As a result of the Gold Rush in 1849, the price of silver, relative to gold, rose substantially from the influx of newly discovered gold. Silver coins were hoarded and even exported and melted, causing a shortage of small silver change. The United States introduced the three cent coin and reduced the price of postage from five cents to three cents by Act of Congress March 3, 1851. It was felt at the time, that citizens in the South and the West would accept a small silver coin in payment, since they generally disliked the copper coins that contained no precious metal. It was originally issued in 75% silver with a weight of .80 grams. As a result of its small size and thinness, the coin proved to be impractical for everyday commerce. It wore out quickly and was easily damaged.
On March 3, 1865, just before the end of the Civil War, an Act was passed replacing the silver three cent piece with the nickel three cent piece. Joseph Wharton, who owned the nickel mines, was a strong lobbying force in getting this bill passed. Designer James B. Longacre created the design for the Copper Nickel Three Cent piece. It weighed 1.94 grams and had a composition of 75% copper and 25% nickel, which is much more durable than silver. The design features liberty facing left on the obverse and the roman numerals 'III' enclosed in a wreath on the reverse.
The Nickel Three Cent coin was minted only at the Philadelphia Mint from 1865 to 1889, with the exception of 1877 and 1878, which were only produced as proof coins. Proof coins were struck each year from 1865 to 1889. The 1865 Nickel Three Cent coin is the most available with an original mintage of 11,382,000 coins. Production declined each year until the 1877 vintage when business strikes were not produced. The mint created a small number of business strikes, generally under 50,000 coins, from 1879 to 1889, making them more collectible coins today, with the exception of the 1881 Nickel Three Cent which had 1,077,000 units minted.
As online coin dealers, we generally stock a number of years in lower grades with prices of decent circulated examples running from $20-$40. We hope you will take a second look at this rare coin series and "Own a Piece of History!"