Trade Dollar

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Trade Dollar History

The Trade Dollar coin is a silver coin minted by the US Mint between 1873-1883, being a competitor for the popular Asian silver trade coins and the Mexican peso. The Chinese were very reluctant to make any design changes to these popular coins and hesitated to accept the new ones. The existing American dollar couldn't compete with the foreign silver coins due to their light size, so the merchants were forced to exchange them. Therefore, the idea of issuing a United States version of the silver Trade Dollar arose in the 1860s, during the decline of the silver price caused by the gold rush. Congress finally adopted the trade coin through the Coinage Act of 1873.

First struck in 1873, the trade dollar silver coins were sent to China. The US Treasury believed that these coins would be melted in Asia so that the government would make a profit from the seigniorage. However, when bullion producers started to make trade coins, silver dollars reentered the American commercial channels. For this reason, the trade dollar value dropped below one dollar and caused the demonetization of the coin in 1876, although its business production didn’t end until 1878. Proof Trade Dollar coins continued to be minted up until 1883.

Trade Dollars as Collectibles

The Trade Dollar is one of the most popular junk silver coins minted by the United States. The coins were struck from .900 silver with a 10% copper alloy and weighed 27.2 g (420 grains).

In 1908, ten proof coins with the 1884 mark and five dated 1885 were discovered, but since these coins weren’t listed in official records, their authenticity is doubted. The trade dollar coin values also differ based on their condition and availability, making them an exceptional collectible worthy to be included in your portfolio.


From several representations considered for the trade dollar,  the designs created by William Barber were ultimately selected.

On the obverse side of the coin is depicted the image of Liberty, seated on bales of merchandise while holding a scroll in her left hand which contains the word "Liberty" and an olive branch in her extended right hand. At her back is engraved a sheaf of wheat as a symbol of the commercial character of the coin. She is surrounded by 13 stars, symbolizing the 13 original colonies.

On the reverse side of the coin is depicted the bald eagle with an olive branch in its left claw and three arrows in its right.

Difficulties in Production

In 1874 the mint started receiving complaints about the quality of the strikes, so Barber was forced to reduce the relief during the following two years and to make certain changes in the design of the coin. Also, since the coins were traded in the Far East, they often were counter stamped with “chop marks” – small Chinese characters that certified the silver fineness and value of the coin.

A Few Tips for Buyers

When acquiring silver trade dollar coins, be sure to purchase them only from authorized resellers like Bullion Exchanges because there are a lot of fake trade dollar coins. For example, you can find a 1797 Trade Dollar, an 1871 Trade Dollar or an 1872 Trade Dollar available in some markets, but the first ever Trade Dollar coin was not minted until 1873. Also, the last circulating coins were struck in 1878, and between 1879 and 1883 they were issued only in proof editions.

List of Trade Dollars

Here is a comprehensive list of the trade silver dollars produced by the US Mint:

  • 1873 Trade Dollar: available as minted in Carson City (1873-CC) and San Francisco (1873-S). The coin bears the original William Barber design.
  • 1874 Trade Dollar: 1874-CC and 1874-S with the same design as the 1873 edition.
  • 1875 Trade Dollar: 1875-CC and 1875-S, available with the 1873 design and also with a new reverse image.
  • 1876 Trade Dollar: 1876-CC and 1876-S, available with the 1873 and the new 1875 design, as well as a new coin with improved reverse and obverse sides.
  • 1877 Trade Dollar: 1877-CC and 1877-S, available only with the new 1876 design.
  • 1878 Trade Dollar: 1878-CC and 1878-S, the same design as the 1877 coin.
  • 1879 Trade Dollar – 1883 Trade Dollar – available only in proof versions.
  • 1884 Trade Dollar and 1885 Trade Dollar – authenticity can’t be guaranteed without a professional appraisal.

If you have any questions about these coins for sale, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 800.852.6884, through our live chat feature, or via email at [email protected]