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Three Cent Silver (1851-1873)

The History and Value of 1851-1873 Three Cent Silver

The United States Mint produced the 3-Cent Silver piece from 1851 to 1873 in very limited quantities. This coin has a fascinating history, born of the lowering of postage rates from five cents to three cents in 1851. The 3-Cent Silver piece was initially struck in a 75% Silver and 25% copper alloy, in an attempt to discourage the public from melting the coins for their Silver content. These Silver coins, sometimes referred to as “fish scales,” are the smallest coins ever produced by our mint.

In fact, these coins have a smaller diameter than our contemporary dime and weighed just 4/5 of a gram. In 1854, the coin’s composition was changed to 90% Silver to encourage circulation, while the coin’s weight was maintained at 4/5 of a gram through a reduction in the coin’s thickness. Today, 3-Cent coin values start around $20 but rise quickly depending on the year of mintage and condition.

3-Cent Silver Values

The value of a Silver 3-Cent piece varies based on a few key factors. While an 1851 3-Cent Silver piece in Good condition may be valued at around $20, 1855 in Uncirculated condition may command a premium in the neighborhood of $600. If you have a 3-Cent piece from a desirable year or a coin that appears to be in exceptional condition, you may want to have your coin evaluated by an expert at a reputable coin grading company such as PCGS or NGC.

These grading services will put your coin through a rigorous inspection process, allowing the expert to accurately gauge the coin’s condition to the minutest standards. They will also verify the coin’s Silver content and authenticity. When you have your coin graded, you can rest easy knowing you have the best information as to the coin’s fair market value.

3-Cent Silver Value and Condition

Because a coin’s condition has such a significant effect on its value, you need to closely examine your 3-Cent piece. One easy way to get an idea of the coin’s condition is through a close visual inspection. Start this process by picking a specific detail to examine. For example, look at the shield on the coin’s obverse. If the shield is significantly eroded and is smooth to the touch, the coin may be in Good condition.

If the shield still looks fairly crisp but has some slight wear, the coin may potentially be assigned a grade of Fine. If the shield looks to be hot off the presses with no visual signs of wear, damage or discoloration, that coin could potentially be in Extremely Fine condition. Needless to say, all other details on the coin, such as any text or other imagery, should be in similar condition.

Seek Out the 1851-O Mintmark

A 3-Cent Silver coin’s mint mark is located on its reverse. If you have an 1851 coin bearing the “O” mintmark, you have a special coin. This edition is sought by dealers and collectors because the 1851-O is the only 3-Cent Silver piece struck at a branch location and not in Philadelphia, where all other 3-Cent Silver pieces were produced. These coins may be valued at $25 for a coin in Good condition while an Uncirculated coin may be valued at around $400.

3-Cent Silver Values in the Future

There is a long-term growth potential for 3-Cent Silver pieces. As these coins age and become more difficult to find, dealers and collectors may go to greater lengths to acquire them. Many of these coins, even in Uncirculated condition, are affordable right now and it may be wise to consider adding one to your coin collection sooner rather than later.

Expand your collection today and shop our assortment of rare coins today.


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