The Haseltine-Brand 1884 Trade Dollar/One of Only Ten Specimens Minted and Known Today1884 PR 63 NGC. The history of the United States Trade dollar is one that is checkered with abuses, misuses, and deceit. More than 35 years ago a definitive history was written of the Trade dollar by John Willem. The subtitle of Willem's book sums up the coin's status: America's Only Unwanted, Unhonored Coin. Originally intended as a competitive coin for the Mexican 8-reales and also as an additional outlet for Comstock silver, the coin's questionable legal status coupled with declining silver prices in the mid to late 1870s resulted in a tarnished image for the Trade dollar. But in the century since, it has become one of the most widely respected and collectible coins in all of American numismatics.
Production of business strike Trade dollars ceased in 1878, but proofs continued to be available on an individual basis from the mint for $1.25. Most of the known 1884 Trade dollars surfaced in 1908 and most originated with William Idler. It has been assumed for most of the intervening decades that they (and the 1885s) were a "nighttime operation;" that is, rarities that were clandestinely produced after hours using hubs and punches available in the die cutter's workroom. However, in June, 1988 Carl Carlson of Stack's revealed in the Sprinkle catalog new information he had gleaned from A.W. Stroub's Die Record Book. Carlson's write-up is in-depth and convincing, and we refer anyone interested in this lot to refer to his article on page 26 of the Sprinkle catalog. The upshot of his research is that the 1884 Trade dollars were, in fact, proper coins that were properly struck under proper authority. Even though this information was published eight years ago, we are sure it will still come as a surprise to many. The effect of such information is that it adds legitimacy to this issue, a date that has lived under a clandestine cloud for nearly a century. Because the ten coins struck were properly prepared and properly receipted within the mint, the 1884 Trade dollar is a legitimate issue and the next logical date extension of the proof-only issues of 1879-83.
As mentioned, William Idler is responsible for distributing most of the known 1884 Trade dollars early this century. To the best of our knowledge the coins he sold circa 1908 were all single pieces, but at some point this piece was added to an original proof set from 1884 and the eight-piece set remained intact until 1976. This coin (or set) apparently originated with some mint official, possibly even Mint Director A. Loudon Snowden. William Idler came into possession of it (and several others) shortly after striking. Idler then sold it to his son-in-law Captain John Haseltine and Stephen Nagy. From these two it passed through unknown intermediaries until it landed in the collection of beer magnate Virgil Brand. In the late 1940s it passed into the collection of an unknown individual where it resided until 1976 when it was sold in the ANA Sale that summer. At that time the set was purchased by Joel Rettew and this coin was sold individually to a doctor in the midwest and has been off the market since that time.
The surfaces were described two decades ago as having delicate sea-green and blue iridescent toning, and that still applies today. The fields are deeply reflective and both sides are covered with the above-mentioned toning. Obviously hairlined, the toning greatly subdues the effect of the long-ago cleaning. There are several identifying blemishes, all located on the obverse. The most obvious ones are a pair of vertical scratches, one short and one long, extending downward from the elbow of the outstretched arm of Liberty. Also, a tiny backward L-shaped lint mark is seen in the field just in front of the nose of Liberty. This is an exceptional opportunity for the collector of this short, yet fascinating series and a classic rarity in American numismatics. (NGC ID# 27YW, PCGS# 7064)
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