Just How Rare and Collectible Are the US Trade Dollar Coins?

Trade dollars were despised at home and loved in China. They were 4 grams heavier than either the Liberty Seated or Morgan silver dollars used for domestic trade. These silver dollars were very short lived, and only used from 1873 to 1878.

When silver prices crashed in 1876, the Trade Dollar flooded the American economy. They had an actual value of $.80 even though their face value was a dollar. They were worth their weight in silver bullion, not the dollar stated on the reverse. In July of 1876 Congress withdrew its legal tender status.

They offer the chance to buy truly rare American coins for reasonable prices.

Three significant factors contribute to the rarity of collector grade Trade Dollars.

1. Original mintage: Mintages were small compared to most US silver coins.

2. Relatively few of the coins actually remained in the United States. Huge quantities of them were melted for their silver value in China and India. It’s believed that half the 1878-CC mintage was melted.

3. Chop marks: Many Trade Dollars were counter stamped in the Orient with merchant acceptance as payment. Many others were abrasively cleaned. Both disqualify the coin from being graded.

Business strikes are dated from 1873 to 1878 and produced in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City. The business strikes minted from 1873 to 1878 comprise 6 Carson City issues, 6 San Francisco issues, and just 5 Philadelphia Mint coins. This results in only 17 different date/mint mark combination.

Mintage of over a million coins is relatively rare for the Trade dollar. The highest mintage was the 1877-S with 9,519,000 struck, then 1876-S taking second place with 5,227,000 and the 1875-S taking third place with 4,487,000 examples. Fourth place is the 1878-S with 4,162,000 coins.

As you can see, only the above dates of 1875-S, 1876-S, 1877-S and 1878-S would qualify as “relatively common” and even these are still difficult to find in Mint State. All the other date/mint marks are scarce, rare, extremely rare or unknown in Mint State.

Trade dollars have somewhat more collector interest than Seated Liberty dollars, because they have at least some chance of completing a full date/mint mark series. None would be considered an unobtainable rarity. The most elusive coin of the group is the 1878-CC, which also happens to be the lowest mintage of the series.

If you ignore the 1884 and 1885 limited proof issues, there might be a chance of a complete series collection. There were only 5 total 1885 proofs struck. The 1885 trade dollar has all of the elements of intrigue and desirability of the more famous 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar.

Disregarding 1884 and 1885, proof versions of the business strike Trade Dollars were produced in very limited numbers for collectors. There wasn’t much collector interest, and little attempt was made by the mint to generate collector interest in them.

If a collector wished to retain an example, he would purchase a proof from the mint. Proof Trade Dollar coins were issued for collectors from 1873 to 1883. The high mint state versions are usually only available as proofs.

These coins never got hoarded the way Morgan and Peace dollars have. In other words, there isn’t much chance of future discoveries of someone’s secret stash.

Business strikes are often very rare in Mint State, but relatively obtainable in circulated grades, even AU. In higher mint state grades, business strike versions of the Trade Dollars are among the ultimate rare American coins.