Perhaps no 19th Century law relating to the coins and currency of the United States has been so widely discussed, or has borne more directly on the attitude and influence of political parties than the Coinage Act of 1873. This act grew out of a proposition to revise our coinage laws, made by John Jay Knox to the Secretary of the Treasury, in April, 1870. While the main focus of the bill was to revise several laws pertaining to the Mint’s structure and procedures, the Coinage Act of 1873 also recommended moving the United States off of bimetallism in favor of the gold standard.
The bill underwent protracted and thorough discussion, and on May 27, 1872, was passed in the House. As passed, it contained the original provision for coining a silver dollar of the weight of 384 grains—twice the weight of the silver half dollar. In an amended form, it passed the Senate, January 17, 1873, and the House, February 7, 1873, and became a law. The passage of this act, though, ended up being so notorious that many would later call it the “Crime of 1873.”
The Coinage Act, officially dated February 12, 1873, provided that the unit of value of the United States should be the gold dollar of the standard weight of 25.8 grains, and that there should be coined besides the following gold coins: A quarter-eagle, or two and-a-half dollar gold piece; a three-dollar gold piece; a half-eagle, or five-dollar piece; an eagle, or ten-dollar piece; and a double eagle, or twenty-dollar piece, all of a standard weight proportional to that of the dollar piece. These coins were made legal tender in all payments at their nominal value when not below the standard weight and limit of tolerance provided in the act for the single piece, and when reduced in weight they should be legal tender at a valuation in proportion to their actual weight. The silver coins provided for by the Act were a trade dollar, a half-dollar or fifty-cent piece, a quarter-dollar, and a ten-cent piece, the weight of the trade dollar to be 420 grains troy; the half-dollar, twelve and a half grams; the quarter-dollar and dime, respectively, one half and one fifth of the weight of the half-dollar. The silver coins were made legal tender at their nominal value for any amount not exceeding $5 in any one payment. Owners of silver bullion were allowed to deposit it at any mint of the United States to be formed into bars or into trade dollars, and no deposit of silver for other coinage was to be received. Section 2 of the joint resolution of July 22, 1876, recited that the trade dollar should not thereafter be legal tender, and that the Secretary of the Treasury should be authorized to limit the coinage of the same to an amount sufficient to meet the export demand for it.
Boyd, James P. Triumphs and Wonders of the 19th Century: The True Mirror of a Phenomenal Era. 1899.