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HomeUS CoinsThree-Cent Silver, Type 1 (1851-1853) : A Collector's Guide

Three-Cent Silver, Type 1 (1851-1853) : A Collector’s Guide

1863 Three-Cent Silver. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1863 Three-Cent Silver. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

Type 1 | Type 2 | Type 3

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Called a trime in some Treasury Department records, the Three-Cent Silver coin was the smallest ever issued by the United States Mint in terms of weight and thickness.

Initially proposed in 1849, and again in 1850 in conjunction with a plan to reduce postal rates from five to three cents, production of the coin was finally authorized in 1851. This silver coin was produced in response to the need for small denomination precious metal coins caused by a counter-intuitive shortage of silver following the discovery of gold in California and other locations in the late 1840s. As gold became more common, metal prices became depressed relative to silver. Silver prices then rose, and silver coins were removed from circulation and melted, being worth more as bullion than the face value of a given coin. The metal composition of the Three-Cent Silver was designed to satisfy the need for sub-dollar coins in commerce, with enough silver to be considered a precious metal coin but not so much that they, too, would be melted.

The new coin met all intended purposes for which it was designed and was initially well-received. However, two shortcomings caused the coin to lose favor. First, the coins were so small that they were easily lost, and it was not a trivial matter at the time for even such a small denomination. Second, the higher base metal content meant they easily discolored to a somewhat dirty appearance, earning them the sobriquet of “fish scales”.

It is also notable that the coin was the first issued by the United States that had a limited legal tender status. Much like the penny in modern America, one was not able to use an unlimited (read: unreasonable) number of trimes (Three-Cent Silver coins) for any given payment[1].

Three-Cent Silvers circulated extensively until the start of the Civil War, which caused the hoarding of virtually all gold and silver coins. Out of circulation since the start of the war and supplanted somewhat by the Three-Cent Nickel introduced in 1865, the trime was abolished by the Mint Act of 1873 (although Proof coins were produced in that year). Nearly all Three-Cent Silvers were minted in Philadelphia, with the 1851-O issue from New Orleans being the only branch mint issue of the entire series.

How Much Are Type 1 Three-Cent Silver Coins Worth?

All Type 1 Three-Cent Silver coins are relatively affordable, and it’s possible to assemble a Gem set on a moderate budget. The most expensive is the 1851-O, considered a key date of the series, which tracks at three to four times the price of the Philadelphia products. Of the repunched varieties, the 1852 repunched/inverted date has a seven to eight times premium over regular Philadelphia coins and is not listed in population/census reports above low Mint State condition. Other repunched varieties are also relatively uncommon in population/census tallies.

Type 1 Proofs are rare (and therefore expensive), with only about 12 identified for all three years: 10 in 1851, one each for the 1851-O and the 1852, and none known for 1853.


Varieties of this type have not been extensively studied, but a few repunched dates are known, including an interesting 1852 version with a 1 over an inverted 2.



The obverse of Type 1 coins displays the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the field’s periphery, with the date centered at the bottom. In the center is a national shield superimposed on a six-pointed star, sometimes labeled a “small star” to differentiate the design from Type 2 and Type 3 coins. Slight ridges radiate from the shield to each point of the star, giving the star a beveled appearance.


The reverse has 13 equally spaced six-pointed stars around the periphery of the field. The center displays a stylized, beaded letter “C”, almost Arabic in style, which encloses the Roman numeral III, thus identifying the denomination as three cents. The New Orleans mintmark is to the right of the field, just outside the opening of the “C”.


The edge of the Three-Cent Silver coin is plain, or smooth.

Coin Specifications

Three-Cent Silver, Type 1
Years Of Issue: 1851-53
Mintage: High: 18,663,500 (1852); Low: 720,000 (1851-O)
Alloy: 75% silver, 25% copper
Weight: ±0.8 g
Diameter: ±14.0 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer: James Barton Longacre


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[1] Carothers, Neil. Fractional Money: A History of Small Coins and Fractional Paper Currency of the United States. Bowers & Merena Galleries. (1990)


Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron, and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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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 CoinWeek.com.

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