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):
Proof mintage records ambiguous: Proofs were struck for collectors beginning in July 1873, at which time 200 were produced. More followed each month through December, except for November. The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1887, which gave monthly production figures for all trade dollars-Proofs and business strikes-from 1873 through 1883, stated that 600 were produced as follows: July: 200; August: 100; September: 100; October: 100; November: none; December: 100. I believe this to be the correct figure, based upon the number of surviving specimens today.
However, numismatic researcher Harry X Boosel located internal Mint records which were not specific by months but which indicated that Proofs were made as follows: Struck from July 1 to September 30: 600; struck from October 1 to December 31st: 265; total 865. According to the same account, 25 unsold 1873-dated Proof trade dollars were on hand January 1, 1874. The disposition of these is unknown. I believe that there is an inaccuracy in this account, but offer no explanation, except perhaps to suggest that some of the coins were Proof patterns.
Another possibility (less likely) is that just 500 Proofs were struck. This figure would result in an even number of 397,000 business strikes plus 500 Proofs for the year, for a total production (per Mint records) of 397,500. The correct answer to the Proof mintage of 1873 may never be known.
Walter H. Breen suggests that about 200 Proofs of this date were sold to souvenir hunters (rather than numismatists); perhaps most of these were later spent. (Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of us. and Colonial Proof Coins, p. 146.) This would account for the existence today of low-grade Proofs. Among Proofs seen in numismatic circles, many have been cleaned and/or are lightly struck in areas.
Proofs not popular in 1873: Numismatic tradition holds that Proof trade dollars at the time of their initial issue were unpopular with numismatists. Proofs were sold as part of silver sets, and separately at $1.75 each in paper money or exchange draft; $1.50 in silver coins. It is my opinion that most Proof 1873 trade dollars-probably more than half of them-were spent. The same comment applies more or less to all other Proof trade dollars through and including the year 1877, with the earlier dates being the rarer ones. At some times during the late nineteenth century when the government would not redeem them at par, Proof trade dollars were held in such low esteem that coin dealers were willing to sell them for less than face value.
Proofs rare today; an explanation: Today, this situation affects the numismatist who owns one in that Proofs of the 1873-1877 years, once unwanted, are very difficult to locate in any state of preservation, and are especially so in Proof-64 or Proof-65. However, market values have not reflected this rarity, for the later-date Proof trade dollars, 1878-1883, are rarer as dates, because no related business strike mintages were produced. Thus, in the early 1990s the typical coin buyer entering the market would find a "rare" Proof 1880 trade dollar, of which 1,987 were struck, to be ostensibly more attractive to buy than a hard to find Proof 1873, with a Proof mintage of 600 (or 865?) coins, for 1873 trade dollars also exist in large numbers in business strike form.
Today, the 1873 is the rarest Proof date of the regular 1873-1883 issues.
OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876
REVERSE TYPE I: BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1873-1876
Proofs: 1. Normal reverse: Breen-5778. Normal reverse (in contrast to No.2). One in the Katen Sale of June 1993, Lot 91, had flatness on the eagle's sinister claws; areas of unfinished surface at the junctions of the olive leaves, and between the olive leaves and the eagle's tail, also between the branch and the eagle's sinister leg; a whisper of a hairline crack extends from the right curve of R in TRADE horizontally to the adjacent A.
2. Patched letters reverse: Reverse from a die created from a damaged hub (also see Business Strike No.2 above) with the following characteristics: (A) Early state. Small raised fragment inside D of UNITED, attached to the right interior side just above the halfway point; tops of E in STATES and F in OF patched (visible only under high magnification, but very distinctive; the E's in UNITED and AMERICA are from different punches). Many raised die preparation lines in field, particularly at the bottom of the eagle and below it. Narrow area between eagle's tail and eagle's dexter leg not polished (compare this to 1875 Proof Reverse No.2, which has this polished). Most known 1873 Proofs are from this early state and are more deeply mirrored than Proofs from the later state. (B) Later state with die surfaces repolished. Letter characteristics as preceding, but die preparation lines polished off the die. New die lines, probably caused by the slip of an engraving tool, consist of two minute, closely parallel die scratches from the branch stem, through lowest arrow butt, through 00 (of 900), changing to just one scratch from that point to the rim between A and R of DOLLAR, and with shorter die scratches on the raised rim above ED (of UNITED) and the space to the right. This later state of the reverse was polished again (thus slightly diminishing the depth of the .die scratches) and was also used to coin Type I reverse trade dollar Proofsdated 1874 and 1875. Discovered by Jesse Patrick (see expanded commentary under Additional Information below). All impressions from this die show seen by the author show weak striking on the eagle's sinister leg and claws. 1873 obverse shows slight "chip" out of the outside of the left upper curve of 8 in 1878.
Note: So far as is known, Proofs of the varieties described above under nos. 1 and 2 are all from a common obverse die. There is a fairly deep die scratch extending straight from the bottom left segment of the bale, at an angle slightly upward through the folds of Miss Liberty's gown, terminating in the waves of the sea. Although this prominent feature has been ignored for many years, it was mentioned by Lyman H. Low in the description of an 1873 Proof trade dollar in the R.T. Rose Collection Sale, September 9-10, 1909: "A distinguishing feature of this specimen is a well defined line (in the die) through the outer skirt of Liberty, extending from the cotton bale to water."
Proofs: Dies prepred: Obverse: At least 1; Reverse: At least 2 Proof mintage from Mint Report records: 600 (orb 865 or 500, see earlier text);
Monthly mintage figures, believed to be incorrect, per the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint: January June: none; July: 200; August: 100; September: 100; October: 100; November: none; December: 100; The following figures are from Mint records now in the National Archives, the same source used by the Mint director in compiling the Annual Report:
Proof delivery figures by day: July 21: 100; July 31: 100; August 11: 100; September 19: 100; October 23: 100; December 12: 50; December 24: 50.
Proof mintage from other Mint records: Figures, believed to be correct, from other Mint records:" struck from July 1 to September 30: 600; struck from October 1 to December 31st: 265; total 865; unsold 1873 Proofs on hand January 1, 1874: 25, the disposition of which is unknown.
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 1 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."