Learn About the 12 Types of 1865-1889 Three Cent Nickels
The Three Cent Nickel was designed by Chief Engraver of the US Mint, James B. Longacre and was struck between 1865 and 1889. The shortage of all coins, even base metal ones, during the Civil War, was the impetus for minting Two Cent Pieces and Three Cent Nickels. These coins were popular during the War but their popularity faded once the war ended and coinage was plentiful once again.
The paper currency – US Fractional Currency – was NOT popular during the war but was useful for conducting commerce. The Coinage Act of 1865 was signed into law by President Lincoln on March 3, 1865. This bill permitted a Three Cent coins to be struck in Copper-Nickel. It was popular in 1865 but less so in 1866 when the first Five Cent nickels were struck.
Longacre played it safe with a design that was not at all controversial. His obverse had a head of Miss Liberty facing left with “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” around and the date below. The reverse was simplicity itself in a Roman numeral “III” inside a laurel wreath. Really, nothing much else was needed.
1865 was the first year of minting and more than 11 million coins were struck. This was the most abundant year. In 1866 less than 5 million were struck as the Civil War ended, coins became more plentiful and demand for a nickel coin abated. 1867 through 1870 the mintages were between 1 and 4 million coins.
From 1871 to 1876, the mintages continued to drop, from a high of 862,000 to a low of 162,000. In 1873, two distinct varieties emerged – the Open 3 and the Close 3. 1877 and 1878 were years in which the Mint only struck Proof coins for collectors striking 900 and then 2,350 respectively.
1879 and 1880 saw mintages under 40,000 in each year. But those were still not the years of the lowest mintages. 1881 saw a brief resurgence as a temporary drought of 3-cent coins occurred, but that was the last year that any date would be over even 40,000 coins struck.
Since Charles Barber was now the Chief Engraver and there was talk of redesigning the pair of “nickel coins” (the 3 Cent nickel and the 5-cent nickel), Barber designed a pattern coin with yet a different Miss Liberty facing left, with “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” around and the date below. The reverse design was untouched by the current coin with the exception that the wreath had gone from laurel to cotton. Treasury officials liked the design enough to adopt it, with some modifications for the Liberty V Nickel, which was introduced in 1883. But the death knell was sounding for the Three Cent Nickel.
A contributing factor to the Three Cent Nickel’s demise was lowering, for a second time, of US postal rates from Three Cents to Two Cents. This effectively eliminated one of the main reasons for producing that denomination altogether. The nickel coin was popular as most street cars in the major cities had a nickel fare to a majority of destinations.
From 1882 to 1885, the number of Three Cent Nickel coins struck ranged from 22,000 to just 1,000. 1886 was a Proof Coins only year with 4,290 coins struck for collectors. 1887 saw only 5,001 coins struck but an overdate was discovered – 1887 7 over 6. 1888 and the final year 1889 saw 36,501 coins and 18,125 coins respectively.
The Three Cent denomination had a 24-year run but was discontinued due to a lack of demand for the no longer useful denomination. It is the only denomination that was struck in both silver and copper-nickel metals as a series of coins.
|Date||Type||Mintage||Fine Value||Unc Value|
|1865||3 Cent Nickel||11,382,000||$30||$125|
|1866 to 1876||3 Cent Nickels||4,801,000 to 162,000||$35||$200|
|1877||3 Cent Nickel||900 Proofs Only||$1,000||$2,500|
|1878||3 Cent Nickel||2,350 Proofs Only||$750||$1,250|
|1879 to 1882||3 Cent Nickels||1,077,000 to 21,000||$100||$400|
|1883||3 Cent Nickel||4,000||$400||$2,000|
|1884||3 Cent Nickel||1,700||$1,100||$3,500|
|1885||3 Cent Nickel||1,000||$1,3000||$5,000|
|1886||3 Cent Nickel||4,290 Proofs Only||$300||$500|
|1887||3 Cent Nickel||5,001 w/Overdate||$400||$600|
|1888||3 Cent Nickel||36,501||$75||$400|
|1889||3 Cent Nickel||18,125||$125||$400|
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