Collecting US Trade Dollars

The trade dollar was a heavier silver dollar issued in the late 19th century, and it was intended to supplant the Mexican peso as the standard medium of exchange for trade with China. This guide can help you if you're looking for trade dollars for sale on eBay.

Trade dollar design variants

Trade dollars minted in Philadelphia have no mint mark and are designated in listings by the letter "P" after the year. Carson City and San Francisco also minted trade dollars for circulation through 1878, and this is indicated by the mint marks "CC" and "S," respectively, on the reverse. One rare variant on the 1875 trade dollar has the "S" struck over "CC," usually with just a single "C" visible to one side.

The design of the coin was slightly modified from 1877 onward, but some coins minted in 1875 and 1876 have the new reverse, known as Type 2, and an extremely rare variant has the Type 2 obverse as well. The later obverse design differs from the original in that Liberty has four fingers visible instead of three. In addition, the end of the scroll points downward instead of to the left. The change to the reverse is equally subtle, removing an olive from the branch directly beneath the eagle's claw and extending the bottom arrow so its tip reaches the "2" in "420 grains" instead of the "0."

US trade dollars with chop marks

Some trade dollars for sale are listed as including "chop marks." The term "chop mark" signifies Chinese characters stamped into the surface of a trade dollar. These were created by Chinese merchants as a way of indicating the authenticity of the dollar in question, and due to the uniqueness, these marks tend to increase the value of a trade dollar for the collector.

Which trade dollars are the most valuable?

The value of an antique 1873 trade dollar varies considerably depending on where it was minted. A Carson City 1873 silver dollar can claim prices up to three times that of coins in a similar condition from the other two mints due to their rarity. The same dynamic comes into play with the Carson City trade dollars of 1876 and 1878.

The Philadelphia 1878 trade dollar was minted in proof only. This continued with the trade dollar of 1879 onward with the other two mints discontinuing production. Non-circulating "proof" trade dollars can be found on eBay up to the year 1883. Only 10 trade dollars were issued in 1884 and five in 1885, and these are some of the most valuable US coins in history and worth millions of dollars each. Trade dollars are frequently counterfeited, so it is recommended to seek out coins that have been graded by PCGS, NGC, ICG, or ANACS.

Content provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.