The story of the 1885 Trade Dollar worth $ millions!

We were recently asked to identify an unusual coin, which on first glance appeared to be a US Trade Dollar from 1885. However, once we started researching this coin, it became obvious that it must have been a fake.

Here’s why a genuine 1885 Trade Dollar would be impossible to find…

One of the rarest coins on the planet

Earlier this year, the finest known 1885 Trade Dollar was sold for an eye watering $3.9 million at Heritage Auctions! Whilst this US coin may not be familiar to UK Change Checkers, it is incredibly rare – perhaps one of the rarest coins on the planet.

The story of the 1885 Trade Dollar worth $ millions!
1885 Trade Dollar. Credit: tradedollar.org

The US Trade Dollar was designed by William Barber and features Lady Liberty seated on a pedestal of merchandise, facing across the sea and holding an olive branch. On the reverse an eagle holds branches ladon with berries within its talons – an iconic American image. This design remained unchanged besides minor modifications up until the last coin of the series was struck.

Creation of the Trade Dollar

Made from .900 Silver, these coins were struck primarily for trade with Asia and were competing against the other large silver trade coins which had already become popular in the East.

The story of the 1885 Trade Dollar worth $ millions!
Silver Trade Dollars of East Asia. Credit: antiquesage.com

The 1873 Coinage Act made these coins legal tender for payments up to five dollars and many made their way into American commercial channels, despite the majority being sent to Asia.

As their distribution across America became more widespread and the price of silver fell the coins were demonetised, although many 1873 – 1883 Trade Dollars can still be found on the secondary market today and are often sought-after by US collectors.

The greatest numismatic mystery…

In 1878, production of circulation strikes officially stopped. The Philadelphia Mint continued to strike Trade Dollars after this, however the coins were only issued in proof quality for numismatic purposes.

The story of the 1885 Trade Dollar worth $ millions!
Secon Philadelphia Mint. 1833 – 1901

It was initially believed that the final year of production was 1883, however over two decades later, 1884 and 1885 dated Trade Dollars created a sensation when they appeared on the secondary market.

Incredibly, just 10 1884 proof quality Trade Dollars were struck and more astonishing still is that only 5 of these coins were struck in 1885!

Imagine how exciting it would have been to first find out about these secret coins, and how desperate American collectors must have been to get their hands on one!

Lack of documentation means the origins behind their creation still remains one of the greatest numismatic mysteries… It’s actually thought that employees from the Philadelphia Mint secretively struck the coins after production was halted.

Sold for $3.9 million!

All 5 coins from 1885 are now accounted for and are owned in private collections, meaning the public rarely get the chance to see these coins exhibited.

A few of the 1885 Trade Dollars have sold at private auction, reaching phenomenal prices.

One of the finest specimens from the Eliasberg Collection appeared at Heritage Auctions this year and sold for $3.9 million!

President of Heritage Auctions, Greg Rohan said, “Owning the finest-known [1885 Trade Dollar] specimen is to own an enduring symbol of numismatic and American history.”

The story of the 1885 Trade Dollar worth $ millions!
Celebrating the $3.9 million sale of the finest-graded 1885 Trade dollar is (from left to right) Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions, Dell Loy Hansen, the new owner of the finest known 1885 Trade dollar and John Brush, President of David Lawrence Rare Coins. Credit: Heritage Auctions, HA.com

So, whilst the 1885 Trade Dollar would be an exceptional coin for any collector to come across, as all 5 1885 Trade Dollars are accounted for, the only explanation for the coin we were asked to look at is that unfortunately it must have been a fake.

It really would be amazing to be able to own a coin as rare as this though! What would you do if you came across such a unique coin in your change?

There are so many fascinating stories about different coins from all around the world and if you have a story about a rare or unusual coin, we’d love to hear it!


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The story of the 1885 Trade Dollar worth $ millions!

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