No. 1: Collecting Business Strikes
Business strike trade dollars, minted from 1873 to 1878, comprise six Carson City issues, six San Francisco issues (seven if you include the 1875-S/CC overmintmark), and just five Philadelphia Mint coins. None is an unobtainable rarity. The most elusive coin of the group, the 1878-CC, which also happens to be the lowest mintage coin, catalogues for several hundred dollars in lower grades and in the $1,000 range for a sharply-defined, lightly worn example. While $1,000 is hardly peanuts, in todays market this amount will not daunt the serious collector.
A few coins are very rare in Mint State but relatively obtainable in circulated grades, even through AU. The prime examples in this category are 1873-CC and 1876-CC. There are some surprises in the higher Mint State levels. For example, the 1874 Philadelphia issue, a relatively common date, is a great rarity in MS-65 preservation. In September 1992, Stacks auctioned a collection of this format. It contained one each of the business strike issues in Uncirculated grade. The owner stated that it took him 20 years to complete it.
In high mint state grades, trade dollars are the ultimate rarities. The coin was minted primarily for export to China, where it was taken in trade (not payment, as it was worth its weight in silver bullion, not the dollar so stated on its reverse). It was then shipped to India, once again in trade for goods, where it was melted in order to put its silver content to use. Relatively few of the coins actually remained in the United States and even then, if a collector wished to retain an example, he would purchase a proof from the mint. The few high grade coins in existence can trace their origins either to the Assay Commission, a time capsule or the Seattle Hoard of high grade 1878-S coins.