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    1884 Trade Dollar, PR63+ Cameo
    Only 10 Examples Extant
    Ex: 'Colonel' Green

    1884 T$1 Trade PR63+ Cameo PCGS. CAC. Ex: Simpson. The 1884 Trade dollar is one of the classic rarities in American coinage, with a surviving population of only 10 examples in all grades. The absolute rarity of the issue and the air of mystery surrounding its creation make any auction appearance of an 1884 Trade dollar a landmark numismatic event. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present this Plus-graded Select proof example from the Bob R. Simpson Collection in this important offering.

    For many years, the 1884 Trade dollar was considered a clandestine issue, like the Class III 1804 dollar or the 1913 Liberty nickel, due to its extreme rarity and the lack of official documentation about its striking. However, recent research has established that the coins were produced for legitimate purposes, in an entirely routine manner. It was their unorthodox preservation, in the face of changing policy at the U.S. Mint, that caused much confusion for numismatic scholars, down to the present day.
    The price of silver declined significantly in the years after the Trade dollar denomination was established in 1873. Unscrupulous employers often abused their employees by paying them in Trade dollars that no longer contained full intrinsic value during this period. The coins often turned up in domestic commerce, though they were strictly intended for use in the China trade. To address this situation, Congress demonetized the Trade dollar on July 22, 1876. Even though the coins were no longer legal tender, abuses continued until production of all business strike Trade dollars was suspended after 1878.

    Although the coins were not wanted in circulation, collector demand for proof Trade dollars was strong in the period between 1873 and 1878, when no standard silver dollars were being produced. The Trade dollar proofs remained popular, even after the new Morgan dollars took their place in silver proof sets after 1878. In a March 2021 Coin World article, researcher Roger W. Burdette notes that the Philadelphia Mint began classifying proof Trade dollars as medals, rather than coins, after 1878, when the production of circulation strike Trade dollars was suspended. This enabled the Mint to keep selling the popular proofs to collectors while avoiding the publication of mintage figures for the politically unpopular Trade dollars in most coinage reports. Since proof coins were actually struck in the Medal Department, it made some sense to account for their production in this manner. Some inconsistencies in reporting resulted over the years, but the system worked fairly well until 1884.

    No official mintage figures for 1884 Trade dollars have come to light. Burdette notes the oft-cited 1886 Director's Report, page 126, which lists the production of 264 proof Trade dollars in fiscal year 1884. However, he points out that the fiscal year extended from July 1, 1883 to June 30, 1884, and concludes that the proof Trade dollars were almost certainly part of the mintage for 1883.

    Despite the unreported mintage, there is a clear record of Trade dollar dies being produced and used by the Medal Department in 1884. Foreman of the Die Maker's Room A.W. Straub kept the Die Record Book, which records the receipt of one obverse and one reverse die for proof 1884 Trade dollars on January 3, 1884. There is a similar record for the destruction of those dies in January 1885. In addition, Burdette notes the Medal Fund Account Journal for the first quarter of 1884 shows at least three silver proof sets were struck in that period that included Trade dollars. These contemporary Mint documents provide convincing evidence that proof Trade dollars were produced in accordance with the usual Mint procedures in 1884 and the absence of official mintage figures is explained by their classification as medals, rather than coins.

    On January 23, 1884, an order for 10 full sets of silver proofs, including Trade dollars of 1884, 20 individual Trade dollars, and 22 sets of base metal proofs was received by Mint Superintendent A. Loudon Snowden. The coins were requested by Assistant Treasurer at New York Thomas Acton. Acton was an important official, as well as an avid collector, with a long history of similar yearly orders. Unusually, Acton requested the coins be sent C.O.D., so no money changed hands. Although Roger Burdette speculates that Acton may have received the 10 proof sets, circumstantial evidence that surfaced much later convinces us that Acton's order was actually made up, but not released, because the Treasury Department sent official instructions shortly afterward that prohibited the sale of proof Trade dollars that year. Since Acton had sent no money for the purchase, he was probably simply told that his order could not be filled at that time (he tried again, with a smaller order in April). Perhaps the minor proofs were sent to him C.O.D., but the individual Trade dollars were almost certainly melted for recoinage. We suspect Superintendent Snowden actually purchased the 10 proof sets himself, by exchanging an equivalent amount of coin or bullion, a practice that remained legal for Mint employees until the 1930s.

    The Mint steadfastly maintained that no Trade dollars had been struck in 1884, despite rumors of the coins that surfaced on occasion over the years. No 1884 Trade dollar was ever offered at any public auction sale during the 19th century, and suspicions about their existence gradually subsided.

    It came as something of a shock, therefore, when Philadelphia coin dealer John W. Haseltine announced that the mysterious 1884 Trade dollar had finally surfaced in the collection of his father-in-law, William Idler, after his death in 1901. Haseltine announced the discovery during his speech at the 1908 ANA Convention, but he had been marketing the coins quietly since July 1, 1907, when his partner, Stephen K. Nagy, sold one privately to Virgil Brand. Idler was an old time dealer with unusually close ties to the Mint. Haseltine apparently inherited six 1884 Trade dollars from him, all included in complete silver proof sets that sound suspiciously like the coins ordered by Thomas Acton in 1884. Although no conclusive evidence is available, we suspect Idler purchased these coins from Snowden, shortly after he preserved them in 1884. Haseltine and Nagy eventually dispersed these coins through private treaty transactions, with Virgil Brand getting four of the six 1884 Trade dollars.

    It seems likely that the other four 1884 Trade dollars remained in Snowden's possession until 1910. He then exchanged them, and many other rare issues, including the five 1885 Trade dollars and a hoard of patterns, in a famous three-way deal with William Woodin and the Mint. Snowden had earlier sold the two 1877 half union patterns in gold to Woodin for the enormous price of $50,000. The general public became aware of the transaction and public outcry forced a settlement in which Woodin returned the half unions to the Mint, Snowden kept the money, and Woodin received the hoard of rare coins Snowden had acquired during his tenure at the Mint. Woodin and his associate, Edgar Adams, marketed the coins to close associates as part of two coin sets, including both 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars. The further history of all ten 1884 Trade dollars was detailed in a roster that appeared in lot 3778 of the ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2019).

    The present coin is a Plus-graded Select specimen that can be traced back to the fabulous collection of "Colonel" E.H.R. Green. It later passed through several important numismatic gatherings, including the famous Frank Sprinkle Collection (Stack's, 6/1988). An interesting July 3, 1944-dated letter, along with a receipt for purchase of this coin, from Jim Kelly to Frank Sprinkle, has been preserved and is included with the lot. This coin features razor-sharp definition on all design elements and the deeply mirrored fields contrast boldly with the frosty devices, creating an unusual cameo effect for a toned coin. The lightly marked surfaces exhibit a few minor hairlines, under vivid shades of golden-brown and russet patina, with most of the color at the peripheries. Some slight granularity is evident near CA in AMERICA. Overall eye appeal is terrific. We expect intense competition from series specialists when this classic rarity crosses the auction block. The 1884 Trade dollar is listed among the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Population: 2 in 63 (1 in 63+) Cameo, 3 finer (3/21).
    Ex: "Colonel" E.H.R. Green; Burdette G. Johnson; James Kelly; purchased by Frank Sprinkle on 6/24/1944 for $375; Frank F. Sprinkle Collection (Stack's, 6/1988), lot 196; Larry Whitlow; Dana Linett; Early American Numismatics/Newport Beach Sale (San Diego Show, 10/1988), lot 461; Auction '90 (RARCOA, 8/1990), lot 845; Mark Chrans; ANA National Money Show (Stack's, 3/2002), lot 795; private collection; Kevin Lipton; Legend Numismatics; private collection; Rarities Sale (Bowers and Merena, 1/2003), lot 569; Bob R. Simpson.(Registry values: P8)

    Coin Index Numbers: (NGC ID# 27YW, PCGS# 87064)

    Weight: 27.22 grams

    Metal: 90% Silver, 10% Copper


    View all of [Important Selections from The Bob R. Simpson Collection, Part V ]

    View Certification Details from PCGS

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2021
    22nd-25th Thursday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 35
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,405

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