The British Dollar In The East

The silver British Dollar (commonly called the trade dollar) was born out of commercial necessity. It was issued at a time when the burgeoning trade in the East needed a medium of payment.
  By the middle of the nineteenth century the British presence in the East was being keenly felt. The Straits Settlements, established to link the now-defunct British East India Company's outposts of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, were beginning to flourish as important centres of trade in the Malay Archipelago.
In 1842, with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, China, having lost the Opium War, ceded the "barren" island of Hong Kong to the British in perpetuity and opened up five coastal cities (subsequently called the "Treaty Ports") to foreign trade. In 1859, the Suez Canal was opened, thereby shortening the sea between Europe and Asia by several months. In 1869, Japan was launched in to the golden age of the Meiji period which saw the lifting of restrictions on foreign trade.
  It was the dawn of a new era of trade.

 Thus spawned the problem of finding a suitable currency for the heightened commercial activities. It began to occupy the urgent attention of local authorities who were urged on by merchants-particularly those in the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong- who began sending petition after petition for the introduction of an acceptable coin that would circulate easily in the silver-using countries of the East.
  The problem came to a head when, at the end of the nineteenth century, an over-production of silver caused an upset in the goldsilver ratio, an extremely serious situation because many countries in the East used silver to back their currencies. As the price of silver plummeted the shortage of minted dollars became worse. Moreover, it became evident that trade was being dislocated as a result.
  It the end, to overcome the real threat of a currency famine, the British government, on the suggestion of the Colonial Currency Committee, approved the minting of a special British dollar for use in the Eastern trade.

  The approval was long in coming-it was not until 1894 that the go-ahead was given the poor acceptance by the traders in the East Indies of the British dollar's forerunner, the Portcullis money (which were brought out by the East India Company in the early 1600s for use by the English merchants in their trade with the East), this lack of enthusiasm was understandable .
  However, the obstacles to acceptance that were nearly three hundred years ago were now gone. The British had been dominating the Eastern seas after the struggle with the Dutch ended in the latter's decline.

'Shou' for longevity
  Anyway, to provide the new British dollar a better chance of acceptance by countries outside British dominion, a decision was made to give the coins an Eastern look. The British character of the coin was limited to the figure of Britannia surrounded by a Chinese scroll-pattern border on the obverse. The same scroll work and the denomination in Chinese and Arabic script of the Malay language (the two main languages of the intended areas of circulation) were on the reverse. In the centre between the denominations was a Chinese labyrinth, one of the many variations of the Chinese character "shou" for longevity.
  The coins was grain-edged, had a diameter of 39 cm and was struck in 26.95 grams (416 grains) of 0.900 fine silver.
  The dies were prepared by London Royal Mint engraver G W De Saulles. Three mints participated in the minting of the coins - the Indian Government Mints at Bombay and Calcutta as well as the Royal Mint in London.

Same authority
  By the time the British dollar made its appearance there were already several other "trade dollars" on the market. The most common of them was the Mexican silver dollar-the famous eight reale,0.900 fine silver coin which was minted as early as 1824. This was followed by the United States trade dollar of 420 grains of 0.900 fine silver minted between 1873 and 1883, the Japanese trade dollar of similar weight and fineness minted between 1875 and 1877, and the French "Piastre de Commerce" which came in two weights, i.e. 27.215 grams (minted between 1885 and 1895) and 27 grams (minted between 1895 and 1928).
  In concept and purpose the British dollar-which came in only one denomination-was exactly the same as the Portcullis money of the early 1600s and was even issued by the same authority, i.e. the Royal Prerogative of the English sovereign.
  But unlike the coinage of the realm, the dollar was not given a fixed sterling value; its value fluctuated according to the prices of silver at any given date.

  The British dollar was declared legal tender on February 2, 1895 by an Order of Council in the Straits Settlements, Hong Kong and Labuan (off the north-west coast of British North Borneo).
   Although it was minted till 1935, the British dollar was quite quickly demonetised, fist in the Straits Settlements in 1904 and then in Labuan in 1905. But it continued to remain as legal tender in Hong Kong until 1937, at the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45.
  After that it lost its legal circulation status and was merchandised. Anyway, the coins struck in 1934 and 1935 were generally not released for circulation.
  In addition to those coins that were produced for circulation, there were two other versions. One was a silver proof and the other a gold proof. As for the latter proof, they were struck between 1895 and 1902 only. A total of 274,237,157 coins of all versions were struck by the three mints between 1895 and 1935 with no minting in 1905-06, 1914-20, 1922-24, 1926-28, and  1931-33. The largest mintage was in 1911 when 37,470,509 coins were struck. The smallest mintage was in 1921 when only 50,211 coins were produced.

  Curiously, the popularity of the British dollar-which was and still is regarded by collectors as a beautifully designed coins-led private Chinese mints in Canton (Guangzhou today) to strike a lower silver-content imitation of the 1908 coin. This could be distinguished by the substitution of "ONE DOLLAR" by "FOR JEWELLERY" while the mint letter "B" was replaced by a large incuse dot on the reverse. All other details remained the same.

Source:Coin Digest.Ng L.K. Ewe.


  1. Hi Dickson,
    Great article on BTD.
    Its regrettable to note that these BTDs of the common dates were once quite commonly available, yet we didn't take the opportunity to acquire them.
    These big size silver classics are indeed some of the most beautiful coins around.
    Thanks a lot for sharing this beautiful article, Dickson :)

  2. Dear Whycollect,
    It is beautiful and rich in culture!
    Unique with the Eastern Look!

  3. Hi Dickson!

    Thank you for the very informative article.

    I have a 1925 BTD ( in AU condition, I think). Are there
    active collectors for BTDs? Are they now valued at only their silver content, due to the current high price of silver?

  4. Dear thevinci,
    Most welcome to visit my Blog.
    Due to China Silver Dragon Coin still the dealers and collectors "hot cake" item,BTD has temporary standing at side line.
    However some die hard BTD collectors still collect them BUT has to be in very high grade,i.e.MS 63 or CU and above!
    Silver price had tumbled to RM3.00+- per gram now, your BTD 1925 (not a scarce date)in AU condition should priced at RM200-250 now.Just my opinion!
    Happy niewmismatic!

  5. Hi Dickson,
    Thank you a lot for your blog. According to your article, paragraph "Same Authority", the following sentence: "and the French "Piastre de Commerce" which came in two weights, i.e. 27.215 grams (minted between 1885 and 1895) and 27 grams (minted between 1895 and 1928)".

    I have a question about French's Piastre de commerce minted between 1895 and 1928. Is there any French coin (Piastre de commerce) has been minted before 1895 or 1800?

    Why this question? Because I found and have now a Piastre de commerce which was minted in 1731. My question is to know if is it possible the coin has really minted at that time? And how the price could be now?

    Thank you very much.

  6. Dear Dona,
    There is no such records of issue of Piastre de commercehas coinage been minted before 1895 or 1800.You have found a Piastre de commerce which was minted in 1731, I will like very much to take a close look! Can you please send me a close-up sharp photo of this coin for authentication?
    Thank you !

  7. Dear Dona,
    Just for quick check on your coin!
    Place your 1731 Piastre de commerce coin on a glass top,touch the rim/edge of the coin,if it warps,(like jerks up and down), likely it is a counterfeits!

  8. Hi Dickson,

    What do you mean glass top? Is it a regular glass? So put the piastre coin on it? I don't understand what do you mean?
    However, I send you a photo of my coin here.

  9. Hi Dickson,

    The reply page (here) cannot accept my coin picture so I don't know how do I do to send you a photo. I tried but it didn't working (cannot past here).
    However, I also have another Piastre de commerce which was minted in 1875 so it was happened? How it can be possible? I compare to the 1919 piastre de commerce, there is no difference between them.

    Thank you.


  10. Dona,
    Early counterfeits were normally a cast coin.A cast coin always exhibited a inflated or bloated center,thus if you place it on a flat surface like a glass top,it joggles.

  11. I think the 3rd last paragraph should mean "1934 and 1935 " which were not release into circulation and not 1925. a good article and i enjoy reading it.

  12. Thank you Kg. It was an error. Happy week end!

  13. Hong Kong British Trade Dollars has 3 rarities,
    1. 1921 only approx 25 known
    2. 1934 approx 90 to 100 known to exist
    3. 1935 approx 30-50 known to exist.

    1921-Bombay were minted but never went into General Issues, but melted and about 20,000 known to overstriked with numerals 1929 , especially the 9 over the 1.

    1934 and 1935 were never issued but melted totally, as United Kingdom followed FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT example of 1933 USA demontized the Silver and Gold, UK did so in 1934 and China Republican Government did so in 1934 too, for first time China's long history of Silver usages, demonitized Silver coins.

  14. Hi Balasubramaniam M.Wodeyar ,
    Welcome to visit my Blog and thank you very much on your very good infos indeed.

  15. "The coins was grain-edged, had a
    diameter of 39 cm(!!!) and was struck in
    26.95 grams (416 grains) of 0.900
    fine silver."
    These silver coins are truely CROWN SIZE COINS..

  16. Hi Anonymous,
    Thank you for your truely CROWN SIZE COINS.. infos.
    Happy Niewmismatic!

  17. I encountered 1912 BTD again at Bangsars Friday prayers flea market today. The guy offered King Georges for RM175 and this one for RM75. As i am not a real collector, i couldnt really recall how to check for counterfeits except for the one you adviced before (bulgeoned coin and weight). Didnt have any scale with me atm but i checked the bulgeoned part. Seems flat enough, felt heavy enough, bargained and got cheap enough. So didnt want it to escape my sight the second time i bought it, like you said "if its fake, the least i could still learn" and so i bought it. One thing i noticed comparing solely with your image here, on mine, lady libertys bossoms looks explicitly rounder. Hmmmh well I hope to see you soon to check my coins.

  18. Hi Sugar Coated Candyman,
    A BTD asking only for RM75,is too cheap to be true!

  19. hi,I have 1 BTD (date 1901),but its no ship behind vitoria statue,and the jawi spelling mean "seriyal" not "satu"..also no marking B or C,its different to other my BTD..are my coin true of fake?

  20. Hi Anonymous ,
    Please email your photo image to me for authentication.

  21. Hi Dickson, I have a 1902B BTD but I realised that there is a extra dot in front of the "1" of the digit 1902B. Is it a variety/ Thanks.

  22. hi,i already send my BTD picture via email,hope you can help me to identify it tq..

  23. Hi Mr Dickson, I got two BTD coins dated 1900 and 1911. I dont know whether they are genuine or fake ones. Could you please identify it?

    Many thanks!

  24. Hi Muhammad Ezekiel Salih,
    Sure, you may show them to me, I will do my lever best!

  25. Hi Felixdavid,
    You may bring to me for authentication!FOC.

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