Collect Silver Three Cent Pieces

By | October 13, 2015
1857 Three-cent Piece

1857 Three-cent Piece – Reverse

Silver three cent pieces are interesting and unusual coins that were minted as legal tender by the United States in the mid 1800’s. Silver three cent coins are an unusual oddity that make excellent numismatic collectibles and can be part of a nice investment in old American coins. Being unusual coins, they came to be known under several different names: Three-cent coin, three-cent piece, fish scales and trimes.

The coin was designed by James Barton Longacre and features a shield-bearing six-pointed star on the obverse and the Roman Numeral III on the reverse. They were minted at Philadelphia (1851 – 1872) and New Orleans (1851 only).

History of the US Silver Three Cent Piece

1857 Three-cent Piece

1857 Three-cent Piece – Obverse

The three-cent piece has a remarkably unusual history. The coin was proposed by Congress in 1851 for two main reasons:

  • Firstly, to provide a denomination smaller that the nickel five-cent coin (Remember, at that time three cents was worth a lot more than today!), and
  • Secondly, because of a decrease in US postage rates from five cents to three cents. (Amazing, the cost of a postage stamp actually declined!).

Initially made of a 75 percent silver – 25 percent copper alloy, these coins were the lightest weight pieces ever produced by US mints,  weighing in at only 0.8 gram. Their diameter is actually smaller than a modern dime and only slightly greater than the smallest gold dollar coin minted by the US. In 1854, the coin’s silver content was increased to 90% in order to encourage circulation. Along with the alloy change, its weight was reduced even more to 0.75  gram by reducing its thickness.

Three types of silver three-cent pieces were minted:

  • Type 1 (1851-1853): No Outline Around Star, 75% silver 25% copper.

    Type 1

    Three Cent Silver Piece, Type I

  • Type 2 (1854-1858): Double Outline Around Star, 90% silver 10% copper.

    Type 2

    Three Cent Silver Piece, Type II

  • Type 3 (1859-1873): Single Outline Around Star, 90% silver 10% copper.

    Type 3

    Three Cent Silver Piece, Type III

Initially,  three-cent pieces provided for their intended purpose: They circulated widely and helped with the purchase of the new 3-cent postage stamps. However, this coin had its drawbacks. It was so small and lightweight that it was easily misplaced. The silver three-cent piece was discontinued by the Coinage Act of 1873 and was never minted by the US again.

For additional information about these historically interesting coins, purchase this treatise, by Flynn and Zack:

Silver Three Cent Pieces vs. Nickel Three Cent Coins

Three cent nickel

1871 Proof Three-cent Nickel-Obverse

The US also produced another type of three-cent coin, the three-cent nickel. In fact, both sliver and nickel three-cent coins were minted by the US simultaneously from 1865 to 1873.

Production of nickel three-cent coins ramped up during that last eight years of silver three-cent minting. At the same time, only limited numbers of its silver counterpart were struck, hastening the demise of the silver three cent piece.

Silver Three Cent Coins: Mintages and Rare Dates


1851-O Three Cent Piece

In general, the Type 1 and 2 coins have the largest mintages. At the highpoint, in 1852, 18,663,500 specimens were produced at the Philadelphia mint. Type 3 silver three cent pieces have a number of dates with very small mintages. From 1867 to 1872, less than 5000 were minted  each year, making many of the Type 3 coins real rarities.

Where to Obtain Your Three Cent Pieces

By now you are intrigued and might like to collect a few silver three-cent pieces. The more widely produced dates, early in the hisoty of this coin, are relatively affordable. The rarer dates can make an excellent investment! These amazing interesting bits of Americana can be purchased on Amazon and bid on at eBay.

You can also purchase these coins from out preferred broker, Golden Eagle Coins:

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4 thoughts on “Collect Silver Three Cent Pieces

  1. Merceadez

    I’ve always wanted to get into coin collecting. When I was a kid I used to collect coins but nothing as beautiful as these, just regular kind of old coins. As a new collector where do you recommend that I start? I really like these Silver Three Cent Coins: Mintages and Rare Dates. Coin collecting so so cool, just knowing that what your holding in your hand is so much older than you its ancient. Thanks for the good read. I enjoyed all the history.

    1. Mike Post author

      Hello Merceadez,

      Thanks for your visit and comment. You can start by looking around this site and learning about coin collecting. If you are on a limited budget, try collecting Junk Silver . These coins are really not junk. They are valuable, but not too expensive for beginners.

  2. Mark Grundy

    Hi Mjdimarco,

    Interesting article on Silver Three Cent Pieces, I had no idea these even existed!
    Do you think these currencies are still usable in certain parts of the world now?
    The one with the jewish star is very interesting, did you manage to get hold of these gems yourself??

    1. Mike Post author

      Hello Mark,

      Indeed, the Unites States has produced some interesting coinage in yesteryear. They are all but gone from circulation today. Other countries have obsolete coinage as well. In order to collect them, you generally have to buy them from dealers (check out our affiliates on this site)…. or be lucky enough to inherit them from a kindly uncle!


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