009

Coin Monday: Branching Out: A Branch Mint Proof Morgan Dollar Heritage Auctions December Houston event

Nov. 2, 2009
Written by John Dale

In the history of U.S. coinage, only three official mints have produced proof coinage according to a defined schedule: Philadelphia (inception to 1964 and sporadically thereafter), San Francisco (1968 to present), and West Point (most gold and platinum proofs since 1984). The other five current or historical mints - Charlotte, NC, Dahlonega, GA, New Orleans, LA, Carson City, NV and the still-active Denver, CO - have not or did not.

Note the term "defined schedule," however: in the above list of the five mints not to regularly strike proof coins, the last three struck coins that are today recognized as proofs.

Early in its history, for example, the New Orleans Mint struck half dollars that are today recognized as proofs; Heritage has auctioned a few, such as this extremely rare 1839-O half dollar in PR63. Another famous O-mint proof coin is the 1879-O Morgan dollar. Denver, too, has a handful of branch mint proofs known or suspected, most notably a 1907-D double eagle.

This leaves Carson City.

While the Nevada mint was scrutinized from afar by politicians in the nation’s capital, who shut it down twice - first in 1885 for four years, and then in 1893 for good - there were a number of obvious practical difficulties in trying to supervise a mint in what was essentially a frontier town.

While Carson City struck an official branch mint proof issue, the 1893-CC Morgan dollar, in its final year of issue, there are also a number of unauthorized proofs from the same mint. One example is the proof 1884-CC dollar, an example of which will be offered in Heritage Auctions' December 2009 Houston U.S. Coin auction.

The Carson City Mint never received the specialized equipment, such as high-powered coin presses, that Philadelphia used to strike its proof coins. Nor did Carson City’s personnel have experience with striking proofs. That said, the proof 1884-CC dollar is a reasonable facsimile of a Philadelphia product: the signature bold strike and mirror-like fields are there. While the rims are not absolutely square, this can be accounted for by the fact that Carson City had to use circulation-coinage dies to strike the proofs, according to the catalog description.

This proof 1884-CC dollar, produced in an apparent moment of numismatic naughtiness, is a scrumptious treat for the discerning Morgan dollar collector, a sinfully rich dessert served with forbidden-fruit compote. Who wants a taste?

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-John Dale Beety

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