The war between the North and the South ended April 9, 1865. Five
days later President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Not exactly an auspicious backdrop for the introduction of a new U.S.
coin denomination – the copper-nickel 3-cent coin – but one that links
it forever to an important time in American history.
need for a 3-cent coin was voiced as early as 1849 – before
the introduction of the 2-cent coin in 1864 – when the Washington
Globe made the following observation: "It would be an
improvement in our currency, if there were a two-and-a-half or
three-cent piece of silver, or of a mixture of silver and copper.
There is everywhere in Spanish America a silver coin called a
cuartillo, which is the fourth part of a real (12½ cents), the
cuartillo being of course 3 1/8 cents. This is the smallest coin; and
instead of a smaller, eggs are used in some places, and in others
grains of cacao. A three-cent piece would be found to be very useful
and convenient, as it would not then be necessary to use the copper
cents to the extent they are now used, which though answering every
purpose for which they were intended, are still heavy and
inconvenient, and copper being very soft and very oxidizable, is not
particularly well adapted for either tasting, smelling or
handling.'" Others agreed in Washington with
the Globe's logic. Congress debated and then on March 3, 1851,
authorized a silver 3-cent coin. The first silver 3-cent coins were
struck later that year.
But that was not the end of the
push for a circulating 3-cent coin.
The story leading up
to the striking of the copper-nickel 3-cent coin involves several
players, most notably – a Mint director, a metallurgist/mining
investor, and congressional leaders.
In 1863, during U.S.
Mint Director James Pollock's first term, metallurgist James Wharton
became interested in nickel. According to Don Taxay's The U.S. Mint
and Coinage, Wharton was apparently encouraged by Pollock to
undertake its extraction.
Rep. John Adam Kasson, R-Iowa,
was an opponent of using nickel but eventually, due to the nationwide
disgust with the paper fractional currency notes, he relented.
Congress authorized production of a 3-cent coin in copper-nickel. The
copper-nickel 3-cent coin, designed by James B. Longacre, was
introduced in 1865. His obverse design features Liberty wearing a
coronet with a ribbon in her hair. Longacre's theme of a
coronet-crowned Liberty can be found in the Coronet gold dollar series
of 1849-1854 and the Coronet $20 double eagle of 1850-1907.
There are some slight differences between the depiction of
Liberty on the copper-nickel 3-cent coin and the gold dollar and
double eagle. On the 3-cent coin, Liberty wears a ribbon in her curls
in addition to the coronet. On the gold dollar, Liberty's curls stop
at the base of her neck, while in the $20 gold piece Liberty's curls
cover the back of her neck and the edge of the bust.
despite the small changes, the essence of Longacre's regal
personification of Liberty – as she appears on the 3-cent coin –
remains the same.
The reverse design is a Roman numeral
III with the same wreath as used on the 1859 Indian Head cent (also
designed by Longacre, who frequently mined earlier coin designs when
designing later issues).
The high mintage year for the
copper-nickel 3-cent coin was 1865, when 11,382,000 were struck.
Mintages for the copper-nickel 3-cent coin drop off for every year
after that with the least amount of coins struck in 1884 with 1,700
and only 1,000 in 1884.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: