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    

1862 Three Cent Silver Piece, Choice Bu ** Pq Strike Definition!1889 Three Cent Nickel Proof Ngc Pf66 Cameo **tied 2nd Finest Pop 24/10**1855 Three Cent Silver, 3c, Scarce Date, Vg Details, True Auction1884 Pcgs Pr 62 3 Three Cent Nickel PieceLot Of 4 United States 3c Three Cent Silver Coin Pieces 1852 1853 1856 1858Rare 1888 3 Cent Nickel Vf1887 Pcgs Vf 35 3 Three Cent Nickel Piece1885 Pcgs Pr Genuine Cleaned Three 3 Cent Nickel1858 Three Cent Silver 3¢ Higher Grade Rainbow Tones18?? Three Cent Silver With The ".dunbar" Counterstamp.Lot (9) Type Coins 1852 1853 Three Cent Silver 1865 3c Nickel 1866 1867 2c TwoDealer Lot Of 7 3c United States Nickel Three Cent Pieces 1865 - 18891853 Silver Three Cent Piece - Free Shipping1852 Silver Three Cent Piece - Free ShippingUsa 1864 Silver Three Cents 3 Cent Piece Trime 90% Silver ~rare~ See Condition1865 Three Cent Nickel, Lustrous Gem Early Date! ** Free Shipping!1858 Three Cent Silver W/ The ".murphy / Phila." Counterstamp.1852 Three Cent Silver Piece, Nice Choice Bu++/near Gem Bu, ** Neat Strike Thru!1851-o 3cs Three Cent Silver Pcgs Ag 3 Cac - No Reserve!1851 Three Cent Silver - Very Good Condition1865 Nickel Three Cent Piece Uncirculated, Nice Strike, 99c Start Auction!1958 3 Cent Silver Graded Vf 30 By AnacsLot (6) Mixed Date Us 3 Cent Pieces! Nice Group Of Circulated Coins! Nr! #b101865 3cn Three Cent Nickel Pcgs Genuine Cleaned Unc Details ~ Free Shipping + Nr1852 Three Cent Silver 3cs Obsolete Early Type Coin~nice Circulated Type Example1853 Three Cent Silver Fine * Circulated Us Coin1868 Three Cent Nickel, Super Nice Near Gem Bu! ** Free Shipping!5 ~ Three Cent Nickels ~ First Year Coin ~ 1865 1866 1867 1868 ~ No ReserveUnited States 1852 Three Cent SilverVery Rare Beautiful 1865 3 Cent Nickel Civil War 3c Au+Usa 1854 Silver Three Cents1865,1868 & 1871 3 Cent Nickels - Circulated (see Pictures)1865~~3-cent Nickel~~tough Date~~nice Details ~ 6Unsearched Shotgun Roll W/ 1867 3 Cent Nickel & 1899 Indian Head Penny Showing3 Cent Nickel Lot- 6 1865, 1866, 1867, 1872, 1873, 18811858 3 90% Silver Cent Trime Type Two Large Star RareCirculated 1870 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free ShippingOld Us Coins Rare Choice 1869 Obsolete Three Cent Nickel 3c Piece 1868 Us Three Cent Nickel Piece! Fine! Cud At 10 O'clock! Mint Error! Nice!1858 Three 3c Cent Silver (gp1867 " Three Cent Piece "1882 Iii Cents Nickel U.s.civil War Era 1861 Silver Three Cent Coin Nice CoinLot (6) Mixed Date Us 3 Cent Pieces! Nice Group Of Circulated Coins! Nr! #b71854 3 Cent Silver Variety 2 AuLot Of 2 Us 3c Three Cent Pieces Coins Different Dates 1851 & 18521853 3 Cent Silver -very Good-1865~~3-cent Nickel~~tough Date~~nice Details ~ 91852 3 Cent Silver(2) 1852, 1853 & Unreadable Date 3 Cent Silvers - Circulated (4 Coins-see Below)1870 Three Cent Nickel 3cn Graded Anacs Xf-45 Extremely Fine Details Better DateLot (2) Mixed Date Us Silver 3 Cent Pieces! Nice Circulated Coins! Nr! #b151870 Three Cent Piece Nickel Coin3c Three Cents 1852 Vg/f Type 1 Silver Trime Even Original Golden Grey Toning.1876 3c Nickel - Very Good Details1865 3cn Three Cent Nickel Civil War Era1851 3 Cent Silver - Good Details Us Coin 1873 Three 3 Cent Nickel Copper Nickel1861 Trime Type 3, 90% Silver Three Cent #4999 Lot Of Three (3) Silver 3 Cent Pieces * K 2946