I have an 1876-CC Trade dollar that has a weight of 26.99 grams. Do
all original Trade dollars have to be 27.22 grams?
Russell Van Splinter
Trade dollars were struck from 1873 to 1885, with the final seven
years of the series consisting of Proof-only strikes.
Composed of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, the Trade
dollar contains a bit more silver than a Morgan dollar: 24.49 grams
(0.79 ounce, 420 grains) of silver in a Trade dollar versus 24.06
grams (0.77 ounce, 412.5 grains) in a Morgan dollar.
Unlike other U.S. silver coins, the weight (in grains) and silver
fineness is inscribed in a legend on the reverse of the Trade dollar —
420 GRAINS. 900 FINE. This testament was deemed necessary as the coin
was struck to be used as a unit of trade in the Far East.
The Trade dollar’s specified total weight is 27.216 grams, but the
coin can be over or under tolerance by as much as 0.097 gram and still
remain of legal weight.
If his coin has been weighed accurately, Mr. Van Splinter’s
1876-CC Trade dollar, at 26.99 grams, appears to fall outside of the
accepted 0.097-gram tolerance, weighing 0.226 gram less than the
coin’s normal weight.
This raises the question: “Is this coin genuine?” Perhaps not.
Unknown numbers of fake Trade dollars, among other classic U.S. coins,
have been produced in China and spirited into the American market for
more than a decade.
Another possibility is that Mr. Van Splinter’s coin is a genuine
Trade dollar but was struck on an underweight planchet or has been
altered in some fashion after the fact, such as having a small portion
of its silver shaved from its edge. It’s also possible that the coin
is so extremely worn that it has lost a significant amount of its
During its first few years of production, the U.S. Mint in
Philadelphia struggled to make planchets that were of the proper
specifications and of sufficient quality to coin.
For silver and gold, the planchet weights were often approximate
and adjustments were made when necessary. To bring gold and silver
planchets into acceptable tolerances, silver plugs were added for
silver coins that were light; small amounts of metal were filed away
on coins that were a little heavy, leaving file marks called
Today, while the specifications for planchets for circulating
coins are dictated by statutes, a small deviation is considered
acceptable. Weights for bullion coins must meet more stringent
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