HomeUS CoinsThree-Dollar Gold, 1854-1889 | CoinWeek

Three-Dollar Gold, 1854-1889 | CoinWeek

Three-Dollar Gold Coin against a western mountain landscape. Image: CoinWeek.
Three-Dollar Gold Coin against a western mountain landscape. Image: CoinWeek.

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

The Three-Dollar Gold piece was a .900 fine gold coin produced by the United States Mint from 1854 to 1889. Authorized by Congress in 1853, the coin was presumably conceived as an instrument to buy the then-standard 3¢ stamps in sheets of 100. This may not have been the only reason, however, as a deluge of gold coming from California gave Congress ample incentive to see more gold coin circulating in the economy.

The denomination was authorized by the Mint Act of February 21, 1853.

Mint Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre designed the coin, his third gold coin design following the release of the gold dollar in 1849 and the double eagle in 1850. According to Longacre, he modeled the Indian headdress in the style of the California Indians, who lived in proximity to the United States’ most plentiful gold mines at the time the coin was produced. Longacre modeled Liberty’s facial features after the Greco-Roman statue Vénus Accroupie (“Crouching Venus”).

Predominately struck by the Philadelphia Mint, the Three-Dollar Gold coin also saw production at the branch mints in Dahlonega and New Orleans in its introductory year and sporadic coinage at the San Francisco Mint, with five issues struck there between 1855 and 1870. The 1870 San Francisco issue is famously unique, cleaned, and has graffiti scrawled upon the top of the reverse. Curiously, neither the Charlotte Mint nor Carson City were ever instructed to strike the denomination.

A Wax model of Longacre’s Three-Dollar Gold coin obverse design. Image: Heritage Auctions (visit www.ha.com).
A Wax model of Longacre’s Three-Dollar Gold coin obverse design. Image: Heritage Auctions (visit www.ha.com).

The Three-Dollar Gold coin saw modest mintages in its first three years of production and then only a token coinage from 1855 to well after the conclusion of the American Civil War. A burst of coinage in 1874 and again in 1878 coincided with the Federal Government’s efforts to resume the circulation of specie after the war. Overall, this was not a popular denomination at the time of its issue.

When the United States Assay Commission met on February 13, 1889, it concluded that Congress act to eliminate the 3¢ nickel and $1 and $3 gold coins, citing the lack of public interest in the use of the three denominations as well as a need to curtail speculation in low mintage issues. The Coinage Act of September 26, 1890 brought an end to the denomination.

As is often the case, the elimination of the denomination incentivized collectors to preserve examples. Coin dealer Thomas Elder actively sought Three-Dollar Gold coins from banks in the early 20th century; because of his efforts, many AU examples survive.

Three-Dollar Gold Coin Coverage on CoinWeek

1863 Three-Dollar Gold Coin. Image: PCGS / CoinWeek.
1863 Three-Dollar Gold Coin. Image: PCGS / CoinWeek.

In January 2024, GreatCollections offered the sole finest 1863 Three-Dollar Gold Coin. See what our editors had to say about this exciting PCGS MS68+ example.

An assortment of Three-Dollar Gold coins.Rare gold coin expert Doug Winter has written more about rare date U.S. gold than any living coin dealer. In the following articles, Doug shares his insights into various aspects of collecting Three-Dollar Gold Coins:

In-Depth Three-Dollar Gold Date Analysis

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Design

Obverse:

The obverse features an “Indian Princess” design that is similar to the one used on the gold dollar of 1856-89. Longacre adapted his Three-Dollar Gold obverse design for the smaller gold coin. Liberty, wearing a feathered Indian headdress, is centered. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA wraps around the coin starting at 220° and completing at 145°. Fully struck, the coin will exhibit beaded edges at the rim.

Reverse:

The reverse of the Three-Dollar Gold coin features the denomination and date centered inside of a vegetal wreath comprised of tobacco, wheat, corn, and cotton. If applicable, the mint mark is placed below the wreath, directly below the ribbon. Fully struck, the coin will exhibit beaded edges at the rim. Gold coin expert Doug Winter notes that the original wax models of this wreath still exist on brass discs in a Midwestern collection.

The reverse of 1854 featured small text for the word DOLLARS. From 1855 onward, DOLLARS was written in a larger, taller font.

Coin Specifications

Three-Dollar Gold
Years Of Issue: 1854-89
Mintage (Circulation): High: 138,618 (1854); Low: 500 (1881)
Mintage (Proof): High: 291 (1888); Low: 5 (1855-1857)
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 5.02 g
Diameter: 20.50 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer: James Barton Longacre

 

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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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1 COMMENT

  1. I saw a 1855 three dollar gold coin that had a reverse that was rotated when compared to the obverse. Is this normal for that year coin? Every coin that I have looked at has the obverse and reverse aligned on the same axis.

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