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Three Cent Silver Pieces 1851 – 1873

The Trime, or Three Cent Silver Pieces Strayed from the Norm

The Three Cent Silver is a bit of an unusual coin. Not only is the denomination different, but unlike most coins we have reviewed up to now, but the Three Cent Silver also does not offer a depiction of Mis Liberty or have its denomination within a wreath on the reverse. Nor does it display a portrait of Abraham Lincoln or anyone else for that matter. It is an unusual little coin.

The Three Cent Silver or “trime” was struck by the United States Mint from 1851 to 1873. The coins struck in 1873 are all Proof coins for collectors. The reduction in the national postal rates in 1851 from five cents to three cents helped spur the desire for a Three Cent coin. In 1851 Congress authorized a coin of that denomination.

As often happened at the US Mint, there was a competition between designers for choosing their coin designs. The Chief Coiner of the US Mint, Franklin Peale, and the Chief Engraver, James B. Longacre, squared off and competed to design this new, small silver coin. Peale looked backward for his inspiration, and Longacre looked forwards. Peale was inspired by the designs of Christian Gobrecht, Longacre’s predecessor. Peale struck a coin that used a Liberty Cap as its central device.

(Chief Coiner Franklin Peale’s pattern for a Silver Three Cent Piece.
(Chief Engraver James B. Longacre’s pattern for the Silver Three Cent Piece, accepted without major modifications.)

These coin designing competitions were actually healthy for the US Mint and kept a wide range of ideas free-flowing with respect to designs. Mint Director Robert Patterson preferred Peale’s design, but the relief needed to accomplish the look of the coin would be dramatically higher. Given that the Mint had no experience with striking a silver coin so small, Patterson chose Longacre’s design to mollify his Chief Engraver and to make the Mint’s experience easier and simpler.

Paterson also suggested that rather than the coins being struck in .900 Fine Silver as were all US silver coins, this small denomination be composed of .750 Fine silver. The rationale was that at .750 Fine the coins, if melted, would only be worth 2 ½ cents so hoarding and melting these new coins would be a losing proposition.

Longacre’s design was simple, as it had to be, in working on such a small space. A star is a dominant element on the obverse with a national shield inside it – the shield representing the unity of the nation and the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” around it. On the reverse, the Roman numeral for 3 (III) was placed inside an ornamental “C” representing the word “cents” surrounded by 13 stars. 

The Philadelphia Mint struck 5,446,00 coins that the first year – 1851, while the New Orleans Mint struck an additional 720,000 coins. That would be the first and last time a branch mint struck any three-cent silver coins. Both Mints did suffer a variety of issues striking a silver coin so small. Many quantities of these new coins were shipped directly to major US Post Offices to be used as a change for postage stamp purchases.

The consensus of the public reaction to the coin was “nice designs” but “too small” to handle easily and “too easy” to lose because of their size and weight. They were not well-liked. In 1854, the Fineness was increased from .750 to .900. The reason that this happened was to drive out the Spanish silver coins that were continuing to circulate in the United States. Many people wanted them because they had more silver in them. To again stop hoarding of these new coins, even though the Fineness was increased the weight of the coin was reduced so they were still profitable to make but unprofitable to hoard.

Because of this change in Fineness, it dictated that there would be three distinct types of Three Cent Silvers minted. The “Type I” Three Cent Silvers were produced from 1851 through 1853. There is no outline around the star on the obverse. “Type II” Three Cent Silvers were produced from 1854 to 1858.  There were two lines outlining the star on the obverse and also added were an olive sprig on the reverse over the “III” and a bundle of 3 arrows below it. “Type III” differs in that there is but one line outlining the star on the obverse.

The differences in the three types of Three Cent Silvers on the obverse are as follows:

(Type I [left] has no lines outlining the star. Type II [center] has 2 lines outlining the star. Type III [right] has one line outlining the star.)

The differences in Type I and the Type II & III reverse are easy to spot. Type II and Type III have an added olive branch above the Roman numeral “III” and a bundle of three arrows below the numeral III.

(The Type I Three Cent Silver Reverse [left] and the Type II & III Three Cent Silver common reverse [right].)

There was only one branch mint issue from 1851 to 1873. In 1851, the New Orleans branch mint struck 720,000 Three Cent Silver coins. The only difference between the 1851 coins struck in Philadelphia and the 1851 coins struck in New Orleans is the addition of a small “O” mintmark on the reverse.

(The 1851-O New Orleans Mint Three Cent Silver reverse.)

So in 1851, about 6.1 million coins were struck at both the Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints. 1852 and 1853 saw 18.7 and 11,4 million coins respectively. 1854 and 1855 were both under 1 million coins with 671,000 and 139,000 respectively. 1856, 1857 and 1858 were each over 1 million coins. 1859, 1860 and 1861 were each under 500,000 coins.

1862 provided us with both a normal date and an 1862 2/1 variety in 343,000 coins. 1863 had a normal date and an overdate 1863/2 in just 21,000 coins. 1864 through 1872 had only normal dates with 22,000 or fewer coins struck each year.

 In the final year, 1873, only 600 Proof coins were struck. All coins dated 1873 use the “Close3” style. No business strikes were issued whatsoever.  Public dissatisfaction with their overall size led to their demise in 1873.

DateTypeMintageFine ValueUnc Value
18513 Cent Silver5,447,400$65$250
1851-O3 Cent Silver720,000$90$650
1852 2/13 Cent SilverUnknown$500$1,250
1852 to 18623 Cent Silvers18 million to 286,000$70$450
1862 2/13 Cent SilverIncluded$65$300
1863 to 18673 Cent Silvers22,000 to 4,000$700$2,000
1868 to 18723 Cent Silvers4,500 to 1,000$700$2,000
1873 Close 33 Cent Silver600 Proofs Only$700$2,000

Expand your collection today and shop our assortment of 3 Cent Silver (1851-1873) (Trimes).

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