first issued in 1873, Trade Dollars were legal tender. However,
as the price of silver declined, people would make profit
by depositing silver bullion and receiving Trade Dollars in
exchange. In 1876 Trade Dollars were demonetized, and their
value fluctuated and was solely determined by the price of
William Barber designed the Trade Dollar. The obverse shows
a female figure of Liberty holding a LIBERTY inscribed ribbon.
She is seated on a bale of cotton tied with ropes. On another
ribbon at the foot of the bale is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST.
Liberty faces left, perhaps to the Pacific Ocean or China.
She wears a beaded coronet similar to the one on the double
eagle. In her hand, which is extended, she holds an olive
branch, symbol of peace. Behind her left hand is a sheaf of
wheat. Around her are thirteen stars interrupted by the olive
branch and Liberty’ head. They are spaced four, two
and seven. The date is below the motto. The reverse shows
an eagle facing right. In its right talons are three arrows,
an error from the heraldic point of view. The left talons
hold another olive branch. Around the top border is the inscription
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Below the inscription is a banner
with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Below the olive branch and
arrows is an inscription 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE. Dentils are
around the periphery of both sides, and the edge is reeded.
During the late 1860’s there was extensive trade between
American merchants and China. The Chinese suppliers distrusted
paper currency and preferred to receive payment in sliver
coin. At the time, the Liberty Seated dollar weighed 412.5
grains with 371.25 grains of silver. Thousands of them were
exported to the Orient, where most were melted for bullion.
Most Chinese merchants preferred the Mexican eight reales,
which were slightly heavier and contained slightly more than
377 grains of silver. Chinese bankers and businessmen agreed
to take United States silver dollars only at a discount. In
order to remedy this situation, Congress, encouraged by the
silver-mining interests in the West, felt that a heavier “trade”
or “commercial” dollar was needed. The result
was a Trade Dollar coin containing 378 troy grains of silver,
slightly higher than the Mexican coinage.
Business strike mintages ranged from a low of 97,000 in 1878-CC
to a high of 9,519,000 in 1877-S. In July 1878, 44,148 Trade
Dollars were melted at the Mint. Many of these may have been
1878-CC. From 1873 to 1883, proof Trade Dollars were made
to satisfy collector demand. However, the mintages of the
1884 and 1885 proof dollars were 10 and 5 pieces respectively.
They were unknown to the numismatic community until 1907.