1876-CC Seated Liberty Twenty-Cent

The twenty-cent piece is the shortest-lived denomination of all United States coins. Business strikes were issued for only two years, 1875-1876. Twenty-cent coins were also struck in 1877-1878, but were limited to proof examples.(1)

Why was the twenty-cent piece created? The reason given publicly was that it was needed to help make change in the American West, where the five-cent nickel did not circulate. Critics countered the oddball denomination was nothing more than a political manifestation of the silver mining industry.

Regardless, authorization for the new twenty-cent piece was provided by the Coinage Act of March 3, 1875.(2)

The twenty-cent piece turned out to be a monumental flop. Perhaps the coin might have gained a foothold in American society had it not been so easily confused with the quarter of that era. Its diameter was more than 90% that of the quarter, and both coins carried the same Seated Liberty design on the obverse. The close similarity between the two caused too many faulty business transactions. No wonder there were so many complaints from the public.(3)

More than one million twenty-cent pieces were minted in 1875. As the negative reaction intensified, the government recognized its error and scaled back production drastically the following year. At the branch mint in Carson City, only 10,000 were produced in 1876, most of them never leaving the facility.

On May 19, 1877, Mint Director Henry Linderman directed Superintendent James Crawford in Carson City to melt down all twenty-cent pieces on hand. Virtually the entire 1876-CC mintage was destroyed, alongside any leftovers from 1875.

However, a small number escaped the melting pot. Some samples were sent back east for the 1877 Assay Commission. Researchers believe these were saved for posterity and comprise the bulk of the known survivors of the 1876-CC. Evidence suggests a small number were distributed to the public from the Carson City Mint, explaining why some specimens show wear.(4)

In all, only 19 examples of the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece are believed to exist today,(5) making it one of the rarest coins in United States numismatics. Most of them are in Mint Sate condition.(6)

Fascinating Fact: The extreme rarity of the 1876-CC baffled numismatists for many years. Out of 10,000 struck, it was thought more examples would have survived. It wasn’t until the early 1960s when researcher Walter Thompson uncovered Linderman’s directive memo, at long last shedding light on the true fate of the 1876-CC twenty-cent piece.(7)

The first recorded sale of the 1876-CC occurred at a January 1890 auction, when an example realized a relatively high price of $7.00. Since then, this coin went on to become one of the greatest prizes in American coin collecting, worth easily a six-figure sum.(8)

Estimated survivors in all grades: 19
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 9.1
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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1. Garrett, Jeff and Guth, Ron.  100 Greatest U.S. Coins, 5th ed.  Pelham, AL: Whitman Publishing, 2019.

2. Heritage Auctions.  1876-CC 20C.  Apr 2009 Auction.

3. Garrett, Jeff and Guth, Ron.  100 Greatest U.S. Coins, 5th ed.  Pelham, AL: Whitman Publishing, 2019.

4. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1876-CC Twenty-Cent Piece.  Jan 2013 Auction.

5. PCGS.  1876-CC 20C (Regular Strike).

6. Garrett, Jeff and Guth, Ron.  100 Greatest U.S. Coins, 5th ed.  Pelham, AL: Whitman Publishing, 2019.

7. Heritage Auctions.  1876-CC 20C.  Aug 2022 Auction.

8. Gibbs, William T., Managing Editor.  Coin World Domestic Values.  Sidney, OH. Amos Media Company. 2023.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries.