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 United States 3 Cent Silver Piece. About Uncirculated - Uncirculated. Toned1852 Silver 3 Cent Piece Unc?1862 Three Cents Silver Pcgs Unc Detail1881 Pcgs Three Cent Nickel Proof, Pcgs Pr 64 ** Razor Sharp Strike Definition!1881 Ngc Pf65 3 Cent Nickel Item# T18631859 Type Iii Silver Three Cent Piece A Very Very Nice Philadelphia Mint Coin 1862 3 Cent Silver Lightly Circulated~rainbow Album Toned~ Colorful Toning1882 Seated Liberty Dime Proof-toned-reflective Mirrors- 1100 Mintage!*nice Lot Of (10) Three Cent Silver Trimes - Estate Fresh*1870 3c Nickel/1863 Indian Head Old Window Wrapped Roll Wheat/indian Cent #48151852 Three Cent Piece Silver Trimes 3 Cent Antique Us Small Coin Lot #6Ex-rare Lot 1852 3 Cent Silver Piece Us & German Ww2 A1 + A1 Coin 3rd Riech NaziLot Of 9 Silver Three Cent 3c Pieces Trimes No Reserve 1853 Silver Three-cent Piece--trimes-- Good Coin For The Age----------2b1861 Three Cent Silver, Scarce Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!Circulated Vg/f 3 Cent Nickel 1880 (scratch Reverse) *1851 Silver Three Cent Piece-ch/bu+ Details "holed"1852 Three Cent Piece Silver Trimes * Sharp Small Antique Coin Lot #6 Bold Date1866 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1879 3cn (proof) Three Cent Nickel Ngc Pf65 Pr651852 Silver 3 Cent Piece1851 3c Three-cent Silver Piece1888 3 Cent Piece 3c 3c Nickels 1859 Three Cent Silver 3c - Nice 1852 3cs Three Cent Silver1879 Three 3 Cent Nickel Pr64 Pcgs (grandpa Estate) Green Label 1876 Three Cent Nickel Xf Look Nrsv Check Out Collection Listed1853 Three Cent Silver, Super Nice Choice Bu++, ** Free Shipping!Jewelry Store/coin Shop Closing - 1852 3c - Type 1 Trime - Silver☆rare☆ 1852 3cs Three Cent $0.03 90% Pure U.s. Silver Coin Currency1852 Three 3 Cent Silver- Scarce Type Coin1881 Three 3 Cent Nickel Xf Extra Fine #16561865, 1865, 1867, Three-cent Nickels-- 3 Total In This Lot.--------3bEx-rare Lot 1867 3 Cent Nickel Us & German A5 Brass A1 + B1 Coins 3rd Reich Nazi1873 Three 3c Nickels Higher Grade (t3cn Nickel Usa 3 Cents Nickel 1880 Ngc Ms631851-o Three Cent Silver Rare New Orleans MintedCirculated Vg 3 Cent Nickel 1882 (scratch Reverse) *Old Us Coins Rare Choice 1868 Obsolete Three Cent Nickel 3c Piece United States 1861 Three Cent Silver Do The Grading Have Fun Bidding1870 Three Cent Nickel1874 Three Cent Piece 3cn Nickel 1855 Three Cent Piece Silver Trimes * Key Date * Small Antique Coin Lot #6 RareJewelry Store/coin Shop Closing - 1853 3c - Trime - Silver - Plugged1853 .90 Silver .80 Grams Silver Three-cent Piece Coin T-185Three Cent Piece And Indian Head Cent End**wheat Penny Roll****no Reserve*****1851 3cs Three Cent Silver Uncirculated1851 Iii Cent Silver A Fine CoinLot Of 8 Mixed Date Three Cent Nickels - Nice Mid-grade Coins1865 Three Cent Nickel - 3cn - #2 - No Reserve!1852 Three Cents Higher Grade, Original Surface 1854 Three Cent Silver, 3c, Vf-xf Details, True Auction1881 Liberty Three Cent--solid Fine/very Fine1865 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1868 Three Cent Reserve!1858 3 Cent Silver 3c Three Cent Var 2 Nice Xf Nrsv Look At Collection Listed1867 Three Cent Nickel, Pleasing Solid Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1853 Us 3c Three Cent 3 Cent Piece Silver Coin1872 Three Cent Nickel, Beautiful Solid Gem Bu++, ** Free Shipping!1865 Us Three-cent Piece