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Three Dollar Gold Coins

The Production, History, and Value of Three Dollar Gold Coins

The obverse and reverse of a historic Gold Three Dollar coin set on a rich purple background.

The legendary three-dollar gold coin was created through the Mint Act of February 21, 1853, and first minted in 1854. While the design was unique and beautiful, these gold coins never caught on in popularity and experienced only limited circulation. Issued when Gold Quarter Eagles were still gaining prevalence, the lack of interest made later mintages primarily ceremonial, with striking terminated in 1889.


The history of the three-dollar gold coin dates back to 1832 when a New York Congressman wished to return American Gold coins into circulation. Congressman White suggested that Gold and Silver Eagles be struck at full value. While White’s suggestion led to the Coinage Act of 1834 to adjust gold and silver ratios, the three-dollar coins had not been approved.

By March 1851, the need had finally risen for the three-dollar gold coins. The price for United States postage stamps had been set at five cents in 1845, but the rate was deemed too high to continue and the compromise was the creation of both three-cent stamps and three-cent silver coins. Two years later, in February 1853, the government passed another law authorizing the three-dollar gold coin hoping that it would be used to buy entire sheets of 100 stamps at once.

While some in Congress in 1853 claimed the creation of the three-dollar gold coin was designed for the convenience of postal transactions, many others argued it was truly because of the large amounts of gold discovered in California around the same time. Regardless of the actual reason, or if it was a combination of both arguments, the three-dollar gold coin was soon brought into circulation.


The newly commissioned three-dollar gold piece was designed by James B. Longacre, the U.S. Mint chief engraver at the time, in April 1854. The initial mintage in 1854 was quite large, with the Philadelphia Mint producing the most significant amount of the three-dollar gold coins that the series would ever see. By 1859, an early numismatic writer named Montroville W. Dickeson was quoted to have said the three-dollar gold coins were “very unpopular, being frequently mistaken for a Quarter Eagle, and often counted as a five-dollar piece.”

Over the following years, the production of the three-dollar gold coins declined with interest. Mints were producing less of these coins, some releases only containing proof versions as a low number of people had begun collecting these coins instead of using them for currency.

The Final Years

As some interest in collecting grew in the 1880s for three-dollar gold coins, some workers at the Philadelphia Mint began illegal striking earlier-date pieces, including the years 1873, 1875 and 1876. Due to the growing numbers of three-dollar gold coins during this time, they gained some of their popularity back for gift giving or collections.

By 1889, Mint Director James P. Kimball stated in a letter to the House of Representatives Committee on Coinage that “this denomination serves no useful purpose.” After receiving Kimball’s letter, Congress decided to officially abolish all three-dollar gold coins production on September 26, 1890.

Three Dollar Gold Coin Design

A celebrated example of Pre-1933 Gold, the three-dollar coin design is called the Indian Princess Head. In actuality, the portrait bears a closer resemblance to Lady Liberty wearing a feathered headdress. Other details on the obverse include flowing hair and the word “Liberty” inscribed along with the coronet of the headdress.

The reverse is designed with a wreath inspired by major crops in American agriculture, including wheat, corn, cotton and tobacco. The wreath surrounds the date and “3 Dollars” in capital letters to indicate the face value. A ribbon knot at the base of the wreath is a detail of note because a raised vertical division at the center is an essential condition indicator.

Three Dollar Coin Value

Like other pieces from this period, the three-dollar gold coin value is influenced by the year it was minted along with the current condition. Top-quality examples have become hard to find, but some Fine and Extremely Fine coins occasionally appear. Some of the dates in this series are considered more common than other years, including 1854, 1874 and 1878, yet the mintages for these years were still less than 10,000.

For the most part, mint condition Philadelphia pieces minted after 1855 are rare. Coins struck in 1878 are still relatively easy to find today due to being created in larger quantities. Even though mintage was low during the last year of issue, 1889, since many people saved the three-dollar gold coins they received, mint state pieces exist in surprisingly high numbers compared to other series produced the same year.

Significant finds from the series include the unique 1870-S Three-Dollar Gold Piece, the Proof-Only 1875 and 1876 and the rare 1854-D – the only three-dollar gold coin struck at the Dahlonega, Georgia Mint.



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