Trade Dollar News in 1879
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1879, contained the following relating to trade dollars:
"From an examination of the customs records it appears that there has been importation since July 1, 1877 of about 10 millions [apparently in value] of United States silver coin, of which about $6,500,000 was subsidiary, and over three million trade dollars.
"Beginning on May 25, 1878 the Japanese government made the [Japanese] silver trade dollar 420 grains legal tender in payment of all debts. As it was four grains heavier than the Mexican dollar it was believed that it would drive the Mexican dollar out of circulation. What happened is that many pieces were simply melted and disposed of as bullion at their higher value. In November 1878 the coinage of the Japanese trade dollar was suspended, and replacing it was the silver yen of 416 grains which has been continued since."
Trade Dollar Exports Reviewed
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1879, is the source for most of the following information:
Exports of this denomination began with 3 million pieces (a figure partly estimated) in June 1874. In June 1875 4 1/2 million trade dollars (partly estimated) were exported, followed by 4 1/2 million (partly estimated) in June 1876 and 269,108 in July 1876. At this time the trade dollar was demonetized in the United States. Exports occurred at more regular intervals, and by October 31, 1879 the grand total was 27,089,817.
Exports amounted to over a million pieces in fiscal year 1879 (July 1, 1878 to June 30, 1879). Business strikes had last been coined in April 1878. During the same period, but primarily during the last half of 1878, 1,216,874 trade dollars had been shipped from San Francisco to the Orient.
However, in New York, during the same fiscal year an estimated 1,200,000 trade dollars returned to the United States from or through England during the same period. From 1879 through 1881 some 2,074,812 trade dollars came back to the United States, but only 114,935 came from China through San Francisco. This figure does not include any that might have returned prior to July 1, 1878, as no examples were officially reported before then. None was reported after June 30, 1881, but over the years since 1881 many thousands of trade dollars have come back, with or without chopmarks.
What Might Have Been
On December 16, 1878, the Engraving Department of the Philadelphia Mint, acting on the orders of Director Horatio Burchard (who anticipated there would be a coinage of 1879-S trade dollars), shipped five obverse dies dated 1879 to San Francisco. However, no coinage materialized.