It’s been 144 years since the birth of the iconic Morgan silver dollar, and to this day, it remains among the most coveted coins in the United States. However, if you’re looking for a truly elusive collectible, look no further than the Carson City Morgan Dollars. These coins, minted at the legendary Nevada Carson City Mint between 1878 and 1885, and again from 1890 to 1893, are the stuff of numismatic dreams. Their scarcity is owed to both the limited number minted, as well as the less-than-pristine condition in which most are found. Interestingly, many of these coins were even used in Las Vegas slot machines, making their discovery in mint or uncirculated condition all the more challenging.
In a stroke of luck, a few of these coins were found in uncirculated and mint condition, leading to the creation of the famous Government Services Administration (GSA) holders. These holders provided a special home for the Carson City silver dollars, ensuring their preservation and guaranteeing their authenticity, as sealed by the U.S. Mint.
Not only did these coins come in sturdy plastic cases, but they were also sold by the Government Services Administration (GSA) in the early 1970s, complete with a hinged black box and a certificate of authenticity. Today, these Carson City silver dollars encapsulated in GSA holders have become particularly sought after by collectors.
The Unplanned Emergence of GSA Holders
The creation of GSA holders for Carson City silver dollars was not a planned event. In fact, the majority of these coins were believed to have been melted or lost, only to be rediscovered after the U.S. Mint stopped redeeming silver certificates for silver dollars in 1964. Following the end of the redemption program, the Federal Reserve stumbled upon a vast hoard of previously unknown silver dollars, estimated to contain around 3 million coins, with Carson City silver dollars representing approximately 84% of the find. That amounts to almost 2.5 million Carson City Morgan dollars! This unexpected influx of coins had a noticeable impact on existing coin prices, as many of them were believed to have been melted under the Pittman Act of 1918.
The GSA Holder’s History
We spoke to several coin dealers who were in business during the 1970s to learn more about the discovery of this substantial hoard. Surprisingly, due to the considerable space occupied by the GSA holders, many dealers actually removed the Carson City silver dollars from the cases and discarded them! While we hope that most of the removed coins were from the more common years, it’s likely that some rarer dates also met this fate, potentially losing out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars in value.
Thankfully, such practices are unlikely in today’s more knowledgeable and ethical coin dealer community. However, the GSA holders still take up considerable space, and only holders housing lower-quality coins are typically discarded. Now, let’s delve into the numbers to understand the rarity and value associated with these highly collectible coins.
Number of Coins by Year
The 1890-CC Morgan Dollar: Surprisingly, the hoard contained the fewest number of Carson City silver dollars from the year 1890, with a total of 3,950 coins discovered. While 2.3 million Carson City silver dollars were minted in 1890, finding these coins in good condition or better is a rarity, making them particularly valuable when encapsulated in GSA holders.
The 1884-CC Morgan Dollar: On the other end of the spectrum, the hoard yielded a staggering 962,000 1884 Carson City silver dollars, which represents nearly 85% of the total number minted that year. Unfortunately, this flood of coins significantly reduced their value, making them the most common and least valuable of the Carson City silver dollars.
Between these extremes lie the 1882 and 1883 Carson City silver dollars, which were also found in substantial numbers. Unsurprisingly, they now trade at similar rates to the more common 1884 silver dollars. Additionally, the 1880-CC, 1881-CC, and 1885-CC silver dollars, with quantities ranging from 131,000 to 148,000, have a higher value compared to the 1882-1884 range.
The 1878-CC Morgan Dollar: Although the 1878-CC coins were produced in great numbers (2.2 million), only 60,993 were uncovered in the hoard. As a result, these coins trade at a slightly higher rate compared to some other years.
The 1891-CC and 1879-CC Morgan Dollar: The 1891-CC Morgan silver dollar, with 5,687 coins found, and the 1879-CC Morgan, with 4,123 coins discovered, are both considered extremely rare. These coins, when found in GSA holders, command substantial premiums over their non-encapsulated counterparts. Interestingly, despite the higher total number of 1879 Carson City silver dollars compared to 1890, the former still fetches a significantly higher price, often trading at nearly twice the rate of 1890 GSA silver dollars.
Subtle Differences in Holders & COAs
Over time, collectors have come to understand that not all GSA silver dollars are the same. There are slight nuances that can affect their value. Not all Carson City silver dollars in the GSA hoard were in brilliant uncirculated condition. Many showed signs of bag marks, handling marks, unsightly toning, and overall aesthetics that differed from other coins in the hoard.
To address this, the GSA divided the coins into two categories. Higher-end coins were encapsulated in holders labeled “Uncirculated,” while lower-condition coins lacked any indication of their state. Additionally, higher-end coins were accompanied by numbered certificates of authenticity (COAs), while lower-quality coins received blank COAs.
These distinctions have led collectors to place greater value on coins in “uncirculated” condition. Consequently, the two categories of coins trade at different price points, with some collectors exclusively investing in “uncirculated” coins.
The Importance of COAs
With most collectibles, certificates of authenticity (COAs) play a crucial role in maximizing the value of one’s investment. GSA Carson City silver dollars are no exception, particularly for coins minted in 1879, 1890, and 1891. The absence of a COA can significantly impact the value, potentially resulting in a $450 difference in price. This may seem disproportionate, but it underscores the importance collectors place on preserving the original government packaging. Therefore, even if you submit your coin to be professionally graded, it is advisable to retain the COA, as serious collectors may request it before finalizing a purchase.
Certified GSA Carson City Silver Dollars
Certification can add value to GSA Carson City silver dollars, particularly if they have achieved an MS64 grade or higher. Ungraded GSA silver dollars generally trade at rates similar to those with an MS63 or lower grade. In the past, PCGS would remove the coins from the cases and indicate on the label that they were from the GSA hoard. NGC took a different approach, leaving the case intact and adding a band around it, with the number and letter grade. These coins are commonly referred to as “NGC banded” silver dollars. More recently, PCGS has developed special cases that protect the coins while preventing damage.
It is important to note that even certified coins trade at a discount if they lack a COA, especially those minted in 1879, 1890, and 1891.
In this article, we have explored the fascinating history of the hoard discovery, the impact on the original value of various Carson City coins, and the intricacies of GSA Carson City Morgan silver dollars. We have also shed light on the distribution of these coins to the public and the prevailing aversion toward the cases among coin dealers in the 1970s.
Furthermore, we have provided an overview of the numbers associated with each year of Carson City silver dollars found in the hoard, highlighting both the highly common and the more elusive coins. Additionally, we have discussed the subtle distinctions in holders and COAs, emphasizing the importance of COAs, especially for the lower minted coins. Lastly, we have explored how certification can enhance the value of these already highly sought-after coins.
At Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, we specialize in Carson City silver dollars, particularly the GSA variety. With our expertise and industry-leading customer service, we have bought and sold thousands of these coins over the years. When it’s time to sell your Carson City silver dollars, trust us to offer you the best rates and a seamless experience.
Give us a call today at 678-498-6165!
Happy Treasure Hunting!