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The Year 1875 in History

President U.S. Grant vetoed a bill that would have saved bison from virtual extinction on the plains. A demonstration by John Warne Gates in San Antonio, Texas, showed the efficacy and economy of barbed wire, thus ending many open ranges (several years later in 1879, barbed wire was first offered for sale in large quantities).

Alexander Graham Bell conducted experiments which led to the creation of the telephone. On March 1st, Congress passed a civil rights act that guaranteed blacks equal rights in public places and forbade their exclusion from juries, but for the next 80 years in many areas of the South, black people still had to use separate restrooms, drinking fountains, bus seating sections, waiting rooms, educational facilities, etc.

The New York City Court House was finished for a total cost of $13 million, as compared to a pre-construction estimate of $250,000, thanks to the padding of bills by William Marcy "Boss" Tweed of Tammany Hall, the city’s political ring. Among the charges was one for $361,000 for a month’s work by one carpenter. Cartoonist Thomas Nast produced many nasty cartoons, at least from Tweed’s viewpoint; many pictured him as a monster. (An especially famous one showed Tweed as head of a family of vultures, saying "Let us prey.") Tweed later blamed his downfall and imprisonment on Nast’s cartoons.

On the public accommodations scene, the United States Hotel opened at Saratoga Springs, with nearly 1,000 rooms; the Palace Hotel started business in San Francisco with 755 rooms; and in Chicago the new Palmer House Hotel, owned by Potter Palmer, took the place of the hostelry by the same name that was reduced to ashes in the 1871 Chicago fire.

In London, the world’s first roller-skating rink opened for business. Within a quarter century, roller skating would become a national pastime in the United States, and during the decade 1900-1910 it would be a national craze. Years later, noted American numismatic bibliophile Armand Champa would be president of the Roller Skating Rink Owners of America and would own several rinks. On November 12th, the first Harvard-Yale football game was held, thus setting off one of America’s best-known gridiron rivalries.

In Vevey, Switzerland (where American film comedian Charlie Chaplin would spend the last of his days nearly a century later), the Nestlé Company (formally Société Anonyme Lactée Henri Nestlé), working with Daniel Peter’s chocolate factory (which it later acquired), created the first milk chocolate candy. In America in the next century, noted numismatist Bill Fivaz would be the third generation of his family to work with Nestlé.

The Anaconda Company was formed in Butte, a largely abandoned town in Montana Territory, and would go on to become one of the world’s greatest producers of copper. Silver continued to be a glut on the world markets, due to abundant sales by European countries and the continued production in Nevada. The Prudential Friendly Society, later known as the Prudential Insurance Company ("as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar"), was established in Newark, New Jersey. The Kentucky Derby horse race was run for the first time.

At the Philadelphia Mint it was a slow year for gold coinage, and with the exception of the double eagle, mintages were small. In particular, the 1875 $3 gold, minted only with Proof finish and to the extent of just 20 pieces, would become a famous rarity. At the same mint, James Pollock and his fellow officers were busy creating rare "patterns" for Mint Director Henry R. Linderman and other insiders. Included among such coins were new varieties of 1875-dated trade dollars including examples made by resurrecting the old Commercial Dollar reverse of 1872 and the pre-1866 Liberty Seated dollar die without motto. Should anyone in first grade still be skeptical that these are anything else than contrived fancy pieces, one needs to do no more than to point out that some (J-1426-9, for example) were made in unnecessary metals as well; in copper, aluminum, and white metal in addition to silver. If anyone were ever to write a book on U.S. pattern coins made for the true intended purpose of being patterns, the listings for the 1860s and 1870s would include just a tiny percentage of the coins now listed in the Judd book! Carson City mintages of dimes, quarters, and half dollars increased greatly from former years, and through 1877 such denominations would be made in large numbers. Congress on January 14, 1875 passed an act providing for the redemption of Fractional Currency with silver coins of denominations from the dime to the half dollar, such to take place "as rapidly as practicable." However, few new coins reached circulation. Immense quantities of newly-minted silver pieces piled up in Treasury vaults.


Marc Emory’s Special Coin

Professional numismatist Marc Emory related the following concerning an especially nice 1875 trade dollar:

"As far as trade dollars go, there is a rather famous one I have handled (you did, too at one time), whose pedigree sounds like an old coin dealer’s tall tale: In early February 1975, I was still living in Philadelphia after graduating from college the year before. Early one morning, Bob Riethe, who had a coin shop out in Plymouth Meeting Mall, called me up to crow about the finest trade dollar he had ever seen. He said he had just bought it from Alan Woglom in Chalfont, Pennsylvania for $600—no small sum at the time. He also said it was an 1875 Philadelphia Mint coin. I said to cut out the nonsense, and to tell me what it was he really wanted to talk to me about. He swore it was no joke, so I drove out there swearing plagues upon his house if this was an early April Fool. Furthermore, he owed me $1,240 at the time.

"I arrived at his shop, wading through the snow and slush of the parking lot, and came to his counter in a mood which can politely be described as less than jovial. To boot, he kept me waiting for ten minutes to explain to someone why common silver dollars were common, and that he couldn’t pay $20 for 1922 Peace dollars in VF grade. Finally, he pulled out the coin in question. All was forgiven—provided he realized I wasn’t going to leave his shop without the coin. The 1875 trade dollar he showed me was (and remains today) one of the most exquisite U.S. silver coins I have ever seen. I finally badgered him into letting me have it in lieu of all the money he owed me. I sold it (I wasn’t too flush those days), to my great regret, to Maurice Rosen for $1,900. Maurice worked for First Coinvestors at that time. Maurice left FCI soon after that, and the coin soon appeared in one of their Pine Tree auctions. It was bought by Numismatic Associates of Ashland, Mass. for $3000+ and sold to A.H. Lamborn. His collection was sold (here’s where you come in) as the "Fairfield Collection" by your firm in 1977. The coin brought in excess of $7,000 this time.

"I lost track of it after that, as I was spending most of my time overseas by now. I did see it appear later in an ad by Jack Hertzberg, enclosed in a PCGS holder and graded a conservative MS-68. Where it is now, I don’t know, but someone should be happy with it. To this day it remains one of the two favorite silver coins I ever owned (the other was an 1855-S half dollar that went into James Pryor’s collection)."



Bruce Amspacher’s Discovery

Bruce Amspacher related the following concerning the rarer of two die varieties of the 1875-S/CC:

"In early 1974, Ed Hipps sold an 1875-S/CC Trade dollar to Jim Halperin for $375. The coin was frosty, mint state, and clean-a gem to my 1974 eyes. I wanted the coin, but Jim quoted me $625 for it. Too much. The neatest thing about the coin was that the "CC" mintmark was completely clear of the "S" and far to the right. In 1975 I asked Jim if he still had the coin. He said he had sold it to Eric Newman (or maybe he said he sold it to John Willem—it was definitely one of those two).

"When I wrote the trade dollar section for John Highfill’s book, The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, I mentioned this variety. Walter Breen saw the article before publication and asked John to contact me. It was a new undiscovered variety, Walter insisted, and he wanted to see a photograph. John said that Walter was very excited about the coin. I called Jim about the coin, but he didn’t remember anything about it. Jim chided me about my ability to remember "everything that has ever happened." Of course, I don’t remember everything, or even close to it. But I do remember that coin, and the variety definitely exists."



Trade Dollars in 1875

The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1875, told the status of the trade dollar at that time:

"The trade dollar. In the latter part of the year 1872, it became apparent that the change in the German monetary system, and other causes affecting the demand and supply, would produce a serious decline in the value of silver and injuriously affect our silver mining interests.

"To provide a market for the silver mined in the western portion of our country, a coin of a standard likely to make it acceptable in China was authorized early in the following year, 1873. About two years afterward, January 1875, a law looking to the substitution of silver for the paper fractional currency was enacted. Upon a superficial examination the trade dollar may be supposed to interfere with the plan of substituting silver for the fractional currency; such, however, is not the case, its coinage not having the least effect on the general market-price of silver. The real effect is to make something of a local market at San Francisco, and if our annual production of that metal was not more than the mints could coin, the silver production of the Pacific coast would command slightly better rates; but the fact is, the coining capacity of the mints for silver coins of less denomination than the dollar is not equal to more than half the production, and two years’ yield of the mines will, it is probable, furnish sufficient silver to manufacture all the fractional coins that can be advantageously used in the country.

"After the redemption of the fractional notes, silver coins, with the exception of the trade dollar, can only be issued under the coinage laws in exchange at par for gold coins; and as this limitation will be a barrier to their excessive coinage, the demand for bullion for that purpose must, after two or three years, be quite small. The coining rate of silver in trade dollars is $1.14 28/100 per standard ounce. Deducting the charge of 1 1/4% on the nominal value (equal to 1 42/100 cents per ounce) gives a return to the depositor in that coin of nearly 113 cents per ounce. The fact that the average price of silver purchased for the fractional coins has been only 111 4/10 cents per standard ounce, proves that the trade dollar coinage has not influenced the price to any perceptible extent.

"The Comstock bullion, which has San Francisco for its natural market, consists, on the average, of twenty-one parts by weight of silver to one of gold. The two metals must be separated or parted before either can be brought to the legal standard for coinage. The most economical proportion for the parting operation being two parts by weight of silver to one of gold, the Comstock bullion admits of gold containing a small percentage of silver, being added and refined with but trifling expense compared with that which would be incurred if fine silver had to be purchased and added to such gold to bring it to the proper proportions for refining.

"This class of bullion is, for this reason, a favorite in the London market, where gold containing a small percentage of silver constitutes principally the partible bullion received, and a higher rate is paid for it there than for fine silver.

"Formerly this unparted bullion was nearly all shipped direct from the mines to London, but the coinage of the trade dollar and repeal of the charge for coining gold have caused it, during the present year, to be refined and minted in the United States.

"Ultimately China must have a national coinage of silver, and in the meantime a more extensive use of the silver coins of other countries will be found advantageous not only to the Chinese, but to foreign residents at the different ports. The American trade dollar has been well received in that empire, and if authority were given to coin at our western mints five, ten, twenty, and fifty-cent pieces of the same standard, they would no doubt find a ready market at the different commercial ports, and gradually work their way into the interior of the empire.

"If this trade coinage should incidentally afford protection to our mining interests, which have already been injuriously affected by the fall in the value of silver, it could hardly be regarded otherwise than as sound national policy."

Notes: (1) The preceding seems to indicate that such congressional silverites as Rep. Richard ("Silver Dick") Bland had already influenced Linderman. (2) The reference to the German monetary system alludes to the German Empire’s adopting the gold standard and dumping tons of silver on the market. The "other causes" include increasing quantities of silver ore from Western mines.



Trade Dollars for Opium

The American Journal of Numismatics, January 1876, printed this item quoted from an unnamed San Francisco newspaper, which probably published it late in the year 1875:

"WHAT BECOMES OF TRADE DOLLARS. It was a stroke of policy on the part of our government to devise in the trade dollar a coin which should compete with the Mexican dollar and eventually drive it almost out of the Chinese market. After reaching that country it encounters an ignominious fate. The Chinese send it to India for the purchase of opium. They [i.e., trade dollars] go to the Calcutta Mint and come out as rupees, which are stamped with the native characters on one side and the value of the piece on the other.

"The trade of China with India and opium exceeds that of all other commodities, as is shown by the reports of the Chinese custom service. The amount returned for the last eight years, exclusively of the amount smuggled, which would probably double it, is 97,440,930 pounds. The amount of American silver which annually goes to India from China to pay for opium is immense. A base use for so beautiful a coin as the trade dollar, surely."

The preceding situation ultimately can be blamed on the British traders who (in default of Western trade goods, most of which the Chinese did not want) forced opium on the Chinese. Because anti-opium officials trashed some $6 million worth of opium shipments stored in Canton warehouses, the British started the Opium Wars (1839-1842).