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1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof : A Collector’s Guide

1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

The Three-Cent Nickel is an under-appreciated 19th-century United States coin typically relegated to type sets due to its odd denomination, diminutive size, base metal composition, and myriad strike quality issues. This is an unfair assessment, as the series, which ran for only 24 years, is completely collectible (more easily in Proof format) and offers a handful of scarcer dates for those who seek a challenge–none are stoppers. Being overlooked has its benefits, however, as the series does not price out collectors of more modest means.

Starting in 1865, Proof versions were struck for each year of the coin’s production. For the issues struck through 1876, mintages typically fell between 600 and 1,100 pieces. Starting in 1878 (the second of two consecutive Proof-only years), Proof production increased to over 2,000 pieces. From this point until the termination of the type in 1889, Proofs were plentiful, with annual output numbers routinely exceeding 3,000 pieces.

The 1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof has a reported mintage of 3,100 with a high survival rate in “Gem” Proof 65 or better.

Numismatist John Dannreuther, in United States Proof Coins, Volume II: Nickel (2023), identifies five die marriages for the 1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof. These were struck from two obverse dies and three reverse dies. Dannreuther differentiates the two obverse dies by the position of the date in relation to the denticles below; various minor details are diagnostic for the three reverse dies. JD-2, for instance, is unknown in Perfect Die State and always displays a die crack from 10 o’clock to the left wreath leaves (such is the plate coin for this article). The overwhelming majority of all known 1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proofs are of the JD-1 variety, which logic dictates would have been deployed first, with all others put into commission later as additional orders came in for minor Proof coins.

Most Proof examples of this issue were struck with a brilliant finish, and some of the more poorly manufactured issues may pass as well-struck business strikes. Astute collectors should educate themselves on the visual differences between the two strike formats as the circulating version, despite having a mintage seven times higher, is the scarcer coin by a wide margin.

How Much Are 1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proofs Worth?

The value of 1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof coins depends on four key factors: grade, market activity, the presence or absence of Cameo frost on the devices, and eye appeal. For experienced collectors, these criteria are self-evident, but for newer collectors, an over-reliance on any one factor may lead to an unwise purchase.

Interest for examples without Cameo Frost in grades lower than Proof 67 typically falls to the more casual collector. There is nothing wrong with this, as excellent coins can be found within this grade range for $750 at the top and for as little as $600 for true Gems graded Proof 65.

Collectors with a more limited budget should not shy away from this series as only three dates–1865, 1877, and 1878–command prices higher than $300-$350 per coin at the Proof 63 level.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

The United States Mint offered the 1882 Three-Cent Nickel Proof in its annual Minor Proof Set (which included the cent, the Three-Cent, and the Five-Cent Nickel) and Silver Proof Set. Approximately 2,000 Minor Proof Sets were sold.

Numismatist A.M. Smith, Publisher of Coin Collectors of the United States: Illustrated Guide (1880) and Illustrated History of the U.S. Mint (1881), purchased the coin in quantity, reportedly owning at least 17 Minor Sets and 48 individual coins.

Top Population: PCGS PR68+CAM (1, 6/2024), NGC PF68+CA (1, 6/2024), and CAC PR68CAM (1:0 stickered:graded, 6/2024).

  • PCGS PR68+CAM #38676801: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, March 26, 2020, Lot 190 – Passed.
  • PCGS PR68+ CAC #37195109: Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2020, Lot 3327 – $6,600; Heritage Auctions, January 21, 2021, Lot 3404 – $13,200. JD-1. Die crack on the reverse at 9 o’clock.
  • NGC PF68CAM #6329399-004: Heritage Auctions, July 21, 2023, Lot 3429 – $2,520.
  • PCGS PR68CAM #60081395: Heritage Auctions, November 2, 2017, Lot 16650 – $6,900.
  • PCGS PR68CAM #09804384: “The Western Hills Collection,” Heritage Auctions, June 2, 2005, Lot 5443 – $9,775; “The David R. Poole Registry Collection of Proof Three Cent Nickels,” Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2006, Lot 3103 – $6,900; Heritage Auctions, July 7, 2006, Lot 311 – $5,462.50; Marketed by Legend Numismatics in the January 2009 issue of Coin World for $10,500; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, October 15, 2015, Lot 221 – $5,757.50; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, February 2017, Lot 13 – $7,250. JD-1. Filled 2.
  • PCGS PR68CAM #50180118: “The Carnton Collection, Part II,” Heritage Auctions, July 7, 2006, Lot 312 – $9,487.50.
  • PCGS PR67+CAM CAC #83940327: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, July 13, 2017, Lot 107 – Passed.
  • PCGS PR67+CAM CAC #90049926: As PCGS PR67CAM CAC #90049926. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, October 24, 2019, Lot 65 – $1,175. Young-Dakota on insert. As PCGS PR67+CAM CAC #90049926. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, September 2, 2021, Lot 162 – $1,938.75. Upgraded one-half point; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 25, 2023, Lot 68 – $2,056.25. Gold toning, with a darker streak of gold toning across the obverse, most visible on the face and right field around ERICA. Young-Dakota on insert.
  • PCGS PR67DCAM CAC #40439397: David Poole (according to John Dannreuther); Heritage Auctions, February 24, 2021, Lot 3363 – $5,640. JD-1.
  • PCGS PR67DCAM CAC #21370505: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 17, 2018, Lot 412 – $10,281.25. JD-1.
  • PCGS PR67DCAM CAC #81270640: Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2016, Lot 3371 – $9,400; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, December 15, 2016, Lot 44 – $8,518.75. JD-1.
  • NGC PF67UCAM #1919897-001: Heritage Auctions, August 13, 2006, Lot 538 – $5,175. Top Pop, Pop One in UCAM when offered.

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Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year of Issue: 1882
Denomination: Three Cents (USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 3,100
Alloy: .750 Copper, .250 Nickel
Weight: 1.94 g
Diameter: 17.90 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer: James Barton Longacre
Quality: Proof


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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of

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  1. IMHO the 3-cent denomination was less of an oddball given its intent. Its first incarnation – the three cent silver – was created when postage rates were reduced from 5¢ to 3¢. The three cent silver coin was an effort to provide a practical alternative to using multiple, cumbersome Large Cents.

    Of course the “trime” had its own problems, being impractically tiny where the Large Cent was, well, large. That, along with issues of wartime hoarding and lobbying from the nascent nickel industry led to the 3 cent nickel’s introduction in 1865.


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