Controversial or Collectible: This Coin’s Got A Story To Tell

Chopmarked coins



1877 trade dollar, San Francisco mint


Chopmarked coins can spark intense debate among serious collectors. Some consider them damaged coins, while others appreciate their record of history and trade. What’s the story with chop marks?






Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, 1851

Since the late 18th century, American businessmen were interested in trading with China. As the nation expanded, this interest increased. During the Gold Rush and the growth of business in San Francisco, many tradesmen sought the goods of the Far East: silk, tea, spices, and other hard-to-get items. But what currency could the merchants use that China would accept? Mexican silver pesos (the original “pieces of eight”) were already in circulation in Asia, and considered very reliable for trade. The United States government decided to follow suit in 1859, when it began began minting silver dollar coins (1859-S Seated Liberty). These coins were in high demand by San Francisco businessmen for use in overseas trade, since they could be used directly, instead of being exchanged for Mexican silver.


When these coins reached their destination, a merchant would examine each one to be sure it was full value; when he was satisfied that it was correct, he stamped his character into the coin. Any coin could have marks and characters added as it changed hands, sometimes completely obscuring the original design on the coin.


morgan dollar

1880 Morgan dollar

The trade dollar was minted in silver (.900 fineness) between 1873 to 1885 in Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco. At 420 grains, trade dollars weight approximately 8 grains more than Morgan and Seated Liberty silver dollars of the same time period. The mint’s chief engraver, William Barber, designed the coin; the eagle on the reverse of the coin is very similar to the eagle on the contemporaneous peso. Being closest to the silver source and the trade destination of the dollars, San Francisco minted more of the trade dollars than the other mints combined. The trade dollar was demonetized in 1933.


To escape having to redeem each trade dollar years after the last issue, the United States excluded “mutilated” coins; this has led some collectors to consider the coins as damaged and worth less than intact trade dollars. However, many collectors appreciate the history of these coins, and even attempt to decipher the characters on a given coin to trace its journey from merchant to merchant.


Whether considered highly collectible or not, chopmarked coins tell a fascinating story!


Currently in stock: 1877 S Silver $1 Trade dollar, with chopmark!

The World’s Fair | A History

The World’s Fair is a large public exhibition embedded in rich cultural tradition.  Originating in Paris with the industrial revolution, these grand expositions soon spread to continental Europe and the United Kingdom before making their mark across the world.  The grandfather fair, reverently referred to as the “Great Exhibition” was Prince Albert’s proposal to model regionally manufactured products in order to induce international trade and relations, buoy tourism and propagate art and design education.  The structure and ideology of this 1851 fair offered a clear precedent for the World’s Fair and it has continued to attract millions world-wide today.  The 2015 World’s Fair is being held in Milan, Italy.


While culture sharing has always been and remains vital, the development of the World’s Fair can be distinguished in three Eras of characteristic evolution: Industrialization, Cultural Exchange and Nation Branding.

The Industrial Era, which lasted roughly from 1800 to 1938 focused heavily on trade and boasted technological inventions and industrial design in a rapidly advancing technological world.  Modern technologies were brought together from all over the world marking momentous occasions in historical information sharing.  Expositions such as the Philadelphia 1876 Centennial Exhibition with the debut of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone and Chicago 1893 Fair presenting the early dishwasher became landmarks of advancement, procuring a progressive image of the World’s Fair.

During the Era of Cultural Exchange, beginning with New York’s 1939 World Fair, themed “Building a Better Tomorrow”, expositions took on diverging cultural themes, anticipating a bright future.  The focus of fairs became less about specific technologies and more about intercultural communication for the exchange and growth of innovation.  As cultural recognition and societal strength became of greater importance, the Era of Nation Branding began.

Countries began to use the World’s Fair as a platform to strengthen their national images through branding and architecture.  Great pavilions were erected and stand today as representations of great nations such as Japan, Canada, Finland and Spain.  Stunning architecture and nation branding required solid financial investment and thus, several nations shied away from hosting Expositions, fearing that the cost would outweigh the benefits.  The 2000 Dutch Exposition pavilion cost an approximate €35 million, but is thought to have brought in €350 million in turn for a thriving Dutch economy.

The World’s Fair has seen much evolution over the course of two hundred years and today embodies the characteristic of all three Eras.  Each fair presents the newest technologies including art and architecture while fostering cultural networking and bolstering a reputably positive national image. One of the few lasting, globally impacting traditions of our Earth, the World’s Fair is a magnificent opportunity for individuals, communities, cultures and societies to reach out as a part of an ever-evolving humanity.