Three Cent Menu
Silver Three Cent 1851 - 1873
The smallest U.S. coin ever issued in terms of weight and thickness was designed to answer two situation.
The first situation was, the 1849 gold rush resulted in mining enormous quantities of gold. This in turn caused
the value of gold to fall in relationship to silver leading to widespread hoarding of silver coins. By 1851, few
silver coins remained in circulation. Nickel coins were not legal at the time, so the only remaining coins for
making change for a dollar were copper large cents and half cents.
The second situation was, federal officials wanted to reduce the basic prepaid postal rate from five cents to
three cents. Senator Daniel Stevens Dickinson of New York concluded, that a three-cent coin would be a convenient
way to purchase postal stamps.
The problem was, most Americans were uncomfortable with fiat money (money worth less than its face value), therefore
rejection of a base-metal three-cent piece seemed certain. On the other hand, a precious-metal coin made from 90%
silver and 10% copper would have also been subject to hoarding and melting.
The final solution was, a three-cent coin with enough precious metal to avoid being thought of as fiat money
but not enough to draw the interest of hoarders. The alloy they selected was 75% silver and 25% copper. This
proposal became law as the Act of March 3, 1851, taking effect June 30 of that year.
Some say the three cent coin was "fathered" by the gold rush and "mothered" by the nation's postal system.
Designer: James Barton Longacre
Weight: .8 grams
Diameter: 14.3 millimeters
Content: 75% silver 25% copper
Mint Mark Location: Just right of the opening of the C on the reverse.
Type 1 - (1851-1853)
No Outline on Star
James Barton Longacre designed the coin. Its very small size made the job extremely difficult.
Even allowing for that, few people find the coin artistically compelling. The obverse depicts a
nationalistic shield upon a six-pointed star, encircled by the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
and the date. The reverse states the value in Roman numerals III within a stylized, beaded "C" and
thirteen stars along the border.
Type 2 - (1854-1858)
Three Lines around Star
From 1851 to 1853 these coins were struck at the Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints.
They were 75 percent silver and 25 percent copper. This was the original design.
Coins dated 1854 to 1858 in order to correspond, were given the standard weight at 90% silver and 10% copper.
Type 3 - (1859-1873)
Two Lines around Star
Two shortcomings combined to cause the demise of the coin. First, they were small and easily lost.
Second, the base metal content caused them to easily discolored giving a dirty appearance. This
earned them the nickname of "fish scales".
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U.S. Silver Three-Cent Pieces