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The United States trade dollar was a dollar coin minted by the United States Mint to compete with the Mexican “dollar” (actually the 8 Reale or Peso) in the Orient. The idea first came about in the 1860s, when the price of silver began to decline due to increased mining efforts in the western United States. Within the United States, the coins were initially legal tender for payments up to five dollars. When the price of silver plummeted, the legal tender status was revoked. The coins were officially demonetized in 1876, but continued to circulate. After 1878, the series was only struck in limited quantities in proof format. Some pieces display chopmarks, consisting of Oriental characters impressed by bankers and merchants when the pieces circulated in the Orient.
A number of designs were considered for the trade dollar, and an obverse and reverse created by William Barber were selected.
The 1884 Trade Dollar represents one of the two extreme rarities of the series. Struck in proof format, the issue was not known to the numismatic community until the early 20th century. Only ten examples are known to exist. All grade Proof-60 or higher, indicating that they were carefully preserved after striking. An example graded PCGS PR65 sold at auction in November 2005 for $603,750.
With only five known examples, the 1885 Trade Dollar represents a valuable and enigmatic rarity within American numismatics. The 1885 Trade Dollar is believed to have an original mintage of 5 coins, struck clandestinely by mint employees. Appearing very infrequently for sale, the Eliasberg specimen holds the record for the highest price paid for a Trade Dollar. It sold in a private transaction for a reported $3.3 million.
Depicts an image of Liberty, seated on bales of merchandise in what appears to be a harbor or beach by the sea. At her back is a sheaf of wheat, expressing, with the bales of goods, the commercial character of the coin: the right hand extended holds the olive branch, and her left holds a scroll inscribed LIBERTY. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears at the base, with the date below and thirteen stars surrounding.
IN GOD WE TRUST
Depicts a bald eagle with its wings spread and three arrows in the right claw and an olive branch in the left. Under the eagle is the weight and fineness of the coin, appearing as 420 GRAINS, 900 FINE. The inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and TRADE DOLLAR appear above and below, with E PLURIBUS UNUM appearing on a banner directly above the eagle. Except for some minor modifications, this design would remain the same until the last coins of the series were struck.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.