Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States

Silver dollars and trade dollars

The folks at Zyrus Press sent me the third edition of Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars by Q. David Bowers to review and I was happy to oblige.

First off, Q. David Bowers is no stranger to numismatics. He’s a well-known author, has served as president and vice president of the ANA, has written a weekly column for Coin World and a monthly column published in The Numismatist. He’s a seasoned expert in this area, so the information he’s provided in this book is about the best you can find.

The book

Now let’s get to the book. It’s a fairly hefty tome, with 410 glossy pages, most of which have detailed color images of all kinds of silver dollars. Bowers starts off with a friendly introduction where he explains his approach in writing this book, calling it the Fireside Chat format. He writes as if you had asked the following question.

“I am interested in coin collecting; please tell me about silver dollars, why you think they are interesting, and why I should collect them.”

What follows is his response.

Chapter 1 - Getting Acquainted

We begin with a brief overview of the history of silver dollars, and Bower covers a lot of ground. He touches on the history of silver dollars, the universal rarity scale, grading and certification. He ends with a section he calls the “I like it test” where he tells of an experience he had. Skilled coin graders (including him) were not able to correctly grade a group of slabbed $20 St. Gaudens graded MS-63 to MS-67. The person who came the closest to guessing all the grades was not even a grader herself, but a member of their auction department who asked to participate out of curiosity. He uses this story to illustrate that we should primarily collect coins we like, and not be too concerned about the certified grade of the coin. The grade has a tendency to vary depending on who you ask.

Chapter 2 - Early Silver Dollars

We now enter the realm of early silver dollars where he discusses the early minting processes and then goes through a detailed review of each year of the dollars. Most of the dates are accompanied by a high-quality color photo of the coin, which helps to identify the differing features and varieties.

Chapter 3 - The Famous 1804 Dollar

This is the big kahuna of dollars. Only 15 specimens are known to exist. To give you an idea of just how big it is, one of them sold for over $4 million in 1999. In this section he discusses the reason for the coin’s rarity as well as the details of the known specimens and their history.

Chapter 4 - Gobrecht Dollars

The Gobrecht dollar is one of the rarest and shortest-lived major silver dollar type. There are only a few pages with just two photos to illustrate the coin. He discusses the history and a few varieties and that’s about it.

Chapters 5 - 10

These chapters cover Liberty Seated, Morgan, Peace, Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea Dollars and form the meat of the book (Morgans especially). It’s filled with details about each coin, including the legislation that enabled the coin to be produced, the designer of the obverse and reverse, weight and composition, business strike mintage, estimated quantity melted, estimated population by grade, characteristics of striking, known hoards of mint state coins, proof mintage, estimated population, varieties and a general commentary. Each date has its own color photo and a price table for the different grades. This same layout is used for each series and serves as a deep reference for all the dollar coins.

Chapter 11 - Trade Dollars

Now we reach the second half of the book that covers trade dollars. These are a lesser-known dollar, and he admits a preference for them. He explains how they came to be and how they were used to trade with China, then discusses the different types that exist. He then follows the same pattern used previously to identify characteristics of individual dates in the series.

Chapter 12 - Silver “Eagle” Dollars

This last chapter is a mere 2 14 pages, providing an explanation of the Silver Eagle, followed by a table with dates and prices.


I echo the oft-repeated adage to, “buy the book before the coin” with regards to collecting silver dollars. For less than the price of a nice Morgan Dollar, you can get this book to gain a wealth of knowledge about the rarity, value, nuances and varieties of silver dollars. That knowledge is easily worth the cost of the book, and will likely save you money down the road if you become a regular collector of silver dollars.

The book was published in 2006 so the new Presidential Dollars aren’t covered. Perhaps we’ll see a future release of an updated version in a few years to provide all the details of the latest series of dollar coins. Until then, Bowers has given us a detailed resource to learn about silver dollars and trade dollars. If you’re interested in collecting silver dollars, it’s an excellent book to add to your library.

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