Some collectors consider Trade Dollars the most interesting coins to come from the United States because they were struck primarily for use in the East Asia trade. These dollars were also produced to compete with other popular trade coins, such as the Spanish Dollar and Mexican Peso. United States Trade Dollars contain .900 pure silver and were minted in Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco between 1873 and 1885.
Designed by former United States Mint chief engraver, William Barber, Trade Dollars feature a left-facing Lady Liberty sitting on bales of merchandise. She is depicted on the obverse side of these coins with an olive branch in her right hand and ribbon inscribed with LIBERTY in her left. Thirteen stars surround the image and the mintage year is situated below.
The reverse displays a proud eagle facing eastwards with wings outspread. He is holding a cluster of arrows in his right talon and an olive branch in his left. Various inscriptions join the eagle image on the reverse including UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above, as well as 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE. and TRADE DOLLAR below.
Most United States Trade Dollars were sent to China, however, a large amount of these coins eventually found their way into American commerce.
During the 1860s, the Chinese greatly valued the Spanish Dollar and Mexican peso in commerce. At the time, the Americans only had the Silver Dollar, which was lighter than the coins coming from Spain and Mexico. In China, the lighter United States Dollar was unpopular, which forced the Americans to buy Spanish and Mexican coins to use in trade.
Treasurer and assayer of the San Francisco Mint, Louis A. Garnett suggested that the United States Mint should produce a commercial dollar to compete with the other silver trade coins on the scene. In 1872, authorization to mint this unique silver trade coin was given. The appointed designers of the Trade Dollar wanted the coin to have an edge, so they decided to give it a higher silver content and had 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE inscribed on the coin. Unfortunately, the designers got their calculations wrong and produced a coin that had a lower fineness than the Mexican Peso.
Despite the miscalculations, the first Trade Dollars were struck in 1873 and sent overseas. Over 27 million Trade Dollars were used in Asian commerce over the years. While these coins were intended for export only, they held legal tender status up to five dollars. By 1876, millions of these coins began circulating in the United States and found their way into the American market. At the time, silver prices were low, making Trade Dollars more valuable as money.
On July 22, 1876, Congress revoked the coins legal tender status and told the Secretary of the Treasury not to mint any more Trade Dollars than necessary for trading purposes. Nevertheless, bullion producers were still placing these coins into the market until 1877. After the Secretary of the Treasury, John Sherman ordered the U.S. Mint to end orders for Trade Dollars in 1878; the coins slowly began to disappear.
Under 36 million Trade Dollars and around 11,000 proofs were struck at three separate mints including Philadelphia (no mintmark), Carson City (CC), and San Francisco (S) between 1873 and 1885. Some pieces display chop marks, consisting of Oriental charters that were created by Chinese merchants to test the authenticity of the coin.
Any Trade Dollar in pristine condition is well-worth getting hold of but the rarest issues are those dated 1884 and 1885. Both were only issued in proof and in quantities of ten and five, respectively. It is believed that these pieces were struck for Willian Idler, a good friend of the U.S. Mint. Other rare, though not unobtainable proof Trade Dollars include those dated from 1879 to 1883. The 1878 Trade Dollars minted at Carson City (CC) are also rare finds because only 97,000 were struck and a large portion was melted shortly afterwards.
The Trade Dollar is arguably the most controversial series issued by the United States Mint, as well as one of the most intriguing in American coinage history. Trade Dollars are also unique in that they are the only U.S. coins to have their legal tender status revoked by Congress.
As the majority of United States Trade Dollars were exported and circulated, high grade uncirculated specimens are extremely rare. Proofs tend to be easier to acquire, except for the two famous rarities struck in 1884 and 1885. Many coin hobbyists also choose to collect Trade Dollars that feature chop marks because the characters are different on each coin and supposedly represent a certain business trading in Asia.
Whether you like collecting rare American coins or pieces that have an interesting story attached to them, you’re sure to love Trade Dollars. If you require more information or want to get your hands on these coins, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Capital Gold Group today.