1876 Proof Trade Dollar

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The 1876 proof trade dollar from the Legend Collection of Proof Trade Dollars.  It is graded PCGS PF66 and has a population of three with only one finer.

 

Mintage

1,150 Proofs

 

Coinage Context

Silver coins in circulation: By the summer of 1876 there were vast quantities of coins stored at the mints. Under the Specie Resumption Act of January 14, 1875, they could be exchanged for Fractional Currency notes, but the public was slow in making such redemptions. As it developed, millions of dollars’ worth of Fractional Currency pieces were never turned in. The Act of April 17, 1876 directed the Treasury to issue coins, but relatively little coinage circulated until after the Act of July 22, 1876, which provided that Legal Tender notes could be used to secure silver coins. The same act demonetized the trade dollar and limited its production to coinage for export. (Nearly a century later, the Coinage Act of July 23, 1965 inadvertently restored legal tender status to the trade dollar; see Additional Information under the 1885 trade dollar.)

To this point in American history there were many teenagers who had never held silver dimes, quarters, or half dollars in their hands or jingled them in their pockets. They were accustomed to Fractional Currency notes, usually referred to as "stamps," and coins of smaller denominations, the Indian cents, the bronze two-cent pieces, and the nickel three-cent coins.

 

Trade dollars: Carothers wrote: "Early in 1876 the price of silver reached the point at which it was profitable to coin [trade dollars] for circulation on the San Francisco coast. By the middle of that year the coins were flooding retail trade in California and shortly thereafter they were selling at a discount. By the end of the year the rise in value of greenbacks brought a similar development in the East. Trade dollars appeared in circulation all over the country."

 

Unadopted proposals: Director of the Mint Dr. Henry R. Linderman, a long-time friend of the silver political interests, recommended in 1875 that the trade dollar be made legal tender in amounts up to $10, a doubling of the trade dollar’s current limit. In early 1876 the House of Representatives passed legislation which went beyond Linderman’s hopes and provided that the coins be legal tender in amounts up to $50. However, the bill did not pass the Senate.

Linderman also proposed that a special commemorative reverse be made for 1876 trade dollars, to honor the 100th anniversary of American independence. Had this come to pass—which it didn’t—it would have been the first United States silver commemorative coin. Elements of the proposed design were used in the 1876 Assay Commission medal, which has the border inscription YEAR ONE HUNDRED / OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE enclosing a heavy oak wreath.

 

Later production limited to export: While many if not most of the 1876 trade dollars minted in the first half of the year may have been used domestically (and this constituted the bulk of the coinage for the year), virtually all of the later ones were shipped to China. After the implementation of the Act of July 22, 1876, American citizens who had received trade dollars for face value could obtain no more than melt-down or bullion value for them.

A spate of legal challenges ensued. Some keen minds proposed that trade dollars minted after July 22, 1876 bear distinguishing marks. Under this suggestion, earlier trade dollars would be legal tender and later ones wouldn’t. Nothing came of the idea, and the government continued to repudiate its earlier obligation. The American public was left holding the bag.

 

 

Numismatic Information

Varieties: As noted earlier, in 1876 there was an obverse hub change. The Type I obverse (in use since 1873 and continued in use in 1876) is readily distinguished by having the ends of the ribbon (on which LIBERTY is imprinted) pointing to the left. The new Type II obverse, introduced in 1876, has the ribbon ends pointing downward. A coin with a Type I obverse and Type I reverse is referred to as Type I/I, a coin with a Type I obverse and Type II reverse is Type I/II, etc.

 

Proofs: The Proof coinage for this year amounted to 1,150 coins according to Mint records, and I see no reason to doubt this figure. 1876 was the year that the Centennial Exhibition was held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia to observe the 100th anniversary of American independence. The Mint was invited to set up a display of coins and a sales facility there, but declined, stating that visitors were welcome to come to the Mint itself. Evidently many did.

The monthly production figures for Proofs are as follows: January: 200; February: 50; March: 200; April: 100; May: 100; June: 200; July: none; August: 200; September: none; October: none; November: 100; December: none. These numbers indicate that by the end of June, just as the summer tourist season was getting underway in full swing, some 850 Proofs had been delivered, a figure which on its own to that point would have constituted the highest mintage in the series. Apparently, these sold out by August, as during that month 200 more were delivered. This must have served the demand, for no further coinage occurred until November, when 100 coins were delivered, probably for general inventory and for customers seeking them as Christmas stocking stuffers. It was Mint policy to always have a small supply of Proofs on hand throughout the year and to end the year with a few pieces left over.

The 1876 is remarkable as the only Proof issue available in three different types: I/I, I/II, and II/II. Most encountered are of the I/II type.

 

Availability of Proofs: Today, Proofs are readily available (within the context of the trade dollar series). However, nice quality Proofs seem to trade less frequently than the population data suggest. In 1992 a leading dealer sought to put together a date set of 1873-1883 Proof trade dollars, and found that the 1876 was the last coin acquired, and that 1873 was also difficult to track down. The rarity of 1873 is to be expected, but the elusive nature of the 1876 came as a surprise.

Most are in the lower levels of Proof-60 through Proof-63, however, and still others are impaired. As a general rule, many 1876 Proof coins of all denominations were handled carelessly, probably because many were sold to the general public, to people who didn’t know enough to handle coins carefully by their edges. Bruce Amspacher has commented that the Proofs are "notorious for poor quality."

In a 1982 survey of 14 auction appearances of Proof 1876 trade dollars, Mark Borckardt found none of I/I, 12 of I/II, and two of II/II.

 

Varieties:

OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876

REVERSE TYPE I: BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1873-1876

 

Proofs:

1. Breen-5798. Proofs have broken letters on the reverse. Presently very rare. These may have formed a small part of the 250 Proofs made in January and February. Walter H. Breen knew of only four specimens in 1991.

 

 

OBVERSE TYPE I: RIBBON ENDS POINT LEFT, 1873-1876

REVERSE TYPE II: NO BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1875-1885

 

Proofs:

1. Breen-5799. The vast majority of Proofs are of this style. Some have light striking at stars 5 and 6 and traces of light striking on the head. Starr:776, Stack’s, October 1992, was slightly doubled at the inside of the shoulder of the eagle’s left wing, and slightly doubled on the left of the letters in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

 

 

OBVERSE TYPE II: RIBBON ENDS POINT DOWN, 1876-1885

REVERSE TYPE II: NO BERRY BELOW CLAW, 1875-1885

 

Proofs:

1. Type II/II. Possibly five or more times rarer than Proofs of I/II. A specimen in the W.E. Seton Collection has these characteristics: Obverse: "Pimple" below ear on neck of Miss Liberty; another pimple on wrist centered above where branch joins arm; some Proof finish in space on top of bale. Reverse: Very delicate doubling of left side of most letters in TRADE DOLLAR.

 

 

1876 TRADE DOLLAR: MARKET VALUES

 

Click Here for Current Values

 

Year

       

Proof

1876

       

$1.75

1880

       

1.50

1885

       

1.50

1890

       

1.25

1895

       

1.25

1900

       

1.25

1905

       

1.25

1910

       

1.50

1915

       

1.50

1920

       

1.75

1925

       

2.00

1930

       

2.25

1935

       

3.00

1940

       

5.00

1945

       

12.50

1950

       

15.00

1955

       

35.00

1960

       

65.00

1965

       

250.00

1970

       

340.00

1975

       

1275.00

1980

       

2575.00

1985

       

3250.00

 

 

 

Year

Imp. P.

P-60

P-63

P-64

P-65

1986

$450

$925

$2100

$4800

$8850

1987

400

750

2300

3450

9150

1988

420

780

2800

5000

9750

1989

485

1050

2650

6000

13500

1990

500

875

2200

5250

9500

1991

550

1000

1600

2900

7400

1992

575

1100

2100

3250

6500

1993

         

1994

         

1995

         

 

 

 

SUMMARY OF CHARACTERISTICS

1876

 

Enabling legislation: Act of February 12, 1873

 

Designer: William Barber

 

Weight: 420 grains

 

Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper

 

Melt-down (silver value) in year minted: $0.9101

 

PROOFS:

Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown

 

Proof mintage: 1,150; Delivery figures by month: January: 200; February: 50; March: 200; April: 100; May: 100; June: 200; July: none; August: 200; September: none; October: none; November: 100; December: none.

 

Approximate population Proof-65 or better: 34+/- (URS-7)

 

Approximate population Proof-64: 64+/- (URS-7)

 

Approximate population Proof-63: 117+/- (URS-8)

 

Approximate population Proof-60 to 62: 340+/- (URS-10)