19th century British Trade Dollar is back in proof and limited silver bullion form

Britain traded heavily in the Far East throughout the nineteenth century and paying for goods with the multitude of different currencies in the region was problematic. To alleviate the issue, one exacerbated by the First & Second Opium Wars, the Britsh, along with other countries, began to issue ‘Trade Dollars’. Struck in 0.900 fineness silver, they matched the popular Spanish Dollar in size and weight (27.2g). Issued from 1895, they were demonetised on 01 August 1937. Over 250 million of them were struck in forty years.

The East India Company (EIC) is releasing a range of tribute coins and the 2018 British Trade Dollar is the first of them. The one of most interest will no doubt be the limited silver bullion coin version that’s issued for St Helena, the second oldest British Overseas Territory after Bermuda. Struck in one ounce of fine 0.999 silver, the coin (above) is clearly inspired by the original trade dollar coin – at least on the reverse face as the obverse has had to incorporate the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II. Just 10,000 of these will be minted, a low number for a modern bullion coin.

In addition to the bullion coin, proof variants are available in gold and silver – one of each. An ounce in weight, the gold will only have 200 example made available, with the silver hitting 2,500 pieces. unlike the bullion coin, the proof versions are isssued for Niue Island. They also have a more intricate and original-inspired obverse than that on the bullion variant, although it also carries the Queens effigy. The reverse face is a close copy of the George William de Saulles original.

Packaging of the proof coins is beautifully done and this is typical of EIC coins. Pricing is higher than most at £99.00 for the silver and £2,995.00 for the gold, but the bullion silver coin seems to be quite competitive with other recent limited mintage coins of the same ilk. The bullion coin should be shipping later this week and is available from Hong-Kong based dealer LPM. The proof coins will start to ship from late next month.


The British Trade Dollar was originally minted exclusively for British Merchants trading in the Orient. A defacto currency, it facilitated British trade in Chinese luxuries following the end of the First and Second Opium Wars when China ceded Hong Kong to the British. Designed by engraver George William De Saulles, the coins depicted, for the first time, a helmet-wearing standing image of Britannia holding a trident and British shield with a merchant ship in the background. Presentation pieces were struck in gold by the Bombay Mint, and carry a mint mark “B”, located in the central prong of the trident. Fewer than six original gold British Trade Dollars are thought to exist in the world today making it one of the world’s rarest gold coins.

These silver coins were issued to the same specification as the famous Spanish Dollar – the international trade coin of the time and most trusted silver coin in the Orient trade. The need for a coin unrelated to a foreign country’s mint or silver supplies, which could be minted on demand allowed British Merchants to take advantage of the silk, porcelain spice and tea trade in the Orient which flourished at the end of the First Opium War.

The 2018 British Trade Dollar 1oz Gold Proof Coin is presented in The East India Company’s luxury presentation case with display tray, accompanied by a colourful and informative booklet and numbered certificate. The 2018 British Trade Dollar 1oz Gold Proof Coin has a total mintage limit of just 200 coins.

The British Trade Dollar was just the second coin minted by the British purely for international trade, after the ‘Portcullis Money’ or Testern silver coin of 1601, issued by Queen Elizabeth I for The East India Companies first voyage to the East.

DENOMINATION $250 New Zealand $1 New Zealand $1 St Helena
COMPOSITION 0.9999 gold 0.999 silver 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 31.1 grams 31.1 grams 31.1 grams
DIAMETER 32.00 mm 38.60 mm 38.60 mm
FINISH Proof Proof Brilliant uncirculated
MINTAGE 200 2,500 10,000
BOX / COA Yes / Yes Yes / Yes No / No