The United States three-cent coin was a short-lived denomination of a United States dollar.
It was a tiny silver coin at first; designed by James B. Longacre, the silver version was produced for circulation from 1851 to 1872 and for as proof only in 1873.
After a massive importation of gold bullion during the California Gold Rush, silver could be traded for increasing amounts of gold, so U.S. silver coins were exported and melted for their metal. This, and the reduction of postage rates to three cents, prompted Congress in 1851 to authorize a coin of that denomination made of .750 fine silver, rather than the conventional .900. The three-cent silver was the first American coin to contain metal valued significantly less than its face value, and the first silver coin not to be legal tender for an unlimited amount. The coin saw heavy use until Congress acted again in 1853, making other silver coins lighter, which kept them in circulation. Congress also lightened the three-cent silver, and increased its fineness to 900 silver.
With the return of other denominations to circulation, the three-cent silver saw less use, and its place in commerce was lost with the economic chaos of the American Civil War, which led to hoarding of all gold and silver coins. It had circulated well while other silver coinage was being hoarded and melted, but once that problem was addressed, became less used and was abolished by the Coinage Act of 1873.
A bronze replacement was briefly considered in 1863, but the silver version was finally replaced with a copper-nickel coin first issued in 1865 (for several years, the two versions were issued in parallel). Known at the time as a "nickel" (the nickname later transferred to the 5¢ coin), it was struck until 1889. The three-cent nickel piece initially circulated well, but became less popular when the five-cent nickel was introduced in 1866 - a larger, more convenient coin, with its value of five cents better fitting the decimal system. After 1870, most years saw low annual mintages for the three-cent nickel, and in 1890 Congress abolished it too.
The denomination was only struck by the Philadelphia Mint, with no mint mark, with the exception of the first year of issue (1851) when some of them were minted at New Orleans with mint mark O.
The series is not widely collected, and the pieces remain inexpensive relative to other U.S. coins of similar scarcity.
At the centre of the obverse, a large decorative letter C - abbreviated from "cent", within which the Roman numeral III for the value of 3 cents.
Around, within a plain rim, thirteen stars represent the 13 original states forming the United States.
1854 and later: Within the C and above the numeral, an olive spring symbolising peace; below, a bundle of three arrows bound by a ribbon, a symbol of war.