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).
Low production: By 1875 the trade dollar was firmly established in Oriental commercial circles, particularly in certain ports in China. The Philadelphia Mint production this year was low and dipped to just 218,200 circulation strikes, the lowest so far from that mint in the trade dollar series. The output was sporadic. From January through March none were struck. In April 200 circulation strikes are reported to have been made (and are so considered in this text, but there is a strong possibility that these were Proofs; if so, the figures will have to be adjusted accordingly to a total mintage of 900 Proofs), followed by 149,000 in May, none in June or July, 69,000 in August, and none for the rest of the year.
As chopmarked coins are very scarce today, it is quite possible that much of the 1875 Philadelphia Mint trade dollar coinage was used domestically in the United States.
Copycats: As the United States trade dollar became accepted in China, the Japanese government came up with its own ideas to mount a challenge. Its own current silver yen, which weighed 416 grains, .900 fine, were being increasingly rejected. In 1874 pattern Japanese trade dollars were minted, and in 1875 Japan began to coin a copycat version of the United States trade dollar, creating a Japanese coin with this inscription in English: 420 GRAINS Trade Dollar .900 FINE.
Type I and Type II issues: During 1875, to silence Coiner Archibald Loudon Snowden's complaints about striking quality, Chief Engraver William Barber put a new reverse hub ("Type II") into use. Proofs and circulation strikes exist from old and new hubs. The old hub, Type I (1873-1876), has a berry below the eagle's claw; the new (Type II) lacks it - a difference easily seen with the naked eye. Among 1875 trade dollars, circulation strikes as well as Proofs, the Type I reverse is considerably the scarcer of the two.
Type I reverse coins probably constituted all 200 circulation strikes made in April (if indeed these were circulation strikes; this is doubtful; they were probably Proofs) and a small minority of 149,000 pieces struck in May.
As noted in the introduction to the trade dollar section, beginning in the following year, 1876, there was an obverse hub change also. The Type I obverse is readily distinguished by having the ends of the ribbon (on which LIBERTY is imprinted) pointing to the left. The new Type II obverse, introduced in 1876, has the ribbon ends pointing downward. A coin with a Type I obverse and Type I reverse is referred to as Type I/I, a coin with a Type I obverse and Type II reverse is Type I/II, etc. (The obverse hub change is mentioned here because of unconfirmed rumors of 1875-dated coins with obverse Type II.)
A famous date: The circulation strike 1875 Philadelphia Mint trade dollar has acquired a certain halo of fame in recent decades, due no doubt to comments such as this, by John M. Willem: (The United States Trade Dollar, p. 153.)
Regarding the relative rarity of the trade dollars of the various mints, from the standpoint of the collector trying to assemble a complete collection, the most difficult to secure is the 1875 Philadelphia. The regular coinage of Philadelphia was the lowest that year of any of the years the Philadelphia Mint coined trade dollars. This coin is also most difficult to secure with a chopmark stamped upon it, indicating its actual circulation in China. With a specimen of the regular coinage of 1875 at Philadelphia hard to find, collectors compete for Proof coins to satisfy their needs for a trade dollar of this date minted at Philadelphia.
Coins come out of hiding: In his Encyclopedia, p. 468, Walter H. Breen wrote that 1875 circulation strikes are "rare," an adjective that has been employed in a few dealers' listings offering the date. Of course, the question can be asked: What is rare? Rare, scarce, or whatever, the 1875 is somewhat more available today than earlier believed.
Publicity given to this date seems to have brought some Mint State coins "out of the woodwork." In his 1980 study of the series, (Maurice Rosen. "The U.S. Trade Dollar Series: An In-Depth Study." Gobrecht Journal, March 1980.)Maurice Rosen suggested that perhaps only a dozen or so Mint State pieces were known (in all Mint State preservations), although publicity given to the 1875 in the mid-1970s has brought others out of hiding. Since then, more have surfaced.
In the 1970s, one of my clients stated that it took him three years of intense searching to locate a satisfactory Mint State specimen of this year. However, since then dozens of Uncirculated coins have come on the market, including some in higher levels, with the result that today the 1875 in Mint State has lost its awesome status. To be sure, it is rarer than 1873 and 1874 Philadelphia coins, but not that much rarer. At the MS-65 level, the 1875 is actually more available than the other two dates. (Also see under Additional Information below for "Marc Emory's Special Coin.")
Circulated grades: Worn unchopmarked specimens are scarcer than any other Philadelphia Mint circulation strike trade dollar. Still, somewhere between 750 and 1,500 coins are believed to exist in grades from VF-20 to AU-58. The vast majority are of the Type II reverse. In Henry Christensen's sale catalogue for the John M. Willem Collection, 1980, Willem's best coin of this variety was "AU-Unc." and was accompanied by this notation: "Type I is rare in any condition. It took Mr. Willem many years to find this piece."
Among chopmarked 1875 trade dollars, those of Type I/I are very scarce, and those of Type I/II are believed to be extremely rare. This ratio needs further study; it indicates a reversal of the proportion of non-chopmarked pieces.
Mint State grades: Today, I estimate that 10 to 20 1875 trade dollars exist at the MS-65 level, 25 to 50 in MS-64, 55 to 90 in MS-63, and 100 to 175 in ranges from MS-60 to 62. I suspect that I may be a bit conservative at the lower level, and more MS-60 or so coins may survive. Nearly all Mint State coins seen have been of the I/II type.
Maurice Rosen commented as follows: (Letter to the author, January 22, 1992.)
Finest known is the piece graded MS-68 by PCGS. I bought this coin at a Long Beach Convention in 1973 for $1,900. It later appeared in a Pine Tree auction (First Coinvestors) in November 1975, realizing $3,100 and going later to the famous Fairfield Collection, later auctioned by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries in October 1977 at $7,250. Reportedly, it changed hands near the $25,000 level during the 1980 market peak. I dare say, the coin was worth well into the six figures at the 1989 market peak and would likely still fetch a six-figure price today. I can still recall the hypnotic, dazed feeling I had back in 1973 when I first held the coin in my quivering hand. To quote a new popular saying, "It doesn't get much better than that!"
OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876
REVERSE TYPE I: BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1873-1876
1. Breen-5788. Comprises part of the 149,000 delivered in May. Walter H. Breen examined under 20 Type 1/1 coins from 1988 to date. Very rare; possibly rarer in all grades than the 1878-CC trade dollar. Trade dollar specialist Joseph Rust examined three certified MS-64 1875 trade dollars and found that none was of the III type (all were 1/II). Accurate population studies remain to be conducted for 1/1, although for starters it seems to the author that 1/1 is at least 5 to 10 times rarer unchopmarked than 1/11. Unfortunately, the leading certification services do not distinguish the types when they certify trade dollars. Believed to be more available chopmarked (but still very scarce) than unmarked. Presumably, most of the mintage went to China; only a small number of 1/1 coins circulated domestically.
OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876
REVERSE TYPE II: NO BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1875-1885
1. Breen-5789. Type I/II probably comprises all of the 69,000 delivered later in the year, and possibly part of the 149,000 made earlier. Much less rare than TypeI/I; since 1988 Walter H. Breen has examined over 100 in all grades.' This is a change from the information presented in his Encyclopedia, p. 468, which stated this: "Type II [reverse] circulation strikes are rarer than 1878-CC." Cf. Auction '87: 1835, Uncirculated. However, chopmarked pieces may be very rare; as of 1991, Walter H. Breen knew of only one.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown. (On January 3, 1876, six obverse and seven reverse dies were destroyed.)
Circulation strike mintage: 218,200. Delivery figures by month: January-March: none; April: 200; May: 149,000; June: none; July: none; August: 69,000; September-December: none. This averages out to 36,366 per die-pair, if the dies destroyed were all actually used for 1875 circulation strikes; or 43,640 if one obverse was a Proof die. In either event, this was far below average.
Characteristics of striking: Usually seen well struck. Mint State coins are often very lustrous.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: None
Rarity with original Chinese chopmark(s): Type I/I. Very scarce; 1875 Type I/II. Exceedingly rare.
In circulation strike form, especially in Mint State, this is the most famous Philadelphia Mint issue. The 1875 has the lowest circulation strike mintage of any trade dollar from this mint.
Trade Dollars in 1875
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1875, told the status of the trade dollar at that time: "The trade dollar. In the latter part of the year 1872, it became apparent that the change in the German monetary system, and other causes affecting the demand and supply, would produce a serious decline in the value of silver and injuriously affect our silver mining interests.
"To provide a market for the silver mined in the western portion of our country, a coin of a standard likely to make it acceptable in China was authorized early in the following year, 1873. About two years afterward, January 1875, a law looking to the substitution of silver for the paper fractional currency was enacted. Upon a superficial examination the trade dollar may be supposed to interfere with the plan of substituting silver for the fractional currency; such, however, is not the case, its coinage not having the least effect on the general market-price of silver. The real effect is to make something of a local market at San Francisco, and if our annual production of that metal was not more than the mints could coin, the silver production of the Pacific coast would command slightly better rates; but the fact is, the coining capacity of the mints for silver coins of less denomination than the dollar is not equal to more than half the production, and two years' yield of the mines will, it is probable, furnish sufficient silver to manufacture all the fractional coins that can be advantageously used in the country.
"After the redemption of the fractional notes, silver coins, with the exception of the trade dollar, can only be issued under the coinage laws in exchange at par for gold coins; and as this limitation will be a barrier to their excessive coinage, the demand for bullion for that purpose must, after two or three years, be quite small. The coining rate of silver in trade dollars is $1.14-28/100 per standard ounce. Deducting the charge of 1-1/4% on the nominal value (equal to 1-42/100 cents per ounce) gives a return to the depositor in that coin of nearly 113 cents per ounce. The fact that the average price of silver purchased for the fractional coins has been only 111-4/10 cents per standard ounce, proves that the trade dollar coinage has not influenced the price to any perceptible extent.
"The Comstock bullion, which has San Francisco for its natural market, (The director of the Mint did not consider Carson City, which also had a mint, to be a "natural market." for silver; rather, Carson City was simply a processing depot for the metal. Part of his position was political opposition to the Carson City Mint.) I consists, on the average, of 21 parts by weight of silver to one of gold. The two metals must be separated or parted before either can be brought to the legal standard for coinage. The most economical proportion for the parting operation being two parts by weight of silver to one of gold, the Comstock bullion admits of gold containing a small percentage of silver, being added and refined with but trifling expense compared with that which would be incurred if fine silver had to be purchased and added to such gold to bring it to the proper proportions for refining.
"This class of bullion is, for this reason, a favorite in the London market, where gold containing a small percentage of silver constitutes principally the partible bullion received, and a higher rate is paid for it there than for fine silver.
"Formerly this unparted bullion was nearly all shipped direct from the mines to London, but the coinage of the trade dollar and repeal of the charge for coining gold have caused it, during the present year, to be refined and minted in the United States.
"Ultimately China must have a national coinage of silver, and in the meantime a more extensive use of the silver coins of other countries will be found advantageous not only to the Chinese, but to foreign residents at the different ports. The American trade dollar has been well received in that empire, and if authority were given to coin at our western mints five, ten, twenty, and fifty-cent pieces of the same standard, they would no doubt find a ready market at the different commercial ports, and gradually work their way into the interior of the empire. (As it was, during the 1850s and early l860s large amounts of fractional silver coins, especially issues of the San Francisco Mint, were shipped to the Orient. These were valued on a weight basis and did not actively circulate in Chinese ports. Most such coins were melted. An Uncirculated 1855-S half dollar in a Lester Merkin auction was chopmarked in the middle of the obverse "chung"= middle or half; Chinese humor.)
"If this trade coinage should incidentally afford protection to our mining interests, which have already been injuriously affected by the fall in the value of silver, it could hardly be regarded otherwise than as sound national policy."
Notes: (1) The preceding seems to indicate that such congressional silverites as Rep. Richard ("Silver Dick") Bland had already influenced Linderman. (2) The reference to the German monetary system alludes to the German Empire's adopting the gold standard and dumping tons of silver on the market. The "other causes" include increasing quantities of silver ore from Western mines.
Trade Dollars for Opium
The American Journal of Numismatics; January 1876, printed this item quoted from an unnamed San Francisco newspaper, which probably published it late in the year 1875:
"WHAT BECOMES OF Trade Dollars. It was a stroke of policy on the part of our government to devise in the trade dollar a coin which should compete with the Mexican dollar and eventually drive it almost out of the Chinese market. After reaching that country it encounters an ignominious fate. The Chinese send it to India for the purchase of opium. They [i.e., trade dollars] go to the Calcutta Mint and come out as rupees, which are stamped with the native characters on one side and the value of the piece on the other.
"The trade of China with India and opium exceeds that of all other commodities, as is shown by the reports of the Chinese custom service. The amount returned for the last eight years, exclusively of the amount smuggled, which would probably double it, is 97,440,930 pounds. The amount of American silver which annually goes to India from China to pay for opium is immense. A base use for so beautiful a coin as the trade dollar, surely."
The preceding situation ultimately can be blamed on the British traders who (in default of Western trade goods, most of which the Chinese did not want) forced opium on the Chinese. Because anti-opium officials trashed some $6 million worth of opium shipments stored in Canton warehouses, the British started the Opium Wars (1839-1842).
Marc Emory's Special Coin
Professional numismatist Marc Emory related the following concerning an especially nice 1875 trade dollar: (Letter to the author, June 27, 1992.)
"As far as trade dollars go, there is a rather famous one I have handled (you did, too, at one time), whose pedigree sounds like an old coin dealer's tall tale: In early February 1975, I was still living in Philadelphia after graduating from college the year before. Early one morning, Bob Riethe, who had a coin shop out in Plymouth Meeting Mall, called me up to crow about the finest trade dollar he had ever seen. He said he had just bought it from Alan Woglom in Chalfont, Pennsylvania for $600 - no small sum at the time. He also said it was an 1875 Philadelphia Mint coin. I said to cut out the nonsense, and to tell me what it was he really wanted to talk to me about. He swore it was no joke, so I drove out there swearing plagues upon his house if this was an early April Fool. Furthermore, he owed me $1,240 at the time.
"I arrived at his shop, wading through the snow and slush of the parking lot, and came to his counter in a mood which can politely be described as less than jovial. To boot, he kept me waiting for 10 minutes to explain to someone why common silver dollars were common, and that he couldn't pay $20 for 1922 Peace dollars in VF grade. Finally, he pulled out the coin in question. All was forgiven - provided he realized I wasn't going to leave his shop without the coin. The 1875 trade dollar he showed me was (and remains today) one of the most exquisite U.S. silver coins I have ever seen. I finally badgered him into letting me have it in lieu of all the money he owed me. I sold it (I wasn't too flush those days), to my great regret, to Maurice Rosen for $1,900. Maurice worked for First Coinvestors at that time. Maurice left FCI soon after that, and the coin soon appeared in one of their Pine Tree auctions. It was bought by Numismatic Associates of Ashland, Mass. for $3,000+ and sold to A.H. Lamborn. His collection was sold (here's where you come in) as the "Fairfield Collection" by your firm in 1977. The coin brought in excess of $7,000 this time.
"I lost track of it after that, as I was spending most of my time overseas by now. I did see it appear later in an ad by Jack Hertzberg, enclosed in a PCGS holder and graded a conservative MS-68. Where it is now, I don't know, but someone should be happy with it. To this day it remains one of the two favorite silver coins I ever owned (the other was an 1855-8 half dollar that went into James Pryor's collection)."
The 20-Cent Piece
The following is related in-depth in view of the fact that the reverse of the 20-cent piece features an eagle copied from the trade dollar:
Senator Jones of Nevada, in February 1874, introduced legislation to provide for a 20-cent piece, at a time when silver coins were not circulating in the East at all but were circulating freely in California, Nevada and surrounding districts. (Much of this information is paraphrased (and augmented) from Carothers, Fractional Money, pp. 262 ff. Also, Linderman, Money and Legal Tender; p. 45.)The Spanish coins had long since disappeared from circulation, but the term "bits" was still commonly used. Prices were quoted in bits, although there was no such thing as a "bit" or 12-1/2 cent coin. Someone who bought something priced at one bit and gave a quarter dollar in payment received a dime, called a "short bit," in exchange. He should have received a Spanish silver bit or real, or a dime and two and a half cents, but there were no reals in 'circulation in the West nor were there any half cents or one one-cent pieces. The one-cent denomination was so unpopular that it was not until 1908 that this denomination was even coined in San Francisco. Nickels were not popular either, and for this reason they were not coined until 1912. Coins in circulation in the American West were silver and gold, the preferred metals.
Jones in his proposal suggested that the 20-cent piece would stop this overcharging. On March 3, 1875 the 20-cent piece became legal. It was soon found that just because a coin of this denomination was available, merchants were not going to change their habits, and the piece was a failure. Later, when copper cents and nickel five-cent pieces became popular, the situation of small change straightened itself out. In the meantime, 20-cent pieces were immediately confused with quarter dollars of somewhat similar size and design. In 1878, Senator Sherman testified before a House committee about the 20-cent piece and said that it had been created "only because Senator Jones asked for it." In Dr. Henry R. Linderman's book, Money and Legal Tender, he said it was a mistake to introduce the piece, but that it was a proper denomination between a dime and a half dollar and should have been used instead of a quarter dollar. It will be recalled that there is no $25 bill.