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).
Unusually high production of circulation strikes: With a production of 987,100 circulation strikes, the 1874 was struck in large quantities for a Philadelphia Mint trade dollar, considering that Philadelphia was the most distant of all mints from 'the Orient. In fact, this coinage figure remained the high-water mark for Philadelphia until the record coinage of 1877 (3 million+).
Most of the circulation strike mintage occurred early in the 1874 year and throughout the summer. None was coined from October through December. Nearly all of the 1874 mintage was shipped to the Orient.
Common with chop marks: As nearly all coins were shipped to China, most were melted there or elsewhere in the Orient or at the Calcutta Mint (to which location Chinese interests shipped many coins). However, enough remained in circulation in Chinese ports over the years that many coins were counterstamped. Today, the 1874 is the most common Philadelphia Mint counters tamped coin and is even more plentiful than the higher-mintage 1877.
An unusual counterstamp: Many United States coins dated 1874, of the quarter dollar, half dollar, and trade dollar denomination, were counter-stamped on the obverse with the inscription in three lines, SAGE'S / CANDY / COIN. It is not known if these were premiums included in candy boxes, or whether they simply advertised a product known as Sage's Candy; nor are the identity and location of the issuer known. Inasmuch as this is the only American merchant's counterstamp known to have been issued in quantity on trade dollars, I mention it here. About four to six specimens are known to exist.
Circulated grades: In circulated grades the 1874 is on the scarce side, especially in comparison to its San Francisco Mint contemporaries. I estimate that about 2,500 to 4,500 or so exist in grades from VF-20 to AU-58.
Mint State grades: As might be expected from the lack of extensive domestic circulation within the United States, the 1874 trade dollar is rare today in Mint State. The mintage was large enough that some survived by chance, including unchopmarked pieces in the Orient, but by and large, Mint State coins are hard to find. At the MS-65 level I estimate that perhaps six to 10 coins survive, while in each of the MS-64 and 63 categories, the population is more on the order of 50 or so to 100, with MS-64 coins being a bit scarcer than MS-63 examples.
In grades from MS-60 to 62 I believe that about 150 to 250 exist, which by any standard makes the issue a rarity. If this were a Morgan dollar, it would sell for tens of thousands of dollars in MS-60! Pssst! Don't tell anyone - trade dollars are bargains! (Which reminds me to quote the caption under Bruce Amspacher's photograph on p. 636 of John Highfill's Encyclopedia: "Well, tell me the truth, aren't trade dollars fascinating?"
OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876
REVERSE TYPE I: BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1873-1876
1. With normal serifs: Breen-5782.
2.With broken serifs: Breen-5782. Some circulation strikes are from reverses showing broken serifs partly repaired by hand. It is unknown if these are rarer or more common than those with normal serifs or unrepaired broken serifs.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown
Characteristics of striking: Some have weakness on the obverse on Miss Liberty's head and at stars 6 and 7; on some the weakness extends to stars left and right of these. Some have light striking on eagle's sinister leg.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: None.
Rarity with original Chinese chopmark(s): The most common chopmarked Philadelphia Mint trade dollar; one of the most common of all chopmarked trade dollars.
Most were shipped to the China. With chopmarks, the 1874 is the most common Philadelphia Mint trade dollar. Unchopmarked and in Mint State the 1874 is rare.
Trade Dollars Accepted in China
The American journal of Numismatics, April 1874, reprinted this item from the Boston Daily Advertiser, which told of the acceptance of the new trade dollar denomination in China:
"THE TRADE DOLLAR THE STANDARD IN CHINA:
The Treasury Department has received advices from Peking, China, that the new trade dollar of the United States has been assayed by the commissioner of the Chinese empire, and reported to be of more intrinsic value than the Mexican or Dutch dollars, which have been the standard coin among the Chinese for more than a century, and an imperial edict has consequently been issued making the United States silver [trade] dollar a dollar for all the Chinese. The demand in this country for Mexican silver dollars to use in the China trade has sometimes been so great that they have sold higher than gold, and are now at par and a little better in San Francisco, being exported to China and Japan by every steamer."
Comments from the Mint Report
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1874, reprinted the comments of Director Henry Richard Linderman concerning production during the past fiscal year (July 1, 1873 to June 30, 1874) and other matters, including the observations of O.H. LaGrange, superintendent of the San Francisco Mint:
"THE TRADE DOLLAR: The coinage of trade dollars during the fiscal year amounted to $3,588,900, the greater portion of which were exported to China, where they found a ready market, and continue to grow in favor for trade and exchange purposes. Owing to the limited capacity of the mints on the Pacific coast, we have not been able to meet the demand for these coins. The increased capacity of the new mint in San Francisco, to which operations will soon be transferred, and the addition of new machinery and appliances at the Carson mint, will enable us to meet the demand for all the coin, both gold and silver, which may be required on that coast for circulation and export.
"The total issue of silver dollars from the organization of the mint to the 1st of April, 1873, at which time, under the provisions of the coinage act, their coinage was discontinued, amounts to a little over $8,000,000. Adding $1,378,500, the amount of trade dollars coined during the first quarter of the current fiscal year, to the coinage for the year ended June 30, 1874, gives the issue as more than half of the total coinage of the old silver dollar during a period of nearly 80 years. Attention is invited to a memorandum in the appendix from the superintendent of the San Francisco Mint, containing some interesting information in relation to the course of the trade dollar."
Trade Dollars Become Popular
The American Journal of Numismatics, October 1874, stated this:
"THE AMERICAN TRADE DOLLAR. The American trade dollars have gained a wide circulation. At the Calcutta Mint 233,000 of them had been received during three months of the present year."
Not mentioned at the time was the fact that these coins were sent to India to buy opium (see article reprinted below under Additional Information, 1875) and were melted to be recoined into Indian issues.
San Francisco Mint Busy in Autumn 1874
The American Joumal of Numismatics, January 1875, printed the following statement, which was probably taken from San Francisco papers printed late in 1874:
"The United States Mint in San Francisco is said to be coining about 20 thousand daily of the new trade dollar, which is so favorably received in the East that it is rapidly taking the place of the old Mexican dollar, and is affording a market also for silver bars. It is reported that the demand is increasing, and all that the mint can supply are at once taken up. The San Francisco papers regard it as a valuable aid to the merchants of that city in their efforts to control the tea trade.
"In this connection we add the following 'clipping':
" 'The Chinese merchant now contemplates his pile of American trade dollars with satisfaction. The Chinese commercial mind has found this new trade dollar to be fully worth its face, and like the Mexican dollar, it is being rapidly absorbed, to disappear from the United States totally and absolutely. The American piece made its appearance in the Chinese hongs almost unheralded; its bright, finished look operated as a good introduction; it has proved the "open sesame" to Chinese storehouses.
" 'But now the British government, we are told, comes forward and says that it is disposed to go into the trade dollar business itself, and a demand goes home from Hong Kong for a coinage of that description. It is galling that an American token should be the circulating medium in an English colony. So we are likely to have competition in the trade dollar business. The average English merchant knows that the Spanish dollar captured the affections of the Celestial, because it was worth one or two cents more than its face. The American trade dollar is the next thing to the Spanish dollar, and the price of goods is cheaper in this currency than in any other.' "