Three Cents Types (1851-1889)

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An Overview of Three Cent Silvers

In 1849 a new denomination, the three-cent piece, was suggested. In that year several patterns were made, two of which combined the obverse of a standard silver half dime with the reverse numeral as 3 and III. Another particularly curious piece was simply a combination of these two numbers, 3 and III, one serving as the obverse and the other as the reverse, thus creating the most simplistic pattern ever produced at the Philadelphia Mint. Actually, the piece was not produced as a pattern but was simply made to illustrate the size of the proposed denomination.

In 1851 additional patterns were made. The obverse depicted a liberty cap with rays surrounding. The reverse bore an inscription and a palm branch arranged in a circle.

When the silver three-cent piece, or trime as it is sometimes called (in government reports, but rarely by collectors), was first issued in 1851, it was hoped that it would help with postal transactions, for the letter rate was revised to 3c about that time. Also it was hoped that the pieces would relieve some of the demand for large cents. The initial pieces minted 1851-1853 differed from the other silver denominations (half dime to dollar) and contained 75% silver and 25% copper (instead of 90% silver and 10% copper). In later years, from 1854 to 1873, the alloy was the standard 90% silver and 10% copper as used on the larger silver coins.

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An Overview of Three Cent Nickels

The three-cent piece composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel, but of a silvery appearance, was authorized by the Act of March 3, 1865. It was designed to take the place of silver-alloy three-cent pieces (made since 1851, but in greatly reduced numbers after 1862) and to provide an alternative to three-cent paper fractional currency notes. The design, featuring a Liberty head with a tiara on the obverse and Roman numeral III within a wreath on the reverse, was the work of James B. Longacre. The reverse depicts a laurel wreath and was no doubt inspired by Longacre's 1859 Indian cent reverse.

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