3 CENT SILVER COINS
Otherwise known as Trimes, 3 Cent Silvers are very small coins that were mainly created for purchasing postage stamps.
Authorized by the Act of March 3, 1851, 3 Cent Silvers were produced by the United States Mint from 1851 to 1873. The coins were made of 75% silver and 25% copper until 1854 when Congress reduced their weight and raised the silver content to 90%. Some design changes also occurred at the same time, creating the Type 2 version of 3 Cent Silvers. They featured the new design for the following five years but were modified again in 1859, resulting in the creation of the Type 3 pieces.
3 Cent Silvers came about after the postage rates were lowered from five cents to three cents in 1851. The coins were originally made of only 75% silver to prevent hoarding, something that was happening with many of the silver coins already in circulation. Silver coinage was being collected because the price of silver had dramatically increased and coins containing the precious metal were worth a lot more than their face value. The price of silver began to rise when the value of gold dropped in relation to silver after large quantities of gold were discovered at Suttler’s Mill in 1848.
History of 3 Cent Silvers
In 1851, officials were making plans to reduce postage rates from five cents to three cents and New York Senator Daniel S. Dickenson suggested that a three-cent coin should be minted to make it easy for people to purchase stamps. At the time, it was unusual to see a silver coin in circulation because they were being hoarded by members of the general public so there were some concerns about introducing a new silver coin.
As the population was against money that didn’t contain silver, producing a non-precious metal coin was out of the question. Dickenson put forward the idea of a three-cent coin with just enough silver to keep the public happy but not enough to encourage hoarding activity. It was agreed that the new coin would be composed of 75% silver and 25% copper, a decision cemented by the Act of March 3, 1851.
When first released in 1851, 3 Cent Silvers were struck at the mint facilities of Philadelphia and New Orleans. The Philadelphia Mint produced all of the other issues including every proof coin throughout the series, which ended in 1873. 3 Cent Silvers circulated well and became useful for purchasing stamps, just as Dickenson had intended. However, the coins were tiny and many people complained that they kept losing them. 3 Cent Silvers also became discolored over time, so it wasn’t long before they were labelled “fish scales.”
Type 1 Coins (1851–1853)
Between 1851 and 1853, the 3 Cent Silver Coin was composed of 75% silver and 25% copper. United States Mint chief engraver James Barton Longacre was made responsible for designing the piece but he found it challenging because the coin was so small.
On the obverse of the Type 1 coins is a patriotic shield placed on a six-pointed star, surrounded by the date and the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The reverse features the Roman numeral III within a decorative C which is encircled by thirteen stars. Longacre had no choice but to keep his design simple since he didn’t have much room to play with.
A total of 36,230,900 Type 1 coins were minted from 1851 to 1853, with the majority produced at the Philadelphia Mint. The New Orleans Mint struck 720,000 pieces in 1851 and this was the only time any mint facility other than Philadelphia made 3 Cent Silvers. Consequently, the 1851-O with an O mintmark on the reverse is the rarest Type 1 coin.
Type 2 Coins (1854–1858)
Prompted by Congress, the United States Mint lowered the weight of 3 Cent Silvers and increased their finesse to .900 silver in 1854. The shift was made in order to keep the coins in circulation and drive foreign coinage out. 3 Cent Silver Coin designer Longacre was ordered to modify his original design to correct striking problems and signify the changes made by the Mint, creating the Type 2 coins.
Longacre was faced with a tough task, especially as he had already struggled in 1851 to come up with a suitable design for such a small coin. He decided to add three outlines to the star on the obverse and place a bundle of arrows and an olive branch on the reverse. The arrows and olive branch are located below and above the Roman numeral III respectively.
The first Type 2 pieces were released in 1854 but it soon became apparent that Longacre’s new design was even more challenging to strike than the Type 1 coins. Produced for a total of five years, very few well-struck examples have survived. Just under 5 million Type 2 3 Cent Silvers were made at the Philadelphia Mint, with the rarest date being 1855.
Type 3 Coins (1859–1873)
As the Type 2 pieces were proving troublesome to strike, Longacre was once again instructed to improve the design of the 3 Cent Silver Coin. In 1859, he not only removed one of the outlines from the star but also made the lettering smaller and more evenly spaced on the obverse. No changes were made to the reverse.
Longacre’s modifications seemed to put an end to the striking problems. All Type 3 pieces were manufactured in Philadelphia and the business strikes made between 1863 and 1872 are particularly rare. The 1873 coin was struck in proof only and is hard to find because only 600 were made. There are also some Type 3 overdates including the 1862/1 and extremely rare 1869/8, as well as the 1863/2 proof.
3 Cent Silvers started disappearing from circulation when the Civil War broke out in 1861 and were eventually eliminated in 1873. Although the tiny silver coins once had an important role in America’s monetary system, they were longer needed after the 3 Cent Nickel was introduced in 1865.
Purchase the Smallest Coins Ever Made by the U.S. Mint
Often referred to as fish scales, 3 Cent Silvers have an interesting history tied to the postal rates of the same period. The coins have a tiny and unusual 14mm diameter which makes them particularly fascinating and explains why they were so easily lost throughout their time in circulation. While 3 Cent Silvers were not as popular as other coins back in the day, they have now become highly sought after pieces because they are becoming harder and harder to find.
If you want to get hold of 3 Cent Silvers for your personal collection, please feel free to reach out to Capital Gold Group. Our coin experts can guide you through your options and discuss ways of purchasing these coins from our vault. Simply call us or send us a message via our online form for more information on prices and placing an order.
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