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    

1851-o Three Cent Silver Piece. Au+ Low Mintage. Tough New Orleans 3c1882 3cn Pcgs Pr62 Three Cent Nickel (proof)1861 3cs Pcgs Pr63 Three Cent Silver (proof)1851-o 3cs Three-cent Silver - Pcgs Unc Details (damage)1858 Three Cent Silver Piece. Au+ Low Mintage.1888 Three Cent Nickel - Pcgs Pr62 (3cn)1862 3cs Three Cent Silver - Pcgs Au Details (smoothed)1852 Silver 3 Cent Piece Brilliant Coin Old Estate Collection 1870 Three Cent Nickel - Pcgs Au55 - Ddo & Rpd Fs-101 (fs-005) 3cn1853 - Silver 3 Cent Piece - Icg Au 501851-o Three 3 Cent Silver - Neat Type Coin - F1868 Pcgs Ms63 Three Cent Nickel (3cn)1851-o Three Cent Silver, Rare Key Date ** Free Shipping!1880 Tough Date 3 Cent Nickel, Pcgs Ms64, Low 21k Mintage Davidkahnrarecoins1853 Three-cent Piece (trime) *free Shipping After First Item*1885 3 Cent Nickel Original And Choice Very Hard To Find1881 88/88 Three Cent Nickel - Pcgs Au Details (cleaning) - Rpd-003 Error (3cn)1865 3c Nickel Three-cent Piece Pcgs Vf30Very Sharp Extremely Fine To Xf+ 1857 Three 3c Silver Trime Type Coin1885 Three Cent Nickel Proof, Impressive Superb Gem Pf++ Very Tough! ** Free S/h1872 Pcgs Au58 Three Cent Nickel (3cn)1880 Three Cent Nickel Vg 3cnRare 1862 3 Three Cent Silver Piece Coin Must SeeLot Of Four 3c Nickel Three-cent Pieces1852 Three Cent Silver, Choice Au++/unc ** Free Shipping!1857 Silver 3 Cent Piece - Better Condition - Au+1856 Three Cent Silver, Tough Silver Coin ** Free Shipping!1861 3 Cent Coin1861 U.s. 3 Cent Silver - Grades Vg1851 Silver 3 Cent Piece - Nice Coin - Au1856 Three Cent Silver Piece - Circulated Condition - 45su-42 - 1872 Us Three Cent Nickel Coins1873 Nickel Three Cent Piece Vg Very Good Details1859 3 Cent Silver - Fine Details 1870 Three Cent Nickel, Scarce Gem Pf++, Low Mintage, Free Shipping!1853 Three Cent Silver Au Details 3cs1865 Civil War Era Three Cent Nickel Xf Clashed Dies Obverse * Us Coin *1881 Nickel Three Cent Piece-higher Grade!1875 Three Cent Nickel...xf Condition...original And Nice !1854 3c Silver Three-cent Piece (trime)1853 3 C Three Cents Silver Coin Trime1874 3c Three-cent Nickel PieceLot Of 28 U.s. Three Cent Pieces No Reserve1859 Silver 3-cent Piece Type 2 - Very FineOld Us Coins Rare 1868 Obsolete Three Cent Nickel 3c Piece Nice No Reserve 1857 & 185? Three Cent Nickel Lot #639 Free Shipping1865 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1851 Philadelphia Mint Silver Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1851 Three Cent Trime Silver 3cCollection Of 3 Us Three 3¢ Cent Nickel Pieces 1865 1867 18671865 Three Cent Piece 3c3 Cent Piece 1853 Silver1852 Three Cent Silver "trime", Popular Pre-civil War Silver Type CoinU.s. Liberty 3 Cents Nickel Coin 18651873 3cn Three Cent Nickel Open 3 Y28761865 Three Cent Nickel - Very To Extra Fine Condition - 48su-4Very Sharp Extremely Fine To Xf+ 1851 First Year Three 3c Silver Trime Type Coin1871 Three Cent Nickel, 3c, Au-uncirculated Details, Hole, True Auction1857 3 Cent Silver - Fine Details 1851 3 Cent Silver - Fine Details