There are two general kinds of three-cent U.S. coins. The first are the silver coins known as trimes among numismatists but called “fish scales” by mid-19th-century consumers due to their diminutive size. These were struck between 1851 and 1873. Three-cent nickel coins designed to replace the silver ones were minted between 1865 and 1889.

The introduction of trimes coincided with the lowering of postal rates from five cents to three. The coin was essentially conceived as a denomination to purchase this postage, which was important because the widely available copper large cents in circulation at the time were routinely refused by merchants, which made them understandably unpopular with the public. In addition, the majority of silver coins in circulation, foremost among them Seated Liberty quarters, were either being hoarded or melted for their bullion value, which was greater than their face value. Small trimes injected a much-needed supply of coinage into the economy.

The three-cent trime was designed by the U.S. Mint’s chief engraver, James Barton Longacre, who also created Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents, Shield nickels, and Liberty Head double eagles. There are three types of silver trimes, beginning with the Type I coins minted in Philadelphia and New Orleans in 1851, as well as those minted in Philadelphia in 1852 (the largest mintage) and 1853 (second largest). These feature a shield within a six-pointed star on the obverse and the Roman numeral III surrounded by a large “C” on the reverse. The composition of these Type I trimes is 75% silver and 25% copper.

Type II trimes were struck between 1854 and 1858. While their silver content was increased to 90% to bring them into line with other U.S. silver coins in circulation, their weight was reduced to discourage bullion speculators. To differentiate these coins from the Type I trimes, Longacre added two rims around the star on the coin’s obverse, as well as an olive branch and bunch of arrows within the “C” on the reverse.

Type III trimes were minted between 1859 and 1873 in far fewer numbers than the Type I and Type II varieties that preceded them. The Civil War was one reason, a period when metal of all type was scarce, making coins prime targets for hoarding. But after the war, the coin was minted concurrently with the nickel three-cent pieces designed to replace them. These featured Longacre’s engraving of Lady Liberty on the obverse and the Roman numeral III, surrounded by a wreath, on the reverse. These new three-cent coins would continue to be struck until 1889, although in generally fewer numbers after 1875. As for the overlapping Type III silver trimes? In 1873, about 74,000 of them, representing nearly all of the trimes produced for circulation between 1863 and 1873, were melted down by the U.S. Mint.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1868 Ngc Graded Proof 63 Silver Three Cent Piece1881 Three Cent Nickel Cameo Proof, Stunning Superb Gem Pf++, ** Razor Sharp Pr!1889 3 Cent Piece Coin Proof Pf 60 Certified Anacs Key Date Graded No Reserve1882 Seated Liberty Dime Proof-toned-reflective Mirrors- 1100 Mintage!1867 3 Cent Nickel /1879 Indian Old Window Wrapped Roll Wheat/indian Cents #45711884 Indian/1881 3 Cent Nickel Ends Unsearched Old Roll Wheat/indian Cents #4583Nice 1870 3 Cent Nickel 145 Years Old 3c ☆coins On Sale Now In Our Ebay Store☆Lot Of 6 Nice 1852 3cs Three Cent Silver Trime Six Trimes J963Nice 1874 3 Cent Nickel 141 Years Old 3c ☆coins On Sale Now In Our Ebay Store☆1851 3 Cent Silver "no Reserve Auction"Drbobcoins 1861 Type 3 3¢ Silver Coin, Very Fine1851, 1852 & 1855 3¢ Three Cent Silver 1856 Trime Silver 3 Cent 3c Antique Us Coin Vf Very FineC5819- 1880 Proof Three Cent Nickel Pcgs Pr66 - 3,955 Minted1879 Three Cent Nickel 3cn Pcgs Au53 -- Problem-free ~ Very Nice ~ Low Mintage!!Lot Of 4 Three Cent Nickels 1866 1867 1868 1870 Great Set Starters!Uncirculated 1869 3 Cent*** Beautiful High Grade Luster1851 Three 3 Cent Silver UncVery Fine Vf 1870 Rarer Three Cent 3c Nickel Nickle Type Coin Ccc Nr Auction!1853 3 Cents Silver Circulated Coin No Reserve!!1868 Three Cent Nickel Xf * Circulated Us Coin1868 Three Cent Nickel.1872 3 Cent Nickel In Very Fine Condition ~*free Shipping* *hucky* 1881 3 Cent Nickel 134 Years Old 3c ☆great Coins On Sale Now In Our Ebay Store☆1865- 1874 Three Cent Nickel Lot Of 101865 Three Cent Nickel.1853 3 Cent Silver - "no Reserve Auction"1857 Three Cent Silver. Very Fine.1854 Three 3c Cent Silver (es1865 3 Cent Nickel "no Reserve Auction"1881 Three Cent Nickel1881 Us 2 Cent Piece1865 Us 2 Cent Piece1867 Us 2 Cent Piece1860 Three Cent 3c Us Silver Coin, Nice1865 3cn Nickel Three Cent Piece : Clear Legends, Date, Denomination & Ribbons1865 Silver Three Cent Piece Rare Superior Old Us Coin. Lot 3cs11871 Three Cent Nickel ** Free Shipping!1851 3cs Three Cent Silver First Year Trime Nice Coin J9581865, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1873 & 1874 Three Cent Nickel 3¢1851 Three Cent Piece Silver Trimes Antique Us Collectible Small Coin Lot #1 1852 3 Cent Silver "no Reserve Auction"1854 3cs Three Cent Silver Type 2..nice Coin1853 3 Cents Silver Circulated Coin No Reserve!!1867 & 1975 3-cent Nickels From Estate Starts @.99c1853 Three 3 Cent Silver Good#1694Lot Of 4 1853 3cs Three Cent Silver Trime Coins Nice Lot J962Nice 1865 Three Cents Nickel Coin1854 3cs Three Cent Silver Piece Variety 2 Nice Trime J9611865 Three Cent Nickel Piece, Near Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1852-three Cent Silver-great Coin To Have For Your Collection.1870 3 Cent Nickel "no Reserve Auction"First Year 1865 Nickel 3 Cent 3c Antique Us Coin Vf Very Fine1859 ? Three Cent 3c Us Silver Coin1856 Three Cent 3c Us Silver Coin, Nice1859 Three Cent 3c Us Silver Coin, Nice1881 Three-cent Nickel 3cn - Pcgs Uncirculated Ms Detail5 Nickel Three-cent Pieces - 1865,66,67,68 & 70Three 3 Cent Nickels 1865-1866-1881 3 Coin Lot Circulated1875 Nickel Three Cent Piece !! Scarce Date ! Most Fasces !!