Fifty years ago John Willem published his revised standard work on trade dollars, "The United States Trade Dollar: America's Only Unwanted Unhonored Coin." The title of this informative book tells a lot, but that is unfortunate because collecting trade dollars can be an honorable pursuit.
In the 1970s when I was working at my first job and expanding my childhood interest in coins, I began reading Coin World and numismatic offerings such as those from Bowers and Ruddy. Being single, well paid and having few expenses and responsibilities, I was able to indulge myself in coins, many of which are obviously much more expensive today. One area of interest was U.S. trade dollars. During that time I acquired four: 1873-S, 1874-CC, 1875-CC and 1878-S. All are in XF condition and some had interesting toning. I subsequently added an 1877-S, VF, which is fascinating because of copious chop marks on the obverse and reverse.
I basically hit a wall on collecting, though, because of the prohibitive cost of the proof-only trade dollars. Later, quite by accident, I began accumulating circulated British trade dollars, most of which were available for about $20. These are attractive coins, minted between 1895 and 1935, when the British Empire and its commerical ventures were still of great importance. They have an impressive image of a female warrior, Britannia, on the obverse, and what might be called a series of Eastern and Middle Eastern characters on the reverse.
The British trade dollars periodically surface at coin shows, but it seems less so than in the past. Collecting these or U.S. trade dollars offer an opportunity to delve into a coin series which has had an interesting and somewhat different history than those which were restricted to general circulation.