The British Trade Dollar: A Turn-of-the-Century Staple of Commerce in the Far East

​Following Spanish colonization of the New World during the 16th century and the subsequent utilization of local silver mines—especially in Mexico—trade increased between the Americas and Spain’s outpost in the Far East—the Philippines. Commerce in the Filipino capital of Manila allowed for access to goods desired in the West—specifically, those from China. While Chinese goods, from spices to silk, would flow to the West across the Pacific, payment in silver coinage—the Mexican 8 Reales—would flow into the Far East. Because of their quality, these Mexican coins became highly desired by Chinese merchants.

In the mid-19th century, China found herself on the wrong end of the Opium Wars with the British Empire, and China was forced to open her market to western colonial powers. As Mexican 8 Reales continued to be the coinage sought out by Chinese commerce, countries such as Great Britain, France, and the United States utilized Mexican coinage to facilitate trade. By the latter part of the 19th century, the use of Mexican silver was decreased as each country issued her own trade coinage with specifications highly similar to that of the Mexican issues. The United States offered a "Trade Dollar" that slightly outweighed her domestic counterpart as did Japan (if only briefly), while France presented a "Piastre de Commerce." Great Britain also entered into foray, producing her own "Trade Dollar" beginning in 1895. The obverse of these dollars featured a formidable allegorical representation of Britannia standing left, left hand resting upon a Union shield and right hand firmly clutching a trident—an allusion to Neptune/Poseidon and representing the British Isles’ dominion over the seas. In the background, a ship sails upon the waters, while a meandering pattern encompasses everything as the border. On the reverse, the Chinese symbol for longevity dominates the central field, surrounded by the denomination in both Chinese and Jawi Malay. An ornate quadrilobe and the same meandering pattern envelop the central devices. Adding interest is the fact that the mints of Bombay and Calcutta in India were utilized during much of the production run, with Bombay’s tiny mark found in the middle fork of the trident and Calcutta’s between the shield and Britannia’s left leg. While some dates are plentiful, others, such as 1935—the final year of issue—are very rare. Numerous overdates add further collecting opportunities and levels of specialization.

We are pleased to present in our May 4-6, 2020, Hong Kong auction "The Trident Collection – #1 All Time Finest PCGS Registry Set of British Trade Dollars." This collection offers many opportunities for specialists, along with incredible focus upon quality and eye appeal. Nearly all circulation strike dates are present, many of which have attained lofty, and sometimes unrivaled, Gem designations. We invite you to discover the desirability of the British Trade Dollar and use our offering of this most advanced of collection as a great entry point to the series or as a way to complete your own specialized cabinet.

To view our upcoming auction schedule and future offerings, please visit where you may register and participate in this and other forthcoming sales.

We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions (until May 4th) for our upcoming CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction in June 2020. Following that, our next larger format sales will be our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money and our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show, both in August 2020! If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.

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