After over a century, you might assume that all questions about certain coins have been answered. All the information that could be relevant when deciding how to value a coin has been collected, including mintages, population reports, survival rates, and more.
1884 Trade Dollar:
Then there is the 1884 Trade dollar, for example. All we seem to come up with are more questions than solutions. With a mintage of only 10, the 1884 Trade dollar is one of our rarest coins. However, questions continue to arise about this and other rare coins. For a long time, we just took a lot of things as given. It was the covert creation of a Mint that wasn’t completely against making some money on the side.
It’s likely that several significant patterns and rarities weren’t regular Mint output but were custom-made for influential individuals. Some have questioned the legitimacy of such coins on occasion, but the fact remains that the hobby has accepted them for years and that the 1884 Trade dollar is one of the world’s most prized coins because of its extreme rarity. There have been scattered references over the years to the 1884 Trade dollar that seems to indicate it had a mintage of 264 rather than the long-accepted 10.
Treasury sheets from the time discovered by researcher Arlie Slabaugh further support the 264 estimates. It’s important to remember that the Trade dollar was not formally abolished in 1884. It was struck in earlier years, but beginning in 1879, only proof examples were struck, with the mintage set by the number of requests received by the Mint. Therefore, it would not have been entirely illegal to issue a Trade dollar in 1884.
However, this number is at odds with what is known, as the survival rates of proof coins from this era are notably higher than average. Considering these two numbers, how many 1884 Trade dollars were minted is unclear. There may be no satisfactory response to that inquiry. Unfortunately, 264 is for an entire fiscal year. There is also evidence to suggest that some 1837 or 1836 dollar coins were recoined in 1837.
There are no known 1837 dollars, but 1836 dollars do exist, and the special Gobrecht dollar was restruck for many years, so it’s possible that they could be traded for the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars that were struck to reward the Mint’s most loyal patrons. The 264 reported dollars could have been issued in 1883, and the recoined dollars may hold the key to understanding what happened with the five 1884 Trade dollars and the three known 1885 Trade dollars.
We may never know for sure unless we discover additional information. Since the small “recoining” would allow their production while their actual dates remained a mystery, this seems like the most likely way to explain the 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars. We know that Trade dollars from 1884 and 1885 are extremely rare, with the value of the latter coin approaching $1 million.
Regardless of its true mintage, the 1884 Trade dollar is a fascinating rarity with a rich history and many questions that have yet to be resolved. Maybe someone who reads this will add more details to the story.