Three-cent piece

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Three-cent silver piece
United States
Value0.03 US dollars
Mass(1851–53) 0.8 g (12.3  gr)
(1854–73) 0.75 g (11.6 gr)
Diameter14 mm (0.55 in)
Thickness0.6 mm (0.024 in)
  • (1851–53) 75% Ag, 25% Cu
  • (1854–73) 90% Ag, 10% Cu
Years of minting1851–1873
1852 3 Cent Silver - Type 1.jpg
Designshield on six-pointed star
Designer James Barton Longacre
Design date1851
Design Roman numeral III
DesignerJames Barton Longacre
Design date1851
Three-cent nickel
United States
Value0.03 US dollars
Mass1.94 g (29.9 gr)
Diameter17.9 mm (0.70 in)
Composition75% Cu, 25% Ni
Years of minting1865–1889
1866 3 Cent Nickel.jpg
Design Liberty Head
DesignerJames Barton Longacre
Design date1865
DesignRoman numeral III
DesignerJames Barton Longacre
Design date1865

The United States three cent piece was a unit of currency equaling 3100 of a United States dollar. The mint produced two different three-cent coins for circulation: the three-cent silver and the three-cent nickel. Additionally, a three-cent bronze coin was made as a pattern in 1863. During the period from 1865 to 1873, both coins were minted, albeit in very small quantities for the silver three-cent piece.



The three-cent coin was proposed in 1851 both as a result of the decrease in postage rates from five cents to three and to answer the need for a small-denomination, easy-to-handle coin. The three-cent silver featured a shield on a six-sided star on the obverse and the Roman numeral III on the reverse. The coin was initially composed of 75% silver and 25% copper to ensure that the coin would be considered real currency yet not worth melting down for the silver. [1] The coins were physically the lightest-weight coins ever minted by the United States, weighing only 0.8 grams and with a diameter smaller than a modern dime and only slightly greater than the smallest gold dollars. The silver coins were known as "fishscales". [2] The term "trimes" is often used today for these coins, and was first used by the director of the United States Mint (James Ross Snowden) at the time of their production. [3]

Starting in 1854, the three-cent silver had its silver metal content raised to 90% to encourage circulation. At the same time, its weight was reduced to 0.75 grams by reducing thickness. The coin went through a design change at the time such that two lines were now used to border the star on the obverse and an olive sprig was added above and a bundle of arrows below the Roman numeral III on the reverse. [4] A final design change occurred in 1859 because of striking problems: the number of lines bordering the star was reduced to one, and the font was made taller and slightly narrower. [4] The size of the date numerals also varied through the years, with 1860–1863 featuring the smallest date numerals of any US coin. In 1851 only, the New Orleans Mint struck some of the silver three-cent coins. [5] It was minted from 1851 to 1873 at the Philadelphia Mint. Later years had very small mintages and the 1873 issue was in proof state only, commanding prices upwards of $400. However, an earlier-date silver three-cent piece can be bought in worn condition for a relatively low price. The silver three-cent pieces can be purchased for around $25 if they are in decent shape and before 1862, depending on the mintage. The silver three-cent piece (along with the half dime, and the two-cent piece as well as the temporary suspension of the standard silver dollar in favor of the Trade Dollar) was discontinued by the Coinage Act of 1873. [6]

Civil War-era silver shortages led to widespread hoarding of all silver coins, and most one- and five-cent coins, as well. [3] Various alternatives were tried, including encapsulated postage and privately issued coinage. The Treasury eventually settled on issuing fractional currency. These small denomination (3 to 50 cent) notes were never popular, as they were easy to lose and unwieldy in large amounts. The answer to this issue was reached in 1865 with the introduction of the three-cent nickel coin, composed of copper and nickel and larger than the silver coin of the same denomination. The coin featured a Liberty head obverse and another Roman numeral III reverse. The three-cent nickel was never intended as a permanent issue, only as a stopgap measure until the wartime hoarding ceased. Production began to taper off in the 1870s (except for an anomalously large coinage in 1881), but mintage of the denomination did not finally end until 1889. One reason often given for the discontinuation of the three-cent nickel piece in 1889 is that this coin and the dime (10-cent silver coin) were identical in diameter. Another factor may have been that in 1883, the letter postage rate dropped to 2 cents, thus removing the justification for this coin. [7]

The three-cent nickel was only minted in Philadelphia, and except for a larger date on the 1889 pieces, had no design differences throughout its run. Over the course of the series, mintage declined, and some of the dates are scarce, but with an 1865 mintage over 11 million, a type piece can be inexpensively obtained.

Glass coins

There was some discussion of minting a glass 3-cent coin to relieve the demand on copper during World War II. [8] It is possible other denomination glass coins were being considered as well.

Mintage figures

Three cent (silver), 1851–1873 [9]

  • 1851 (P) – 5,447,400
  • 1851 O – 720,000
  • 1852 (P) – 18,663,500
  • 1853 (P) – 11,400,000
  • 1854 (P) – 671,000
  • 1855 (P) – 139,000
  • 1856 (P) – 1,458,000
  • 1857 (P) – 1,042,000
  • 1858 (P) – 1,603,700
  • 1859 (P) – 364,200
  • 1860 (P) – 286,000
  • 1861 (P) – 497,000
  • 1862 (P) – 343,000
  • 1863 (P) – 21,000
  • 1864 (P) – 12,000
  • 1865 (P) – 8,000
  • 1866 (P) – 22,000
  • 1867 (P) – 4,000
  • 1868 (P) – 3,500
  • 1869 (P) – 4,500
  • 1870 (P) – 3,000
  • 1871 (P) – 3,400
  • 1872 (P) – 1,000
  • 1873 (P) – 600 (all proof)

Three cent (nickel), 1865–1889 [9]

  • 1865 (P) – 11,382,000
  • 1866 (P) – 4,801,000
  • 1867 (P) – 3,915,000
  • 1868 (P) – 3,252,000
  • 1869 (P) – 1,604,000
  • 1870 (P) – 1,335,000
  • 1871 (P) – 604,000
  • 1872 (P) – 862,000
  • 1873 (P) – 1,173,000
  • 1874 (P) – 790,000
  • 1875 (P) – 228,000
  • 1876 (P) – 162,000
  • 1877 (P) – About 510 (all proof)
  • 1878 (P) – 2,350 (all proof)
  • 1879 (P) – 38,000
  • 1880 (P) – 21,000
  • 1881 (P) – 1,077,000
  • 1882 (P) – 22,200
  • 1883 (P) – 4,000
  • 1884 (P) – 1,700
  • 1885 (P) – 1,000
  • 1886 (P) – 4,290 (all proof)
  • 1887 (P) – 5,000
  • 1888 (P) – 36,500
  • 1889 (P) – 18,190

See also

Related Research Articles

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coinage Act of 1873</span> Revision of the laws relating to the Mint of the United States

The Coinage Act of 1873 or Mint Act of 1873 was a general revision of laws relating to the Mint of the United States. By ending the right of holders of silver bullion to have it coined into standard silver dollars, while allowing holders of gold to continue to have their bullion made into money, the act created a gold standard by default. It also authorized a Trade dollar, with limited legal tender, intended for export, mainly to Asia, and abolished three small-denomination coins. The act led to controversial results and was denounced by critics as the "Crime of '73".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nickel (United States coin)</span> Current denomination of United States currency

A nickel is a five-cent coin struck by the United States Mint. Composed of cupronickel, the piece has been issued since 1866. Its diameter is 0.835 inches (21.21 mm) and its thickness is 0.077 inches (1.95 mm).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">United States Mint</span> Government agency that produces circulating coinage for the United States

The United States Mint is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury responsible for producing coinage for the United States to conduct its trade and commerce, as well as controlling the movement of bullion. The U.S. Mint is one of two U.S. agencies that produce money in the case of minting coinage; the other is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints paper currency. The first United States Mint was created in Philadelphia in 1792, and soon joined by other centers, whose coins were identified by their own mint marks. There are currently four active coin-producing mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and West Point.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dime (United States coin)</span> Current denomination of United States currency

The dime, in United States usage, is a ten-cent coin, one tenth of a United States dollar, labeled formally as "one dime". The denomination was first authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Two-cent piece (United States)</span> Coin of the United States (1864–1873)

The two-cent piece was produced by the Mint of the United States for circulation from 1864 to 1872 and for collectors in 1873. Designed by James B. Longacre, there were decreasing mintages each year, as other minor coins such as the nickel proved more popular. It was abolished by the Mint Act of 1873.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liberty Head nickel</span> American five-cent piece

The Liberty Head nickel, sometimes referred to as the V nickel because of its reverse design, is an American five-cent piece. It was struck for circulation from 1883 until 1912, with at least five pieces being surreptitiously struck dated 1913. The obverse features a left-facing image of the goddess of Liberty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Half dime</span> Former United States five-cent silver coin

The half dime, or half disme, was a silver coin, valued at five cents, formerly minted in the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Twenty-cent piece (United States coin)</span> Coin of the United States (1875–1878)

The American twenty-cent piece is a coin struck from 1875 to 1878, but only for collectors in the final two years. Proposed by Nevada Senator John P. Jones, it proved a failure due to confusion with the quarter, to which it was close in both size and value.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian Head cent</span> American one-cent coin (1859–1909)

The Indian Head cent, also known as an Indian Head penny, was a one-cent coin ($0.01) produced by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1859 to 1909. It was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shield nickel</span> First US five cent piece to be made out of copper-nickel

The Shield nickel was the first United States five-cent piece to be made out of copper-nickel, the same alloy of which American nickels are struck today. Designed by James B. Longacre, the coin was issued from 1866 until 1883, when it was replaced by the Liberty Head nickel. The coin takes its name from the motif on its obverse, and was the first five-cent coin referred to as a "nickel"—silver pieces of that denomination had been known as half dimes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barber coinage</span> American coins

The Barber coinage consists of a dime, quarter, and half dollar designed by United States Bureau of the Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber. They were minted between 1892 and 1916, though no half dollars were struck in the final year of the series.

The coins of Canada are produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and denominated in Canadian dollars ($) and the subunit of dollars, cents (¢). An effigy of the reigning monarch always appears on the obverse of all coins. There are standard images which appear on the reverse, but there are also commemorative and numismatic issues with different images on the reverse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Three-dollar piece</span> US three-dollar coin (1854–1889)

The three-dollar piece was a gold coin produced by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1854 to 1889. Authorized by the Act of February 21, 1853, the coin was designed by Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre. The obverse bears a representation of Lady Liberty wearing a headdress of a Native American princess and the reverse a wreath of corn, wheat, cotton, and tobacco.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gold dollar</span> U.S. one-dollar coin (1849–1889)

The gold dollar or gold one-dollar piece is a gold coin that was struck as a regular issue by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1849 to 1889. The coin had three types over its lifetime, all designed by Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre. The Type 1 issue has the smallest diameter of any United States coin minted to date.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Washington quarter</span> US 25-cent coin minted since 1932

The Washington quarter is the present quarter dollar or 25-cent piece issued by the United States Mint. The coin was first struck in 1932; the original version was designed by sculptor John Flanagan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James B. Longacre</span> American portraitist and engraver (1794–1869)

James Barton Longacre was an American portraitist and engraver, and the fourth chief engraver of the United States Mint from 1844 until his death. Longacre is best known for designing the Indian Head cent, which entered commerce in 1859, and for the designs of the Shield nickel, Flying Eagle cent and other coins of the mid-19th century.

The United States Mint has released annual collections of coins most years since 1936.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Three-cent nickel</span> US copper-nickel three-cent coin (1865–1889)

The copper-nickel three-cent piece, often called a three-cent nickel piece or three-cent nickel, was designed by US Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre and struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint from 1865 to 1889. It was initially popular, but its place in commerce was supplanted by the five-cent piece, or nickel.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Three-cent silver</span> US three-cent coin (1851–1873)

The three-cent silver, also known as the three-cent piece in silver or trime, was struck by the Mint of the United States for circulation from 1851 to 1872, and as a proof coin in 1873. Designed by the Mint's chief engraver, James B. Longacre, it circulated well while other silver coinage was being hoarded and melted, but once that problem was addressed, became less used. It was abolished by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1873.


  1. Blanchard and Company. "The Unusual Journey of the Three Cent Silver Coin". CoinWeek, LLC. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  2. CoinWorld Silver 3 Cents
  3. 1 2 "Can You Spare A Trime? 3-Cent Silver Coins Popular With Collectors". CDN Publishing, LLC. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  4. 1 2 Silver Three Cents: 1851–1873
  5. "SILVER THREE CENTS 1851 O 3CS MS". Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  6. Wells, Jim. "Numismatic History – "Crime of 1873" Creates Coinage Chaos". CoinWeek, LLC. Retrieved 15 January 2020.
  7. "The Three-Cent Piece" (PDF). The New York Times. September 2, 1883.
  8. "Glass 3-Cent Piece". The Ottawa Journal. 1942-10-31. p. 36. Retrieved 2018-04-06.
  9. 1 2 Yeoman, R.S.; Bressett, Kenneth; Garrett, Jeff; Bowers, Q. David (2019). A Guide Book of United States Coins. Pelham, Alabama: Whitman Publishing.

Further reading