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1873 Trade Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1873 Trade Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1873 Trade Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Throughout history, certain coins, often silver ones like the trade dollar, have circulated around large geographical regions far from their place of origin. The Maria Theresa thaler, the Spanish dollar, the Athenian owl – all were accepted as legal tender far and wide because of their precious metal content and reliability.

During the “Age of Exploration” and subsequent “Age of Imperialism”, the Spanish silver dollar became perhaps the most important coin in the world. To compete, many nations produced their own trade coinage made of silver, and in the second half of the 19th century, the United States produced the Trade Dollar.

Minted as a regular issue between 1873 and 1878, with a smattering of Proofs created from 1879 through 1885 (presumably for collectors), the U.S. Trade Dollar consisted of 27.22 grams of .900 fine silver. This was slightly more than the 26.73 grams found in the previous legal tender Liberty Seated Dollar used within the continental United States. The extra weight was intended to match that of the Mexican silver coins then favored in China and among other East Asian nations.

The U.S. Trade Dollar was authorized by the Coinage Act of 1873, which had, incidentally, ended the production of the silver dollar as a domestic coin, leading to the law’s nickname the “Crime of ’73“. The law also made Trade Dollars legal tender in the United States proper, but circulating a coin with a face value of less than the worth of its precious metal content is a situation rife for speculation and corruption. The “loophole” was closed in 1876 when the Trade Dollar was demonetized.

In the first year of issue, 396,635 business strike 1873 Trade Dollars were produced at Philadelphia. A total of 865 Proof strikes are reported to have been made, but as the Mint did not keep precise records about the production of Trade Dollar Proofs, the number is an educated guess at best.

1873 Trade Dollar Deliveries
July 14 40,000 July 18 21,000
July 21 11,000 + 100 Proofs July 23 19,000
July 31 8,000 + 100 Proofs August 8 21,000
August 11 100 Proofs August 15 12,000
August 18 12,000 August 21 13,000
August 27 8,000 August 28 9,000
August 30 19,000 September 2 12,000
September 3 16,000 September 11 20,000
September 14 20,000 September 17 12,000
September 18 14,000 September 19 100 Proofs
September 23 9,500 October 23 100 Proofs
November 4 13,000 November 25 3,400
December 9 7,000 December 10 13,000
December 12 50 Proofs December 16 13,000
December 19 15,000 December 20 15,000
December 23 15,000 December 24 50 Proofs
December 26 6,000 Total: 396,900 + 600 Proofs

 

Controversy

Many Numismatists make the argument that the following section of the Coinage Act of 1965 re-monetized the Trade Dollar:

All coins and currencies of the United States (including Federal Reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal Reserve banks and national banking associations), regardless of when coined or issued, shall be legal tender for all debts, public and private, public charges, taxes, duties, and dues.

Coinage Act of 1965 (Pub.L. 89-81), Title I, Section 102

If, in fact, the Trade Dollar was once again legal tender in the United States as of 1965, even as illustrious an authority as the Red Book acknowledges that it was due to a mistake in the writing of the law and not legal intent (Bressett, 19).

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS67 (1, 7/2024), NGC MS66 (1, 7/2024), and CAC MS67 (1:0 stickered:graded, 7/2024).

  • PCGS MS67 #03674142: Imaged on PCGS CoinFacts. Light rainbow toning, more pronounced on the reverse. 
  • PCGS MS66 #40809106: Imaged on PCGS CoinFacts. Dark toning on the obverse in rust, red, blue, and purple. Light slate and rose toning on the reverse. Tick on right hand. Tick on right forearm.
  • PCGS MS66 CAC #9896848: Heritage Auctions, May 5, 2022, Lot 3796 – $60,000. Dusting of reddish toning. Apparent fingerprint on obverse field next to head. Dark toning area around DE and DO on the reverse.
  • NGC MS66 #4250975-008: “The Dr. James G.K. McClure Collection,” Heritage Auctions, June 9, 2016, Lot 4663 – $15,862.50. Darkly toned obverse in russet and violet. Rev. Dr. James G.K. McClure on insert. Certification number is no longer active.
  • NGC MS66 #1727005-009: “The Red Bank Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, December 1, 2003, Lot 874 – $12,650; Heritage Auctions, January 12, 2005, Lot 30288 – $17,250; Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2009, Lot 3974 – $14,950; “The Greensboro Collection, Part VII,” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2019, Lot 3761 – $13,200. Champagne centers with golden russet tarnish throughout, more prominently on the reverse. Tick to the left of Liberty’s knee.  Diagonal mark in the left obverse field. There is a dark mark on the reverse in the left obverse field to the left of the arrow tips and dark spot in the leaves of the branch. Diagonal mark across OL.
  • NGC MS66 #956670-005: Heritage Auctions, March 26, 2004, Lot 5987 – $14,007; Heritage Auctions, August 11, 2010, Lot 3319 – $12,650; Stack’s Bowers. August 13, 2011, Lot 7459 – $17,000 Reserve Not Met. Dark golden toning along the periphery of the obverse and in a crescent pattern on the reverse. Certification number is no longer active.

Design

Obverse:

Liberty sits upon a throne of bales, dressed in a tiara and Doric chiton. Her head skirts the top of the obverse, and her left foot is bare. A sheaf of wheat rests behind her. In her right hand, which is extended to the rim of the coin, she holds an olive branch symbolizing peace. In her left hand, a scroll with the word LIBERTY on it unfurls along the side of her commercial throne. Beneath the throne is a banner with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. Liberty is situated atop a base of grass that sits next to the waves of the sea. The base and the sea together reach from one side of the coin to the other. It is slanted at an angle beneath her, providing for some depth and perspective.

A total of 13 six-pointed stars wrap around the top two-thirds of the rim. Four are located between the base area and the olive branch. Two are positioned between the olive branch and Liberty’s head. The final seven run from her head to the other corner of the base.

In the exergue below the central design is the year 1873. Denticles encircle the entire side.

Reverse:

The main motif on the reverse is an eagle that appears naturalistic in nature while also leaning towards the heraldic. Its wings are away from the body, its feathers pointing down. Its head is turned towards the right. The eagle grips three arrows in the left talon and an olive branch in the right. There are three berries and the bottom arrowhead does not go past the zero in “420 Grains” on the 1873 reverse.

Immediately below the eagle is the weight and purity 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs across the top half of the rim, and the denomination TRADE DOLLAR is cradled at the bottom. Between UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the eagle’s head is a banner with the Latin motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out of Many, One”).

Like on the obverse, the entire design is encircled by denticles.

Edge:

The edge of the 1873 Trade Dollar is reeded.

Designer

William Barber was the fifth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. He produced designs for the Trade Dollar, the Twenty-Cent Piece and numerous patterns. Barber’s son Charles succeeded him as the Mint’s Chief Engraver.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year of Issue: 1873
Denomination: One Dollar (USD)
Mintmark: None
Mintage: Business: 396,900
Alloy: .900 Silver, .100 Copper
Weight: 27.22 g
Diameter: 38.10 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: William Barber
REV Designer: William Barber
Quality: Business Strike

 

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References

Bressett, Kenneth, ed. A Guide Book of United States Coins. Atlanta: Whitman, 2017. Print.

Julian, R.W. “Philadelphia Coinage Statistics: 1853-1873: The Quarter Eagle and Trade Dollar.” Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. February 1965. 340.
 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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