In American numismatics there are some coins that are in a class of their own, often because of their rarity or because of their quality. One of the offerings at Stack’s-Bowers’ ANA auction in Chicago on August 15 certainly falls in both categories. Offered was the finest known example of the 1889-CC Morgan Silver Dollar, a classic rarity within the series preserved in the unimprovable grade of MS-68, certified by PCGS and with a pedigree that virtually goes back to the day it was minted in Carson City, Nevada. The coin realized $881,250 including buyer’s fee, establishing a new record price for the issue.
The 1889-CC Morgan Dollar is well known as the scarcest issue of the series struck at the iconic Carson City Mint. In addition to its low mintage of 350,000 pieces, heavy attrition also took its toll as the majority of examples were placed into circulation, and any uncirculated survivor is a rarity on its own. Unlike many other dates within the series, the 1889-CC has never been known to have been included in quantity in the treasury releases of the 1960’s, and it appears very likely that there are very few examples of this elusive date still waiting to be discovered.
The pedigree of this piece is impeccable, and the list of owners over the past 125 or so years is relatively short. The story is that this piece was handpicked by well-known 19th century collector John G. Mills shortly after minting. This, in its own, is already a very rare occurrence as very few (if any) collectors paid attention to mintmarks during this time period. Most were happy to acquire one Proof coin from the Philadelphia Mint and did not bother to get the circulation strikes from the various branch Mints around the country.
The coin was first publicly offered for sale when the Mills collection was sold in 1904. It was purchased by J.M. Clapp, who passed it on to his son John H. Clapp, in whose estate it was included and eventually sold in 1942. It was purchased in the sale by Louis Eliasberg, perhaps one of the most iconic coin collectors that this country has ever known, the man known for assembling the only complete collection of United States coinage. This piece resided in his collection for 55 years, cherished and saved, until the Eliasberg collection was sold by Bowers and Merena in 1997 (according to the auction catalog of the present sale the coin was conservatively graded MS-66 in that catalog). The coin than reappeared a number of times, in 2001 and 2005, although it went unsold at the latter sale, where it was part of the famous Jack Lee collection.
The coin was last offered for sale by Heritage Auctions at the FUN auction in January 2009 as part of the Jack Lee estate sale, where the coin realized $531,875. Even though this was only slightly higher than the previous time it was sold (in 2001 it realized $529,000) this was amidst a global downturn of the economy and a time where very few investments proved to hold its value so well. With less than ten owners between 1889, when it was minted, and 2013 this is one of those coins whose pedigree speaks for itself. And given the fact that this MS-68 is the finest certified by PCGS by three full grades that pedigree just compliments an already phenomenal coin.