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    

1880 Pcgs Shield Nickel Au 55 $9,500 Retail1869 Three Cent Silver High Grade Proof Very Reflective 100% Original1852 Three Cent Silver Pcgs Ms62 Ms 3 Cs Trime Ms1862 Three Cent Silver High Grade Key Date Philadelphia Mint Civil War Era1876 Three (3) Cent Nickel Au + Us Coin *full Liberty & Reverse Iii Lines*1861 3-cent Silver Piece Civil War Date Rare Old Type Coin High Grade Details1851-o 3 Cent Silver Pcgs Au Details1860 Three Cent Silver ** Free Shipping!Estate Found Group 5 United States 3 Cent Silver Piece Type 1 Trime CoinsCirculated 1875 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1860 Three Cent Silver 3cs S3c1851 Three Cent Silver Piece ** Free Shipping!1875 3-cent Nickel Piece1865 Us 3 Cent Nickel Piece1882 Three Cent Nickel Piece HoledCirculated 1875 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1859 Three Cent Reserve!Estate Found Group 6 United States 3 Cent Piece Nickel CoinsLot Of 2 Nickel Three Cent Piece 3c 1867 & 1874 (gp1872 Three Cent Nickel, Pleasing Coin, ** Free Shipping!1852 3c Three-cent Silver Piece, Trime1853 3cs Three Cent Silver Damaged 1870 3cn Three Cent Nickel Showing Great Details, See Reverse Vertical Lines.1853 Three Cent Silver 3cs S3c1875 Nickel Three Cent - Liberty - Greater Detail - Type Coin - Env. Stress -ab11853 3cn Silver Three Cent Coin Or Silver Trime (1851-1873) No Reserve!! 1853 Silver Three Cent Piece * Trimes * 3c Silver Antique Us Coin Lot #89 Lot Of 2 Nickel Three Cent Piece 3c 1872 & 1873 (esLot Of 2 Nickel Three Cent Piece 3c 1865 & 1874 (gp1853 3 Cent Silver - Type Coin - No Reserve1865 3 Cent Piece 3c Nickel Us Type Coin Liberty Head 3 Cents Coins Iii Cent1851-o Three Cent Silver, Good Grade. The Only Mint Marked 3 Cent Silver.1865 Nickel Three Cent Piece! 14 Day Satisfaction Guarantee1876 Nickel Three Cent Piece1852 Three Cent Silver * Free Shipping *Lot Of 2 Nickel Three Cent Piece 3c 1869 & 1868 (gp1862 Three Cent Silver, Scarce In Choice Bu Condition, Attractive Rich Toning!1853 Three Cent Silver Piece 1865, 1867 & 1868 3 Cent Nickels Lot Of 3 Coins1865 3 Cent Nickel Rare Higher Grade Full Liberty Condition #2831858 3 Cent Silver Coin1852 Silver Three Cent Piece * Trimes * Antique 3c Silver Us Coin Lot #891854 Us Silver 3 Three Cent Trime CoinΩ 1859 Three Cent Silver Vf-xf1852 3cs Three Cent Silver1869 5c Shield Nickel (1866-1883) No Reserve!! Coin Variey 2 Without Rays1861 3cs Three Cent Silver1852 "3" Cent Piece , Silver, Vg + ,found While Dectecting 1853 U.s. Silver Three Cent Piece, Fine ConditionLot Of 2 Silver Three Cent Piece 3c 1857 & 1853 (gs1865 Us Three Cent Nickel Piece! Fine! First Year Issue! Old Us Coins!1866 3 Cent Nickel1865 Three Cent Nickel United States Coin No Reserve1852 Three Cent Silver - 3 Cent Silver Us CoinCapital Plastics United States Three 3 Cent Type Set Holder Silver Nickel NewLot Of 2 Nickel Three Cent Piece 3c 1866 & 1874 (gp1872 3-cent Nickel PieceCirculated 1869 Philadelphia Mint Nickel Three Cent Coin Free Shipping1873 3cn Open 3 Three Cent Nickel. Key Date1852 3cs Three Cent Silver