Three Cent Nickels, 1865-1889

Three Cent Nickels, 1865-1889

During the Civil War, silver coinage was hoarded due to its intrinsic value and three-cent fractional paper money notes had become one of the standard units of exchange. The general public disfavored these notes, referred to as shin-plasters, because they would easily become dirty and ragged. Furthermore, the denomination of three cents did prove to be convenient for the post office but few other businesses. By March of 1865, the government had to find a solution to this dilemma.

The government forged a partnership with Joseph Wharton, a Philadelphia industrialist who gave his name to the famous business school located in that city. Wharton owned nickel mines in Canada and used his political influence (and the then current economic dilemma) to present a bill in Congress to strike a Three-cent coin from nickel. Shortly thereafter, the Three-cent nickel was being produced in huge quantities. The public’s acceptance of the new coin was instantaneous and a rush to exchange paper money for coinage occurred. This demand was short-lived, however, and the mintages of the Three-cent nickels in subsequent years declined from 11,382,000 in 1865 to only 1,000 coins in 1885! Over 17 million notes were exchanged for the nickels, primarily between 1865 and 1876. After 1876, the business strike mintages decreased dramatically with the exception of 1881.

As a result, these are difficult coins to collect today as business strikes and require a premium when purchased in high states-of preservation. Every one of the 25 dates in the series was minted in proof condition, however, with 1877, 1878 and 1886 being proof-only years. Oftentimes, complete sets are traded or assembled in Proof condition and can be superlative investments when purchased correctly.

Designed by: James Barton Longacre
Issued Date: 1865-1889
Composition: 0.75 part copper and 0.25 part nickel, an alloy commonly called nickel
Diameter: 17.9 mm.
Weight: 29.94 grains (1.94 grams)
Edge: Plain
Total Business Strike mintage: 31,332,527
Total Proof Strike mintage: 56,000 (estimated)

The obverse design consists of Miss Liberty wearing a diadem inscribed LIBERTY, her hair neatly arranged. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the date surround. The reverse is an adaptation of the laurel wreath earlier used on the 1859 Indian cent, enclosing the Roman numeral III.


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