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Celebrating Weights & Measures Day with Coins

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - May 18, 2023

The Trade Dollar, a 19th-century U.S. silver dollar featuring weight inscriptions, is a perfect coin for honoring Weights & Measures Day. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.

Did you know May 20 is Weights & Measures Day? If you’re involved in the world of scales and measuring standards, you probably were already at least somewhat aware of this annual holiday during which we recognize the history of international trade and the weighing systems that make it possible.

Think about it… So much of the world economy is based on standardizing the weight and scale of the items we ship around the globe. We in the United States use a series of measurements based on the British imperial system while most of the world uses the metric system. Yet, we can easily convert these differences in weight, size, mass, and volume thanks to the people, organizations, and ideas in place that standardize all of this.

We in the numismatic world must adopt at least a passive understanding of all this because we deal in a hobby arena concerned with things such as millimeters, inches, grams, grains, and ounces – among many other terms relating to coins. There are so many coins that involve these elements. But one of the classics is the United States Trade Dollar, a late-19th-century coin that was produced primarily for international trade within Asia.

The Trade Dollar was in production from 1873 through 1885, with circulation issues struck during only the first six calendar years of the series, the last years of this silver coin represented by proofs alone. You’ll note that the Trade Dollar makes clear what it weighs… The reverse indicates the coin’s weight and silver composition with the inscription “420 GRAINS. 900 FINE.” While the coin’s total weight is 27.2 grams, which equates to 420 grains – a grain being an early unit of measure commonly recognized and translatable into avoirdupois and troy measurement systems. For those keeping tabs on the weights relating to Trade Dollars, each specimen of standard weight contains .7874 ounces of silver.

While the Trade Dollar is widely collected to this day, many of these coins are quite scarce – especially in the better grades. A typical circulated specimen will cost anywhere from $350 to $500, with uncirculated examples usually taking substantially north or $1,000. Along with serving as an apropos piece to recognize Weights & Measures Day, Trade Dollar are fantastic coins for inclusion in a type set or Trade Dollar collection, each of which can be collected within the popular (and free!) PCGS Set Registry.

Article provided by PCGS at
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