The United States trade dollar was a dollar coin minted by the United States Mint to compete with other large silver trade coins that were already popular in East Asia. The idea first came about in the 1860s, when the price of silver began to decline due to increased mining efforts in the western United States. A bill providing in part for the issuance of the trade dollar was eventually put before Congress, where it was approved and later signed into law as the Coinage Act of 1873. The act made trade dollars legal tender up to five dollars. A number of designs were considered for the trade dollar, and an obverse and reverse created by William Barber were selected.
The first trade dollars were struck in 1873, and the majority of the coins were sent to China. Eventually, bullion producers began converting large amounts of silver into trade dollars, causing the coins to make their way into American commercial channels. This caused frustration among those to whom they were given in payment, as the coins were largely maligned and traded for less than one dollar each. In response to their wide distribution in American commerce, the coins were officially demonetized in 1876, but continued to circulate. Production of business strikes ended in 1878, though the mintage of proof coins officially continued until 1883. The trade dollar was re-monetized when the Coinage Act of 1965 was signed into law.
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