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    

1872 3cs Pcgs Pr 58 Key Date Three Cent Silver Everymans Au Registry Coin1882 3 Cent Nickel 1865 J-413 Judd Pattern Three-cent Nickel 3cn Proof Pr 63 Rb Red Brown Pcgs Ogh1861 Three Cent Silver Piece, Razor Sharp Solid Gem Bu++ Better Date, Free S/h!1860 Three Cent 3 Cent Silver Piece Coin High Grade1861 Three Cent 3 Cent Silver Piece Coin1882 * Pcgs Pr67+ Plus Grade * Cac * Three Cent Nickel 3c 3cn * Only 4 * Top Pop1853 Three Cent Silver Piece, Choice Au++/unc, ** Free Shipping!1883 Proof 3cn Three-cent Nickel Ngc Cac Pf661857 3cs Three Cent Silver, Rare, 3 Cent, 90% Silver, You Grade It, No Reserve1869 3 Cent Nickel Piece - Fine Condition - Free Shipping !1870 * Pcgs Ms65 * Cac * Three Cent Nickel 3c 3cn * $750++++ Gorgeous Bright Gem1852 3-cent Silver Piece1885 Three-cent Nickel 3cn Pcgs Cac Pr661883 Three-cent Nickel 3cn Ngc Cac Pf661882 Proof 3cn Three-cent Nickel Pcgs Cac Pr671851 3 Cent Silver Coin 1881 Proof 3cn Three-cent Nickel Ngc Cac Pf66 Cameo1879 Proof 3cn Three-cent Nickel Pcgs Cac Pr65 Ogh1867 Nickel Three Cent Piece. Ngc Ms63. Nice!!1861 3c Silver Three-cent Piece (trime)1881 Us Three Cent Nickel Piece! Very Fine! Old Us Coins!1889 Three-cent Nickel 3cn Pcgs Cac Pr661888 Three Cent Nickel Almost Uncirculated Obverse Cud Better Date 3cn3c Three Cents 1865 1866 1881 F/vf Nickel 3 Diff Civil War Era Original Tone1865 Us 3 Cent Nickel Coin - Ungraded - No Reserve1853 3 Cent Silver Coin G/vg (not Relist) From Estate Starts @1.99Antique 1865 Us Three 3 Cent Nickel Coin Piece Trime1858 3c Pcgs Ms 65 + 1851 Three Cent Silver Piece 3¢ Silver1853 Silver 3 Cent Piece1881 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1866 Three Cent Nickel Fine Plus Condition Great Type Coin ~no Reserve~1870, 1873 & 1881 3¢ Three Cent Nickels Nice Strong Detail1865, 1866 & 1868 3¢ Three Cent Nickels Nice Strong DetailPair Of Silver 3-cent Pieces. 1852 And 1853.Usa Silver Coin 3 Cent 1858 With Hole1866 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1867 Three Cent Nickel, Cameo Proof, Impressive Superb Gem Pf++, Better Date Pr!1856 3 Three Cent Nickel Pcgs Certified Vf 35 Very Fine (958)1868 3-cent Nickel Original Au Rare Old Type Coin Three Cent 3c. Trime Nice!1867 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1874 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1853 Silver Three-cent Piece. (trimes)Old Us Coins Rare Choice 1881 Obsolete Three Cent Nickel 3c Piece Old Us Coins Rare 1867 Obsolete Three Cent Nickel 3c Piece Nice1872 3 Cent Nickel 1888 Nickel 3 Cent Us Coin1861 T-1 Three Cent Silver Extra Fine . Three Cent Silvers -1861 -variety Iii - Coin Lot 8-271851 O Three Cent Silver 3 Cent Silver Scarce New Orleans Mint Issue1865 3cn Three Cent Nickel1874 Three Cent Nickel Coin (vf+) On Copper-nickel "" Nice Dirty One ""1868 Three 3 Cent Nickel F+1868 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1865 United States Nickel 3 Cent Piece Extra Fine PlusUnited States Three 3 Cent Nickel 18701851 Three Cent Silver Coin. Bent But Good Details. Lot 68.1865 3 Cent Nickel Piece Coin United States* 1851 * Three Cent Silver Piece 3¢ Silver