Three Cents, Coin Type from United States - detailed information

Three Cents, Coin Type from United States (issued 1851 - 1889)
Coin TypeThree Cents

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.

Obverse
United States / Three Cents - obverse photo

At the centre of the obverse, a six-pointed star within which the Union Shield of the United States, with seven horizontal stripes above and six vertical stripes below, representing the 13 original states forming the United States.

Around, within a plain rim, the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; below, the date of issue: [year].

There are three varieties based on the outline of the star:
- Type 1 (1851 - 1853) - single line
- Type 2 (1854 - 1858) - triple line
- Type 3 (1859 - 1873) - double line

Obverse Inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA [year]
Reverse
United States / Three Cents - reverse photo

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.

Reverse Inscription C III *************
EdgePlainEdge InscriptionNone
Coin Type: Three Cents - (23) Coins
Coin NameMintageSymbolLegend
Three Cents 1851 6,167,400 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1851
Three Cents 1852 18,663,500 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1852
Three Cents 1853 11,400,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1853
Three Cents 1854 671,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1854
Three Cents 1855 139,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1855
Three Cents 1856 1,458,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1856
Three Cents 1857 1,042,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1857
Three Cents 1858 1,604,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1858
Three Cents 1859 365,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1859
Three Cents 1860 287,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1860
Three Cents 1861 498,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1861
Three Cents 1862 343,550 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1862
Three Cents 1863 21,460 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1863
Three Cents 1864 12,470 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1864
Three Cents 1865, Silver 8,500 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1865
Three Cents 1866, Silver 22,725 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1866
Three Cents 1867, Silver 4,625 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1867
Three Cents 1868, Silver 4,100 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1868
Three Cents 1869, Silver 5,100 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1869
Three Cents 1870, Silver 4,000 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1870
Three Cents 1871, Silver 4,360 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1871
Three Cents 1872, Silver 1,950 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1872
Three Cents 1873, Silver (Proof only) 600 Shield of the Coat of Arms UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 1873
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Three Cents: Details
CountryUnited States
CurrencyUS Dollar
Sub-types Three Cents, Silver
From1851
To1889
Face Value3 (x Cent)
CurrentNo; withdrawn 1890
Material
DesignerJames Barton Longacre
TechnologyMilled (machine-made)
ShapeRound
OrientationCoin Alignment (Axis 6)
Size
Mass