US Coins

An 1870-CC gold $20 double eagle includes a rich story

Heritage will offer a recently re-discovered 1870-CC Coronet gold $20 double eagle Oct. 7 at its Premier Session auction in Dallas, a coin that stayed in the same family for five generations.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Heritage Auctions will offer a recently re-discovered 1870-CC Coronet gold $20 double eagle on Oct. 7 with a wonderful story.

Between 55 and 65 examples are believed to have survived from a mintage of 3,789 double eagles struck at the famed Nevada facility, and no Mint State survivors are known. The offered coin is graded Extremely Fine 40 by Professional Coin Grading Service, and Heritage observes bright surfaces with “a thin outline of russet patina surrounding the devices.” The firm adds, “Each side is minimally abraded, with the most distinctive mark for pedigree purposes being a mark just above the coronet, between stars 6 and 7.”

A family history of the coin is included in the lot, which states that it was acquired by Hirum Murdock and his wife Rachel, who were among the original Mormons in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. They were married by Brigham Young — who later founded the Mormon Church — and the couple would move to Minnesota in 1865. There, “Their closest neighbors were a band of Chippewa Indians, with whom their children played and, together, tried to survive the bitter Minnesota Winters.” The family adds that, since the Native Americans were their trading partners, “It is entirely possible that the $20 gold piece came from that activity since the Sioux were the primary trading group between Minnesota and Nevada.” The piece would descend in the family through five generations and “has been completely unknown to collectors since mintmark collecting has been in existence.”

Once unappreciated Mint marks

Collecting coins by Mint mark was popularized with Augustus Heaton’s 1893 book Mintmarks, which led to collectors recognizing rare issues like the 1870-CC double eagle. Rusty Goe’s recently published Volume I of The Confident Carson City Collector devotes 14 pages to the issue, including the offering of one in a May 1915 B. Max Mehl auction, where it sold for just $3.50 more than face value, showing that the issue saw little premium over face value in the early 20th century. Momentum started to build in the 1940s; today Goe writes that, over the past three decades, prices have “rocketed to previously unfathomable levels.” A comparably graded example certified by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. sold for $360,000 earlier this year at a Heritage auction.

The family letter further notes, “Hirum, Rachel and their children were desperately poor during the 1865–1880 period and the story is that Hirum acquired the $20 gold piece at a time when he and Rachel did not have enough money to buy shoes for all their children and food was scarce. He was roundly criticized at the time for such an extravagance,” leading Heritage to observe, “That last passage reveals something many in numismatics usually do not want to talk about, how some collectors have actually suffered and made their family suffer, or at least do without modern conveniences, for the sake of building their collections.”

Goe writes, “Collectors might dream about finding an 1870-CC $20 gold piece with mesmerizing eye appeal, but after reality sets in hopes are dashed.” However, Heritage says that the offered coin “has a well-balanced appearance from side to side,” and concludes, “It is certain that few if any 1870-CC twenties will appear on the market in the future with the pedigree similar to this particular coin.

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