Q. David Bowers: The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993):
Proofs only: Mintage at Philadelphia in 1878 was limited to Proofs. Mintage occurred in only four months: January 300, February 200, March 200, and May 200. Proof 1878 trade dollars were sold in sets; later issues, 1879-1883, were sold as singles.
Some remain unsold: By early1879 there were 219 unsold 1878-dated Proofs on hand. These were distributed, presumably for bullion value or possibly face value, probably to coin dealers. This indicates that the Mint's production of 200 Proofs in May 1878 was not needed, for these were never sold at a premium.
The official Mint issue price for Proof trade dollars from 1878 to 1883 was $1.025 each, according to one account, because the coin had been demonetized; most other sources give the figure as $1.25 each, a figure with which R.W. Julian agrees. (Earlier, when the coins were worth $1 face value each, 1873 Proofs were sold for $1.75 each in paper money or $1.50 each in silver.)
Two hoards: The late Don Corrado Romano, proprietor of the Worthy Coin Company, Boston, commenced to hoard examples of this issue in the 1940s and by circa 1960 had acquired a group estimated at 100 to 200 pieces. Max Mizel, a New York City dealer, purchased several dozen pieces over a period of time in the 1950s and 1960s. Presumably, both hoards have been dispersed in the years since their formation.
Availability of Proofs today: Most of the 900 original Proof pieces still survive. Examples are available, for a price, in the Proof-64 and better range. Most extant coins are Proof-60 to Proof-63, although on occasion the remark has been heard that Proofs of this date are rather plentiful in gem (Proof-64 or better) state. This has been a very popular date with numismatists of the twentieth century, who delight in low mintage figures.
OBVERSE TYPE II, RIBBON ENDS POINT DOWN, 1876-1885
REVERSE TYPE II: NO BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1875-1885
1. Normal date: All are probably of one type. Walter H. Breen asks this question: Have any the broken R and/or missing periods of 1877-8 dies? If a new hub was used, how is it differentiated? Very slight traces of repunching on the date, particularly at the left side of the central 8 and 7.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown
Proof mintage: 900. 683 sold in 1878, 217 sold for bullion or face value in 1879;(Per the research of R. W. Julian published in 1986.) Proofs only. Delivery figures by month: January: 300; February: 200; March: 200; April: none; May: 200; June-December: none.