Trade Dollar, Coin Type from United Kingdom - detailed information

Trade Dollar, Coin Type from United Kingdom (issued 1894 - 1935)
Coin TypeTrade Dollar

The British Trade Dollar was a form of bullion coinage issued by the United Kingdom and intended to facilitate foreign trade in East Asia.

During the 19th century, the Mexican Dollar had replaced the Spanish Dollar as the chief coin in circulation in Asia. With the extension of British trading interests in the East, especially after the founding of Singapore in 1819 and Hong Kong in 1842, it became necessary to produce a special Dollar so as to remove the reliance of British colonies upon the various foreign coins then in circulation. As early as 1842 the suggestion had been made to issue a special Anglo-Chinese Dollar with value of 1,000 Cash, for general trade with China.

In 1845 copper coinage for the Straits Settlements was sanctioned by the East India Company, and in 1863 Hong Kong also obtained subsidiary silver and copper coinage, all based on the Dollar system.

These so-called "China trade silver dollars", issued much later, were a direct result of the First (1839 - 1842) and then Second Opium War (1856 - 1860), which broke out when Chinese authorities tried to stop Britain from smuggling opium into the country. The loser, China, had to open up a number of ports to British trade and residence, and cede Hong Kong to Britain. In the decades that followed, merchants and adventurers flocked to these areas, and international trade flourished. Foreign banks were established and large silver coins from all over the world began arriving to pay for tea, silk and Chinese porcelain to be shipped abroad. These .900 fine silver trade dollars were then circulated throughout China, where they were readily accepted as a medium of exchange. In 1866 a branch of the Royal Mint was established in Hong Kong and for the next two years struck dollars, half dollars and subsidiary coins. The Hong Kong Mint subsequently failed, but for a short while the Hong Kong dollar satisfied the need for a British trade dollar in the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong.

The years between 1875 and 1895 saw a rapid fall in the price of silver, which apart from disrupting trade also resulted in a serious shortage of minted dollars. To overcome this shortage, approval was given in 1894 for the minting of these British Trade Dollars, for general use in the Far East.

The coins were designed by designed by George William de Saulles and depict on their obverse a the figure of Britannia standing on shore, holding a trident in one hand and balancing a British shield in the other, with a merchant ship under full sail in the background; this is instead of the British monarch as would normally be the case on British coinage, in order to make them acceptable outside the British Empire. On the reverse is an arabesque design with the Chinese symbol for longevity in the centre, and the denomination in two languages - Chinese and Jawi Malay.

In 1895, the British Trade Dollar was given legal status in the British colonies of Straits Settlements, Hong Kong and Labuan. Its circulation in the Straits Settlements and Labuan was of short duration; after the Straits Settlements introduced their own Straits Dollar in 1903, the British Trade dollar was demonetised there in 1904 and 1905 respectively. It became exclusively a Hong Kong coin produced until 1935. Thus, it was known as a Hong Kong Dollar for most of its existence, and was only legal tender in that colony for most of the time; however, most coin catalogues list the coin type either under Great Britain or Malaysia.

The coins were for the most part struck in India, mainly by the Bombay Mint (with mint mark "B") and for three years only by the Calcutta Mint (with mint mark "C"); both were branches of the Royal Mint at the time. The Royal Mint itself also produced some coins in London between 1925 and 1930, with no mint mark. Coins with other dates which have no mint mark were struck in India, and the absence of a mint mark is due to worn dies. The mint mark "C" can be found in the ground between the left foot of Britannia and the base of the shield, while the mint mark "B" is located in the centre prong of the trident.

Note that mintages do not match how available or scarce a coin actually is, for a number of reasons. Prior to 1912, the accounting year of the Indian mints was from the 1st of April until the 31st March of the next year, so the mintages in their reports to not correspond exactly to the dates struck on the coins. The Royal Mint started striking coins dated 1925 and continued to use the same dies until they were replaced halfway through 1930. The 1921-B dollar was struck but never released for circulation, and only a limited number of 1934-B and 1935-B coins were released. A great many coins were melted in China.

In some cases, the date on an already manufactured coin die was altered. As this could not be done without leaving a trace of the former date, some coins show traces of an older date below the clearly visible date (so-called "overdate" varieties). Many of the genuine dollars are found with "chop marks" - small Chinese ideographic marks punched by local banks and counting houses to signify a coin was checked by them and they guarantee its authenticity. The practice was prohibited in Hong Kong and eventually fell into disuse. These marks are considered to not detract from the value of the coin; on the contrary - many collectors appreciate them as a piece of history.

The British Trade Dollar was finally demonetised in Hong Kong on 1 August 1937.

United Kingdom / Trade Dollar - obverse photo

Surrounded by an "Oriental"-style border with a "key" pattern, the obverse of the coin shows the standing figure of Britannia - the female personification of Great Britain, holding a trident in one hand and balancing a shield with the British Union Jack flag in the other, her cloak billowing in the wind behind. She wears a crested Corinthian helmet pushed back to reveal her face.

Britannia is standing on a sea shore, with a merchant ship under full sail in the background.

Around left and right, the value of the coin: · ONE DOLLAR ·. In the field beneath Britannia's bare feet, the date of issue: [year].

Obverse Inscription · ONE DOLLAR · [year]
United Kingdom / Trade Dollar - reverse photo

Surrounded by an "Oriental"-style border with a "key" pattern, the reverse of the coin depicts a scroll design divided into four compartments containing, in the upper and lower, the Chinese characters 壹 圓 (transcribed as "yat yuen" or "yi yuan"), and in the left and right compartment ساتو رڠڬية - transcribed as "satu ringgit" from Jawi (Malay language written in a modified Arabic script). Both inscriptions are translated as "one dollar".

At centre, the Chinese labyrinth symbol representing longevity.

Reverse Inscription 壹 圓 ساتو رڠڬية
EdgeMilledEdge InscriptionNone

Note that for a time after the Second World War, the Bombay Mint had a practice of re-striking some of these coins to satisfy collector demand; dates believed to have been re-struck include 1898 and 1925.

These are not the only "trade coins" used in Asia. Others that were used at various time were the Spanish Dollar (known as "a Piece of Eight" - on which the modern American Dollar is based), the Mexican Dollar, the United States Trade Dollar and the Japanese Trade Dollar or Yen; the latter two were issued for a short time only.

References to additional information:

[Book] Kavanagh, Kevin. 1969. The Coins of Malaysia, 1845-1967, including Straits Settlements, Malaya, British North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei, Singapore, British Trade Dollars. Adelaide, Australia. pp83-87
[Book] Remick, Jerome. 1971. The Guide Book and Catalogue to British Commonwealth Coins., pp85-87

Coin Type: Trade Dollar - (23) Coins
Coin NameMintageLegend
One Dollar 1895 3,316,063 · ONE DOLLAR · 1895
One Dollar 1896 6,135,617 · ONE DOLLAR · 1896
One Dollar 1897 21,286,427 · ONE DOLLAR · 1897
One Dollar 1898 21,545,564 · ONE DOLLAR · 1898
One Dollar 1899 30,743,159 · ONE DOLLAR · 1899
One Dollar 1900 9,469,991 · ONE DOLLAR · 1900
One Dollar 1901 27,198,656 · ONE DOLLAR · 1901
One Dollar 1902 31,671,117 · ONE DOLLAR · 1902
One Dollar 1903 3,955,647 · ONE DOLLAR · 1903
One Dollar 1904 648,847 · ONE DOLLAR · 1904
One Dollar 1907 1,945,726 · ONE DOLLAR · 1907
One Dollar 1908 6,870,741 · ONE DOLLAR · 1908
One Dollar 1909 5,954,218 · ONE DOLLAR · 1909
One Dollar 1910 5,552,910 · ONE DOLLAR · 1910
One Dollar 1911 37,470,509 · ONE DOLLAR · 1911
One Dollar 1912 5,672,075 · ONE DOLLAR · 1912
One Dollar 1913 1,566,693 · ONE DOLLAR · 1913
One Dollar 1921 50,211 · ONE DOLLAR · 1921
One Dollar 1925 6,869,853 · ONE DOLLAR · 1925
One Dollar 1929 5,100,036 · ONE DOLLAR · 1929
One Dollar 1930 17,065,897 · ONE DOLLAR · 1930
One Dollar 1934 17,335,205 · ONE DOLLAR · 1934
One Dollar 1935 6,811,995 · ONE DOLLAR · 1935
Royal Mint
Royal Mint
Trade Dollar: Details
CountryUnited Kingdom
CurrencyPound Sterling (pre-decimal)
Face Value1 (x Pound)
CurrentNo (demonetised 1937)
Material0.900 silver
DesignerGeorge William de Saulles
TechnologyMilled (machine-made)
OrientationMedal Alignment (Axis 0)
Size39.0000 mm
Thickness2.7000 mm
Mass29.9570 g