The first Trade Dollars appeared in 1873, not for use in America, but primarily in Asia. Since most were shipped overseas, collectors in America struggled to find examples. As usual, the Mint offered Proof versions for sale to collectors (at a premium, of course), but Uncirculated versions were another story. This is why high-grade Trade Dollars are so elusive and valuable today. To illustrate, the Condition Census for the 1873 Trade Dollar drops from a high of MS-67 (only a single coin) to a low of MS-64 in 10th place. This is completely out of character for a first-year-of-issue coin, where the Census almost always consists of numerous high-grade examples because of the hoarding by collectors of the new design.
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).
Authorization of trade dollars: The Coinage Act of February 12, 1873, framed by the Treasury Department and' refined by much discussion in Congress, generally revised the coinage laws. Among many other provisions, the act created the trade dollar. One of the most relevant sections of the act is the following:
Section 21: That any owner of silver bullion may deposit the same at any mint, to be formed into bars, or into dollars of the weight of 420 grains, troy, designated in this act as trade dollars, and no deposit of silver for other coinage shall be received; but silver bullion contained in gold deposits, and separated there from, may be paid for in silver coin, at such valuation as may be, from time to time, established by the director of the Mint.
In essence, the foregoing stated that owners of silver bullion could deposit the same at any mint and receive trade dollars in payment, but could not receive dimes, quarters, or half dollars. If such silver had been obtained as a by-product of gold refining, then subsidiary coins could be paid out in exchange, at the discretion of the Mint director. Other provisions, including Section 28, discussed subsidiary coins, but in practice few silver coins other than trade dollars were paid out in 1873.
The charge for converting silver bullion to trade dollars was to be set by the director of the Mint, with the concurrence of the secretary of the Treasury, so as to equal, but not to exceed, in their judgment, the actual average cost to each mint of labor, wastage, machinery, and other expenses.
In his memoirs, Sen. John Sherman observed this concerning the Coinage Act of 1873: (John Sherman's Recollections of Forty Years in the House, Senate, and Cabinet, Vol. I, p. 467. Years later, in 1888, Sen. Beck said in open forum that Sherman was responsible for the Act of 1873 and that it was "secretly passed and surreptitiously done." The charge was easily refuted by Sherman, who produced original documents from the Treasury Department. Ibid; Vol. II, p. 1010.)"There was never a bill proposed in the Congress of the United States which was so publicly and openly presented and agitated. I know of no bill in my experience which was printed, as this was, 13 times, in order to invite attention to it. I know no bill which was freer from any immoral or wrong influence than this Act of 1873."
Competition with Mexico: The reign of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico 1866-7 saw the production of silver pesos with his portrait. Such coins, differing as they did from the traditional Mexican cap-and-rays eight-reales design in use for years, were rejected by Chinese merchants, thus affording an opportunity for American Liberty Seated dollars (see Coinage Context under the 1867 Liberty Seated dollar listing) and, later, trade dollars.
A telegram from Henry R. Linderman, director of the Mint, to James Pollock, superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint, June 25, 1873, stated the following: (This and Pollock's reply are taken from a quotation in U.S. Trade Dollars 1873-1878, John Lazirko, 1989, P. 7.)
When will you commence coinage of the Trade Dollar. Mexican congress has restored the dollar [design] prior to eighteen sixty seven (1867). Not a moment to be lost in the issue of our dollar.
Pollock replied by letter on July 11, 1873: I send you specimen of trade dollar in tin, (This is the variety known today as Judd-1330.
Multiple examples exist. John Lazirko notes (ibid., p. 8) that in the 1970s a specimen was analyzed by the University of New Hampshire. It was found to be 10 parts tin and one part copper.) Struck today.
We will commence the regular coinage of the trade in a few hours. The enclosed will give you a tolerably correct idea of the silver dollar.
Trade dollars legal tender at the outset: Trade dollars were legal tender up to the amount of $5 worth in any transaction. At the time this was fine and dandy, for a trade dollar contained about $1.02 worth of silver. However, in 1874 the value declined to about $1, and in 1875, it dropped further to about 98Â¢. After this time, actually in 1876, the trade dollar's legal tender status was voided.
Production of business strikes: Production began on July 11, 1873 at the Philadelphia Mint. As the San Francisco Mint was the least distant from China, from the outset the Treasury established a policy of sending the largest number of dies to San Francisco, where it expected that the majority of silver deposits would be made, intended for coinage into trade dollars.
Contemporary commentary: The first business strike trade dollars were made at the Philadelphia Mint on July 11, 1873. The Philadelphia Evening Telegram of that date noted in part:
Foreigners and others who are not familiar with our money have experienced considerable difficulty in handling our coin in exchange, because its comparative value and fineness were unknown to them. As our silver dollar was believed to be as nearly a true standard of value as was convenient, it was generally taken as the basis of commercial calculations where no special agreement concerning the money to be used in settlement was agreed upon. To cast aside all doubt, however, and to render our dollar piece perfectly intelligible to the people of all countries, as well as to conform to the new price of silver (formerly $1.225 per standard oz., but now $1.20), the "Trade Dollar" was especially designed. It has its positive degree of fineness, or quality, expressed on its face, as well as its weight; hence the holder of any given quantity is enabled to at once tell the exact value of the money he may have on hand. To our people this would be a matter of but little importance because we know exactly what our coins are worth; but with the foreigner the case is vastly different. The simplifying of the coin makes the people of all countries familiar with its value, and at once strips the piece of all the mystery with which the bankers, exchange brokers, and others are wont to surround it, thus placing it upon the market of every country and appropriately naming it the "Trade Dollar."
At the outset the desire was to ornament the coin with a device which should at once typify the country to which it belonged, as well as the uses to which it was to be put; hence, there has been placed on the obverse a female figure seated on bales of merchandise, holding in her left hand a scroll bearing the word LIBERTY. At her back is a wheat sheaf to express, with the bale of goods, the combined agricultural and commercial character of the coin, while her right hand, extended toward the open sea, bears aloft the olive branch, to express the peace invitation and a cordial greeting to all the distant nations of the earth, which ever accompany the mutual interests of commerce. On a scroll immediately beneath the bale of goods are the words IN GOD WE TRUST.
The reverse has around the outer circle the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA-TRADE DOLLAR. In the centre is an eagle bearing in its claws three arrows and a sprig of olive. In a scroll directly over the eagle are the words E PLURIBUS UNUM. Immediately underneath is the indication of its value: 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE.
The coining of these new pieces commenced this morning, but it will be some days before a sufficient number of the dies are finished, to enable the mint to fill all the orders which are already on hand.
Distribution of business strikes: On July 14, 40,000 coins. were released. Ensuing months saw strong business strike production, except for October when none was coined. The record output for the year was achieved in September, when 103,500 were struck. Trade dollars first reached China in October 1873 where they met a good reception. Nearly all of the 1873 trade dollars went to that country.
Circulated grades: In worn grades the 1873 trade dollar is quite scarce. It is estimated that only about 1,250 to 2,000 exist, making it second only to the 1875 among Philadelphia Mint coins at this grade level.
Mint State grades: Nearly all business strikes were shipped to China. At the time there was virtually no numismatic interest in business strikes of either Philadelphia Mint or branch mint issues, as nearly all collectors acquired pieces by date sequence only. It was not until the publication of Mint Marks in 1893, by Augustus G. Heaton, that the collecting of mintmarks became popular, and even then it did not extend to the trade dollar denomination. Business strike trade dollars were not widely collected until well into the twentieth century.
Until relatively recent times-the decade of the 1970s-business strikes of Philadelphia Mint coins were ignored in favor of Proofs, which were considered to be a better quality. Today, the Proof finish is rightly viewed as a different quality; a different method of finish. To give credit where credit is due, the New Netherlands Coin Company in its catalogues of the 1950s and 1960s, and Walter H. Breen in his various writings, are responsible for the increase in awareness of the desirability and rarity of business strike Philadelphia Mint coins.
The survival of Mint State coins at or near the time of issue was strictly a matter of chance. As was the case with the 1840 Liberty Seated silver, there was no "first year of issue saving syndrome" with the 1873 trade dollar.
Probably fewer than 150 to 250 MS-60 to 62 coins exist. There seems to be a concentration of somewhere between 50 and 100 each at the MS-63 and MS-64 levels, after which the population drops off precipitously to perhaps 10 to 15 MS-65 coins. Some specimens show lightness of striking at the top of the obverse or the bottom of the obverse and/or on the eagle's sinister leg.
OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876
REVERSE TYPE I: BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1873-1876
1. Normal serifs: Breen-5778. Reverse with normal serifs. Most specimens known today are chopmarked.
2. Broken serifs: Breen-5779. Reverse with broken serifs at E (of STATES) and F (of OF) from hub damage. Others may exist with additional broken letters. Most specimens known today are chopmarked, This same hub was used to create Proof dies (see Proof No. 2 below).
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown
Business strike mintage: 396,900.
Delivery figures by month: July: 99,000; August: 94,000; September: 103,500; October: none; November: 16,400; December: 84,000.1
Additional business strike mintage data: Delivery figures by day:2 July 14: 40,000; July 18: 21,000; July 21: 11,000; July 23: 19,000; July 31: 8,000; August 8: 21,000; August 15: 12,000; August 18: 12,000; August 21: 13,000; August 27: 8,000; August 30: 19,000; September 2: 12,000; September 3: 16,000; September 11: 20,000; September 14: 20,000; September 18: 14,000; September 23: 9,500; November 4: 13,000; November 25: 3,400; December 9: 7,000; December 10: 13,000; December 16: 13,000; December 19: 15,000; December 20: 15,000; December 23: 15,000; December 26: 6,000.
Characteristics of striking: Many are well struck; however, some have light definition on Miss Liberty's head and on the eagle's sinister leg and talons. Some have slight lightness of striking near the bottom of the obverse-an unusual situation among trade dollars. The lustre on Mint State often is more of a satiny or "greasy" appearance than deeply frosty.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: None
Rarity with original Chinese chopmark(s): Common; more so than unchopmarked pieces.
The first business strikes were released on July 14, 1873; nearly all were shipped to China; most business strikes known today are chopmarked.
The Beginning of Trade Dollar Coinage
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1873 told of the trade dollar, its status, and that coinage of the new denomination had not yet begun:
"The trade dollar of silver authorized by the coinage act is designed expressly for export, and has no fixed value as compared with gold. It is in no proper sense a monetary standard or unit of account, and is not included or referred to .when the silver coins for home use are spoken of; the latter being purposely overvalued, as before stated, to retain them in circulation. Having been made a legal tender in limited amounts, it may eventually, if the price of silver relative to gold falls sufficiently, to some extent enter into home circulation, but its export value will always be in excess of that of the subsidiary silver coin, its bullion value or quantity of pure metal being about 8-1/2% in excess.
"The issue of the trade dollar was not commenced until nearly a month after the close of the fiscal year. It has been shipped to some extent to China and Japan,(QDB note: In actuality, few were shipped to Japan. Most went to Chinese ports.)but we have not, as yet, received any account of its reception in those empires. It will no doubt require a year or two for its successful introduction there."
A Critique of the Design
The following is from Numismatic Art in America, Aesthetics o/the United States Coinage, by Cornelius Vermeule, curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
"Trade Dollars and Their Patterns:
"From 1873 until 1885, merely as collectors' items in the last seven years, the mints at Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco struck a series of trade dollars, in a high grade of silver for circulation among the hard monies of the Far East. The design is a kind of glorification of all the neo-Roman symbolism popular on United States coins in the nineteenth century. In the year these silver dollars appeared, a numismatic reporter described the seated Liberty on the obverse, a design based on the Roma or Italia of Julio-Claudian to Antonine Sestertii, in the no-nonsense terms of post-Civil War commercialism. 'A female figure [is] seated on bales of merchandise, holding in her left hand a scroll bearing the word 'Liberty.' At her back is a sheaf of wheat, expressing, with the bales of goods, the commercial character of the coin: her right hand extended holds the olive branch.' (From 'The Trade Dollar,' The American Journal of Numismatics, 1873, Vol. 8, p. 32.)
"Peace and commerce are dispatched from the United States of America over the seas, for this Juno sits on a grassy plinth, inscribed with IN GOD WE TRUST and set beside the waves. A particularly satisfying eagle graces the reverse, small yet bold and a happy compromise between heraldry and concessions to feathery nature. The plethora of titles, mottoes, and inscribed statistics somehow does not seem out of place either on obverse or reverse.
"In the process of creating the trade dollar of 1873, Chief Engraver William Barber and his colleagues executed a series of six pattern trade dollars that were sold in limited sets to those interested. These dollars said just about all the idiom of neo-Romanism could express with Liberty seated, the head of Liberty, eagles posed with shields, and the standard set of inscriptions necessary to this coin of commerce. They form a handsome group, one salient quality being the uniformity of effect and detail that characterizes the designs. The eagles wave ribbons with E PLURIBUS UNUM in their beaks; or they scream while grasping arrows, the olive branch, or a shield draped with the ribbon of IN GOD WE TRUST. One reverse is all wreath and inscriptions. The most unusual presents a defiant eagle, head lowered in fighting pose, wings half spread, and claws planted firmly on olive branch, arrows, and shield, the last serving as a plinth for the whole ensemble. Lettering is of a similar, careful, printer's Victorian quality; the tondo fields are framed by Roman dentils; the stars have a uniform height and shape; and the motif of twin stars below, flanking the eagle, occurs on six of the eight reverses.
"One seated Liberty differs only in slight details from the design used on the coins put into circulation. The other three examples of ornate Roman classicism are about as unusual as any animal, bird, human, or personification on the United States coinage. The debt to the figure of Italia on brass sestertii of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in tile second century A.D. is quite direct. The Roman orb of universal domination now looks like a large medicine ball inscribed LIBERTY. The Greco-Roman turreted crown in one instance has become a feathered bonnet, like those worn by wooden cigar-store Indians. Flags, Phrygian caps on poles, a plow, bales of King Cotton, and sheaves of wheat complete the picture of American peace, freedom, and prosperity. The preoccupation with sheaves of wheat is a truly Victorian one, with its parallel in freestanding sculpture on a type of tombstone mass-produced in the generations from 1850 to 1890. A novelty of short duration on the coinage, these complex figures of Liberty or America or Columbia were to have a longer life; they exist still, as the vignettes of stock or bond certificates and banknotes.
"The two heads of Liberty in this series of patterns for the trade dollar are stringent in their Roman classicism. The wreathed headhas a pouting, compressed face, prominent lips, and a full, forceful line of the chin taken verbatim from a Greco-Roman head of the first century A.D.; they may be an ideal portrait of Julia daughter of Augustus in the guise of a goddess such as Artemis. The Roman head in marble demonstrates the source for the rough, moplike hair and the combing of heavy strands into the bun at the back. The diademed head in the series of patterns for the trade dollar is very Victorian in its pretty interpretation of Roman classicism, but it too can be related to several common Greco-Roman marbles, ancient copies after originals of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. For the length of the neck, shape of the chin, lips, line of the forehead and what can be compared of thenose, and the wavy undercutting of the hair, whether below a diadem or a thin band, I have chosen a good Hellenistic or Roman copy of the fourth-century statue known as the Artemis Colonna. Both these heads seem to have arrived in America in the 1880s, but they represent the type of antiquities first collected in the original or as plaster casts for libraries, athenaeums, historical societies, and academies of art in the United States before the scientific acquisition of classical art at the end of the nineteenth century.
"As a coin intended for circulation in a special market, the trade dollar was in many respects like a commemorative issue. At least these handsome coins afforded the designers in the Mint an opportunity to break away from the usual seated Liberty of the silver and the diademed head of that divine creature that graced the gold, or the Liberty in Indian bonnet that had become a part of the bronze penny or cent."
Proof Trade Dollars: A Shared Die
by Jesse Patrick
The following essay was contributed by Jesse Patrick for inclusion in this book:
"An element of chance always plays an important role' in any numismatic discovery. First one needs to have the discovery specimen or new information placed before him or her. Second, the viewer or interpreter of that information needs to have the right background and education in the subject at hand as well as the ability to sense the importance of what is presented .. Third and last of all, an individual needs to be alert enough to notice what is new at hand. This last element usually involves someone asking to find something new and unpublished.
"I know that as a rare coin dealer of 35 years' experience that it is very seldom that I find anything really new. It's not that I don't look, it's just that my search is very rarely rewarded. In this light I would like to share the discovery of a new trade dollar reverse which has an important on the rarity of the 1875 Type 1 Proofs and gives us what I believe are some of the' clearest insights yet into the common Mint practices regarding the maintenance and use of Proof dies generally.
"I made the following significant discovery in November 1987. I was writing descriptions of auction lots for Kagin's in San Francisco, California. As was usual, the pace was some-what hectic with many lots to be catalogued and deadlines in which to get the job done. I was handed as part of my job a complete set of trade dollars to write up for our 346th Sale which was to take place on February 4-6, 1988. This event was called the Abbey Collection and the trade dollars were offered beginning with Lot 4001. The set 1 catalogued of course lacked the 1884 and 1885, but was complete otherwise with many of the coins being brilliant Proofs aside from those other dates which are only known in Proof.
"As I began cataloguing the 1873 I noticed that the coin was not only somewhat hairlined but also had many harsh reverse die striations which could be confused with hairlines, and so 1 noted that in my description. The most distinctive of the reverse lines were two light, very close parallel die striations (separation of the two can be seen at the beginning; later the two appear as one) that begin at the branch stem, continue through the bottom arrow feather, and extend in an arc past the top of the first 0 and through the center of the second 0 of .900, continuing between AR and to the edge below R of DOLLAR. To the uninitiated, the striations look like a tiny scratch.
"That a Proof trade dollar reverse was thus so readily identifiable by these marks was unusual and interesting in itself.
But when I discovered that the 1874 and 1875 Proofs in this set were also struck from this very same reverse die I was astounded. The probability of having Proofs of these three different dates all struck from the same reverse die in one set was simply beyond belief.
"The 1875 Proof in the set which shared the same reverse as the 1873 and 1874 was of course the Type I reverse, easily identified by a berry under the eagle's claw to right. Walter Breen did not list any of the die characteristics of the striated reverse described above for any of the three years of trade dollars in his monumental book on Proof coins.
"It is important to note that the three coins examined showed progressively weaker evidence of the striations mentioned over the three years of coinage, a situation most likely due to being repeatedly polished. It thus becomes apparent that unless Breen had seen and described a late state of this same die, with the striations removed through polishing, that there are in fact at least two different reverse dies employed in the striking of the 1875 Type 1 Proofs. This use of two dies implies that there may be more of this variety extant than previously believed.
"The story these three coins tell of Mint procedures is quite interesting. It is evident that the Mint had specific dies set aside from which to coin Proofs. These were taken off the shelf each year and repolished after removing the protective grease coating undoubtedly given them to prevent rust from forming. Thus the die in question shows successively weaker impressions of the striations over, the three years of its use. No doubt if put into regular production to coin business strikes the light surface marks described would not have held up for very long.
"The characteristics described I consider diagnostic for the authentication of Proofs in cases where such status is called into question. It is very easy to consider these light surface characteristics as just more hairlines on an already hairlined or impaired coin. That the mint had specific dies it used for Proofs and maintained them explicitly for that purpose is not new information, of course. However, I cannot recall off hand any clearer illustration of the practice. It would be interesting to know of any more lengthy uses of Proof dies than the three-year period cited above.(DB note: In the Indian cent series a common die was used to coin certain Proofs from 1872 through 1877; pieces from this die are identifiable by having the upper right arm of the T in CENT in the form of a high-relief "blob," quite unlike the flat appearance of the left arm.) Perhaps the element of chance will soon yield to the discovery of an even more lengthy use of Proof dies as well as additional information on Mint practices of the time."