Trade Dollars in San Francisco in 1874

The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1874, informed readers that O.H. LaGrange, Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint, wrote to the director of the Mint, and on September 10, 1874 noted that from January 1, 1874 through August 31, 1874 some $2,422,904.11 worth of deposits of silver bars for coinage into trade dollars had been received by the San Francisco Mint, but just $1,823,258 in trade dollars had been coined. Further:

"The amount of silver deposits awaiting conversion into trade dollars, August 31, 1874, has an assay value of $578,402.78. At no time since the commencement of the present calendar year has the mint been enabled to accumulate a surplus of trade dollars, and the public demand has not been formally met. The limited capacity of the mint and the unusually large coinage of gold, which was given precedence over silver, have materially abridged the supply of this international coin at San Francisco, but the favorable introduction of the trade dollar into China has almost effectively destroyed the use of the Mexican silver dollar as a medium of exchange between this city and ports in the Chinese Empire.

"The city banks report an excess of demand for trade dollar exchange. The coinage capacity of the new mint, shortly to be occupied, will, it is to be hoped, fully meet the requirements for all gold and silver coins. [Reference is to the new San Francisco Mint building, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1870.] Great care has been taken in the manufacture of the trade dollar to reach the closest approximate perfection in assay value, weight, and execution. The coins have successfully passed the critical test made before their adoption at various Chinese ports, and their commercial use in increasing. They have been officially adopted at Foo-Chow within a recent period, and the chief paymaster of the United States squadron on that coast will probably require this coin for his disbursements as soon as the supply can be relied upon. The complete success of this exchange coin in the future appears to depend mainly upon the commercial demand being met by the United States mints."


A New Coining Press

The American Journal of Numismatics, January 1874, pp. 62, 63, contained the following report:

"We were shown yesterday at the works of Messrs. Morgan & Orr, No. 1219 Callowhill Street, the new coining press, just built by them for the purpose of coining at the San Francisco Mint all denominations of silver and gold coinage, but especially the new silver trade dollar ordered by the Department of the Mint.

"This new machine weighs eighteen thousand pounds, and is made entirely of the best steel, iron, and brass produced in Philadelphia. The steel plate above the coinage stamp is home-made, and equal, if not superior, to the finest English, a fact that speaks well for our Philadelphia steel industry. The beautiful heavy brass beam was cast seven times over to secure its accuracy and exactness, as well as finish and strength. The large fly-wheel is cast hollow, and loaded with base metal so as to give it additional weight to counterbalance the heavy brass beam. This fly-wheel was cast in sections and securely united.

"In the front of the machine is a finely made brass cylinder to hold the unstamped coins, which, as the wheel revolves, slip down one at a time upon the sliding bed-plate of iron with apertures made to receive a single coin, then drawn into the machine, the stamp descends, and the new trade dollar is carried out complete by an interior inclined plane. The heavy brass beam referred to of course controls the stamp. Perfect simplicity characterizes the machine, which is two and a half times beyond the capacity of any other coining machine that the firm ever made for the government. It is capable of striking eighty twenty-dollar gold pieces, equal to $1,600, per minute, or twenty [sic; it would seem that the number should be larger] silver trade dollars in a minute.—Philadelphia North American, October 16, 1873."

This same press is on exhibit today (in the 1990s) at the entryway of the American Numismatic Association Headquarters building at 818 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, Colorado.