Editor's Q&A: Carson City Mint expert Rusty Goe
- Published: Dec 20, 2016, 9 AM
In 2012, Rusty Goe of Southgate Coins in Reno, Nev., collaborated with Stack’s Bowers to bring to market the finest complete (111-piece) set of Carson City coins. He served as the chief architect in building what he christened the Battle Born Collection. It sold in August 2012 for nearly $10 million. (This is an expanded version of the article appearing in the Jan. 2, 2017, issue.)
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Coin World: What led you to develop an interest in the Carson City Mint and its coinage?
Rusty Goe: Eight mints have stamped coins in eight different cities in the United States, beginning with the main one at Philadelphia, and most recently at the West Point branch. As a coin collector first and for the past 35 years as a coin dealer, I have been interested in the history and coinage production of all eight of these mints. But early on in my career as a coin dealer, I found it rather easy for me to develop a fervent fondness for the mint that operated in Carson City, Nevada. This is probably because I started dealing in coins while living at Lake Tahoe, which is only about 30 minutes from Carson City, and probably because of the way numismatic writers portrayed the Carson City Mint as being so colorful and storybook-like, and its coins as being so captivating and filled with mystique.
Yet I must say, the full charm, heightened value, and magic of the Carson City Mint and its coins did not capture my mind full force all at once. My fascination with the “CC” mintmark and all that it represents has evolved through the years, in direct correlation with the time and energy I have expended in building my knowledge base of the related subjects. There is a sense of wonder that increases incrementally the more absorbed I become with the lore surrounding the Carson City Mint and its coins.
Additionally, it intrigued me years ago how the numbers of the coins required to build various sets in the Carson City series seem tailor-made for collectors to pursue. Consider for example the 13 pieces in a basic set of Carson City Morgan silver dollars, which, by the way, fit perfectly into a Plexiglas holder shaped like the state of Nevada.
And then there’s the 10-piece Carson City coin type, which when completed gives the collector one example of each of the 10 different types of coins issued by the Nevada mint, seven in silver and three in gold. Each of the 10 types is composed of from 2 (double dimes) to 19 (each of the three gold denominations) pieces (varieties can inflate these numbers exponentially). The ultimate set comprises 111 pieces, which represent all of the dates, denominations, and subtypes struck at the Carson City Mint during its storied run from 1870 to 1893. All sets offer rewards, adventures, enthralling stories, and challenges (sometimes insurmountable). There are set-building goals in the Carson City series available to every collector, from beginner to the most highly advanced.
CW: What was the most surprising previously unknown fact that you uncovered during research for your books?
RG: Oh, there are so many answers to this question. But let me just cite a few examples.
Foremost, in my first book, The Mint on Carson Street, I only devoted a handful of paragraphs to Carson City Mint superintendent James Crawford, and I speculated that he was only about 50 years old when he died. After publishing that book, I set a goal to find out more about Crawford, a man who had overseen the Carson City Mint for more than 10 years, and had supervised the production of 85% of all the coins ever manufactured at the Nevada branch. How could it be, I thought, that so little information survived about such a prominent person in Nevada history and in the annals of U.S. Mint history? For gosh sakes, it seemed woeful to me that his age at death was uncertain, and that no photographs of him existed. I wanted to at least write an essay about Crawford, if not a pamphlet-sized manuscript.
My four-year research quest resulted in a 650-page biography titled, James Crawford: Master of the Mint at Carson City – A Short Full Life, which we published in 2007. In it I revealed that Crawford died at the age of 52 years and 3 months; and I was excited to include several images of him.
Second, I discovered a fact four years after the release of my book about Crawford that I had wished I could have included in that book, because it pertained to a significant event that happened under Crawford’s watch. While doing research for another writing project, I found an obscure news briefing in a Nevada newspaper from April 1876 that revealed that the Carson City Mint had coined the one and only output of 1876 twenty-cent pieces (or double dimes) in March that year. This is the third rarest date-denomination that has survived from the Carson City Mint, with only 18 specimens extant, and until my discovery writers had always speculated that the total mintage of 10,000 pieces had been struck sometime before the end of June 1876. Now we know that it happened in March.
A third interesting fact I discovered concerns the disproportionately high output of gold half eagles and eagles ($5 and $10 pieces) at the Carson City Mint in 1891. In my study of U.S. monetary policy in the late nineteenth century, I learned that the mintage of those gold pieces at the Carson City Mint coincided with fears the U.S. government had that foreign creditors, to whom the U.S. owed huge sums of money, were about to drain U.S. gold reserves in the early years of the 1890s. Those creditors preferred payment in the form of the largest gold denomination issued by the U.S. Mint system: double eagles (or $20 gold pieces). Leaders at the U.S. Treasury Department believed that if the only gold coins available to foreign creditors were the smaller denominations of gold coins, demand for payment in gold coins would subside. This in part explains why we see significant increases in production of gold half eagles and eagles at not only the Carson City Mint but also at the Philadelphia Mint beginning around 1891. (The San Francisco Mint concentrated, as it always had done, on the production of double eagles at this time.)
CW: What coin have you purchased (either as a dealer or a collector) and then sold, only to later regret selling it?
RG: During my career as a coin dealer, I have always believed that I have served only as a custodian of the coins in my inventory. I have always considered it my job (and responsibility) to help my clients build their collections. Whenever I have owned a coin, which I considered very special and would have preferred to hold for the long term, that I showed to a client and the client expressed a passionate desire to own, I have sold it to him or her, with no regrets. My reward has come in satisfying my clients. Still, I have always been grateful for the privilege of owning so many special coins, even if only for a fleeting time.
CW: What is the most challenging part of converting your business to an online one, now that you’ve had to close your physical store when you lost your lease?
RG: Well, since the transition is still in progress (only one month as of this writing), I will probably revisit this question more reflectively in the future.
But one thing I noticed even when we were in the final days of operating our brick-and-mortar shop, was that I knew I would miss the one-on-one interaction with the customers. My wife Marie summed it up cleverly when she said, “For the past 27 years [which includes our time in our Las Vegas and Reno shops], you have held court every day, six days a week, enjoying the company of friends and customers.” That is so true. Now I will have to correspond and communicate more through email and by phone; I might even have to get a Smart phone!
I know I am going to miss the daily question-and-answer sessions with visitors to the store; and I have always enjoyed pulling inventory out of our display cases or bringing something from my reference library and showing them to people. I will miss getting their immediate reactions to what I have shown them. We’ll just have to see how many of those experiences we will be able to replicate through our website.
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