1877 Trade Dollar

 

The 1877 trade dollar from the Legend Collection.  It is graded PCGS MS65 and has a population of 3 with none finer.

 

Mintage

3,039,000 Business strikes

 

Coinage Context

Status of the trade dollar: By 1877 the Act of July 22, 1876 demonetizing the trade dollar was old business, trade dollars circulated within the United States only at a discount from face value, and coinage was intended solely for export to the Orient. However, generous numbers found their way into domestic commerce.

In June 1877, Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman stated that there was no further export demand for the trade dollar, an opinion that was at sharp odds with that of Mint Director Dr. Henry Linderman (see testimony reprinted under Additional Information below).

In October 1877 Sherman directed that silver deposited for coinage into trade dollars would no longer be paid in trade dollars at the coinage mints or the assay office. The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint for 1878 said that when this order reached the Philadelphia Mint and New York assay office in October 1877 "there was due depositors for bullion previously deposited at these institutions 590,795 trade dollars." The Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint was directed to pay for these in bars, or in trade dollars, only "upon satisfactory evidence being given that the same would be exported." Apparently, many depositors provided such evidence, as the report continues: "The bullion was accordingly coined, the settlement made with the depositors; the last coinage for this purpose [13,000 pieces] being executed at Philadelphia in the beginning of December 1877."

It later developed that this "satisfactory evidence" was in some instances fabricated, and that the recipients sold many coins at premiums above bullion value, but below face value, to domestic factory owners, mine owners, et al., who exploited their employees by paying the coins out in wages at $1 each (see details under Additional Information, 1876 above).

In the meantime, demand for trade dollars for export continued (see testimony reprinted below), and the years 1877 and 1878 were to see the largest production figures of the denomination, the majority from San Francisco.

 

1877 business strike mintage: Due to the uncertain market for trade dollars and Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman’s negative opinion concerning the denomination, relatively few were struck in the first half of the year. Of the total annual production of 3,039,000 coins, just 654,000, or only about one-fifth of the total was produced from January through June; see monthly figures under Summary of Characteristics below. Many of the remaining 2,584,000 went into domestic circulation. The production quantity was far and away a record for a Philadelphia Mint trade dollar, and was the only issue to exceed the one million mark.

Many were exported, although, as noted, some were illegally sold domestically. Quantities of the latter were distributed in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, among other Eastern states.

 

Numismatic Information

Circulated grades: The 1877 trade dollar is very common in circulated grades. I estimate that of the levels from VF-20 to AU-58, 20,000 or more exist. Chopmarked pieces are scarcer than the high mintage would suggest. This reflects lessened demand in China, or increased diversion to domestic circulation, or both.

Mint State grades: Despite its record high mintage for a Philadelphia coin of this denomination, the 1877 trade dollar is a major rarity in MS-65 grade. I estimate that just 4 to 8 are known. [Editor's Note: As of 2002, the 1877 remains one of two trade dollars in which PCGS has still not certified an MS65 or higher - although I suspect the NGC MS66 would be so graded]  Until the rarity of business strikes of Philadelphia Mint coins began to be studied in the 1970s, emerging almost as a science in the 1980s, the 1877 was dismissed as a common date. Now we all know the MS-65 1877 for the rarity it is.

A tiny difference in grade can make a big difference in rarity (and price). I estimate that 60 to 120 or more are known at the MS-64 level. As grading is not a precise science, once the rarity of the 1877 in MS-65 becomes generally known (see preceding paragraph), I would not be surprised to see many MS-64 coins resubmitted to the certification services in the hope of attaining the pinnacle MS-65 listing. Accordingly, watch for "MS-65" coins to become more common.

In MS-63 there are probably about 150 to 250 or more 1877 trade dollars known. In the MS-60 to 62 range the issue is readily available, and an estimated 450 to 900 or more are known.

Many are weakly struck: Maurice Rosen and Robert Emmer were among the first (after Willem) to study trade dollars from a numismatic viewpoint. They reported that the 1877 is almost always weakly struck around the obverse stars and head. Virtually all Uncirculated pieces show this. Despite the large mintage, this issue is elusive in Mint State, they also noted. This almost certainly reflects the majority going into circulation.

As many die-pairs were used to strike 1877 trade dollars, the pervasive weakness of striking was caused by a general policy this year of spacing the dies too widely apart. This practice (which, among other instances, was also prevalent at the New Orleans Mint during the Morgan dollar era) prolonged die life but produced miserable coins.

Varieties: All trade dollars from 1877 onward are of the Type II obverse and reverse style.

R.W. Julian cites a Mint report of July 7, 1877 mentioning a new hub for 1877. Was one of these a Type II obverse? Did the other replace the 1876 Type II reverse? The latter had chipped at AR and all three periods. Specialists may want to check 1877s of all mints to see if the reverses differ from 1876 II in any way other than serifs.

 

Varieties:

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

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

 

Business strikes:

1. Heavy date, bases of 18 touch: Breen-5807. Minor positional differences in date. Common. (Do any have broken letters?) Often seen chopmarked.

 

2. Normal date: Thinner numerals, 1 8 apart: Breen-5809. Multiple die varieties exist. Common. (Do any have broken letters?) Often seen chopmarked.

 

1877 TRADE DOLLAR: MARKET VALUES

 

Click Here for Current Values

 

Year

VF

EF

AU

Unc.

 

1877

---

---

---

$1.00

 

1880

---

---

$0.90

1.00

 

1885

---

$1.00

1.00

1.00

 

1890

$0.90

.90

.90

1.00

 

1895

.90

.90

.90

1.00

 

1900

.90

.90

.90

1.00

 

1905

.90

.90

.90

1.00

 

1910

.90

.90

.90

1.00

 

1915

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.10

 

1920

1.00

1.00

1.00

1.25

 

1925

1.25

1.30

1.40

1.50

 

1930

1.25

1.30

1.40

1.50

 

1935

1.30

1.40

1.50

2.00

 

1940

1.30

1.40

1.50

2.00

 

1945

3.00

3.25

3.40

4.00

 

1950

3.50

4.00

4.50

6.00

 

1955

7.50

9.00

11.00

13.50

 

1960

10.00

12.00

14.00

20.00

 

1965

16.00

20.00

24.00

40.00

 

1970

32.50

37.50

50.00

100.00

 

1975

60.00

75.00

160.00

460

 

1980

75.00

115.00

235.00

750.00

 

1985

75.00

140.00

275.00

950.00

 

 

 

Year

VF-20

EF-40

AU-50

MS-60

MS-63

MS-64

MS-65

1986

$77

$165

275

610

$1600

$3300

$6600

1987

90

160

300

740

1750

3450

7400

1988

80

160

300

875

2100

3500

9750

1989

80

160

300

850

2500

5350

17000

1990

85

160

265

600

3500

5250

14000

1991

85

160

265

600

1500

3100

8300

1992

90

150

275

500

1500

3100

8300

1993

             

1994

             

1995

             

 

 

SUMMARY OF CHARACTERISTICS

1877

BUSINESS STRIKES:

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: $0.9457

 

Dies prepared: Obverse: 30; Reverse: 31

 

Business strike mintage: 3,039,000 (3,039,200 according to Mint figures); Delivery figures by month: January: none; February: 200 (these were probably Proofs; it would have been unprecedented in the trade dollar series to set up production facilities within a given month and produce just 200 business strikes; likewise, it would have been unusual to have delivered just 200 business strikes from previously struck quantities); March: 59,000; April: 181,000; May: 291,000; June: 123,000; July: 536,000; August: 440,000; September: 402,000; October: 594,000; November: 400,000; December: 13,000. This averages out to over 116,800 per die-pair.

 

Approximate population MS-66 or better: 1 or 2 (URS-1)

 

Approximate population MS-65 or better: 4 to 8 (URS-3)

 

Approximate population MS-64: 60 to 120+ (URS-7)

 

Approximate population MS-63: 125to 200+ (URS-9)

 

Approximate population MS-60 to 62: 450 to 900+ (URS-10)

 

Approximate population VF-20 to AU-58: 20,000+. (URS-16)

 

Characteristics of striking: Typically weakly struck, with light impressions around the obverse stars and Miss Liberty’s head. In particular, the stars to the right are often weak. Coins with a weak obverse can have a sharply struck reverse. In general, the 1877 Philadelphia issue is the poorest struck of all business strike trade dollars.

 

Known hoards of Mint State coins: None

 

Rarity with original Chinese chopmark(s): Somewhat scarce despite its high mintage.

 

COMMENTARY: The 1877 is the most common Philadelphia Mint trade dollar in lower grades, although in MS-65 preservation it is extremely rare. Many are weakly struck.