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
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 2 (1854-1858): Double Outline Around Star, 90% silver 10% copper.
- Type 3 (1859-1873): Single Outline Around Star, 90% silver 10% copper.
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
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
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
1851 3-CENT SILVER PCGS MS-63 NICE!! STRONG AUCTION RECORDS
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