HomeUS CoinsU.S. Coin Patterns for Less than $5,000 Each, Pt. 3: Three Cent...

U.S. Coin Patterns for Less than $5,000 Each, Pt. 3: Three Cent Pieces

Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #351

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
This is the third in a series on collecting U.S. patterns without spending as much as $5,000 USD on any one piece. Although patterns are not coins, some did circulate as coins and patterns are often collected along with coins. People collecting regular issue Three Cent Silvers or Three Cent Nickels may wish to add some Three Cent piece patterns to sets.

Indeed, patterns enhance sets of regular issues and make them more interesting. Alternately, some coin enthusiasts collect only patterns, which are are among the most fascinating and mysterious areas of numismatics.

Before thinking about Three Cent piece patterns, it makes sense to reflect upon the regular issues. Three Cent Silvers were minted from 1851 to 1873. These are smaller than dimes. Those of the first type (1851-53) were specified to be 75% silver. Three Cent Silvers minted from 1854 to 1873 were specified to be 90% silver and 10% copper, the standard composition for U.S. silver coins from 1837 to 1964.

Three Cent Nickels date from 1865 to 1889. In my series on collecting classic U.S. coins for less than $500 each, there is a discussion of them. Three Cent Nickels have a greater diameter than Three Cent Silvers, and are much thicker.

Three Cent Nickels never contained any silver; they are of the same composition as five-cent nickel coins, 75% copper and 25% nickel. In terms of color and texture, nickel tends to dominate copper when these two metals are mixed together. Coins of a 25% nickel alloy often seems like they are mostly or entirely nickel.

Before Three Cent Silvers were introduced in 1851, there were no U.S. three-cent coins. There exist pattern Liberty Seated Three Cent Silvers, which were made in 1849, though it might not be practical to collect these with a $5,000 per item limit.

A Liberty Seated Three Cent Silver does, occasionally, sell for less than $5,000. In June 2010, Spectrum-B&M auctioned a PCGS-certified “Proof-63” 1849 Three Cent Silver pattern for $4320.55. It has the obverse design of a Liberty Seated half dime.

Liberty Cap Three Cent Silver

Liberty Cap Three Cent Silver patterns of 1850 (Judd #125) are not particularly difficult to obtain. The obverse design is almost the same as that of One Dollar Gold patterns of 1836, which, in turn, is similar to the obverse of the Mexican silver coins that were introduced during the mid-1820s, especially Half-Real coins.

cap3cLiberty Cap Three Cent Silvers tend to be found with mottled brown, russet and gray tones. In April 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC-certified, “Proof-65,” Eliasberg piece for $4,112.50.

Louis Eliasberg formed the all-time greatest collection of classic U.S. coins. In May 1996, Bowers & Merena auctioned the patterns, nickels, Three Cent Silvers, half dimes and dimes from this collection. According to the PCGS web site, lot #155 realized $2,750 in 1996.

There were two Liberty Cap 1850 (J-125) patterns in the Eliasberg Collection. Although neither the printed label in the NGC holder nor the Heritage CSNS catalogue in April 2014 link this piece to a specific lot in the Eliasberg ’96 sale, I hypothesize that it is the first one, lot #155 in 1996.

This pattern was graded as “64” in the Eliasberg ’96 catalogue. I then figured it graded “63,” with a notation that it scores high in the technical category.

Like many patterns, its Proof status is not clear. Currently, PCGS and NGC seem to certify most all patterns as Proofs, even pieces that apparently lack some or many of the characteristics of Proofs. Whether a pattern is a Proof or not a Proof usually does not matter to collectors.

In June of this year, at the Long Beach Expo, an NGC-certified ‘Proof-64’ 1850 Liberty Cap Three Cent Silver pattern realized $3,995. It had a sticker of approval from CAC. In March 2011, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-63’ 1850 Liberty Cap for $1,955. These Liberty Cap patterns are distinctive and historically important.

William Barber’s Liberty Seated Design

barber3An attractive and alternative design for a Three Cent Silver stemmed from William Barber’s Liberty Seated concept. The already mentioned 1849 Liberty Seated, Three Cent Silver patterns feature Christian Gobrecht’s conception, essentially the same obverse design that was employed on regular issue Liberty Seated half dimes. William Barber’s Liberty Seated design, in contrast, was never adopted for use on a regular issue U.S. coin.

Circa 1870, people at the Philadelphia Mint distributed sets of patterns of silver denominations that feature William Barber’s Liberty Seated concept. While such Three Cent Silver patterns in silver are likely to cost more than $5,000 each, pieces from the same dies in copper may very well sell for less than $5,000 in the current market environment.

In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64 Red’ 1870 (J-798) Three Cent Silver pattern for $4,465. That piece has a plain edge. The reeded edge variety in copper (J-799) is a little rarer. In October 2015, Heritage sold one that is NGC-certified ‘Proof-63 Red & Brown’ for $4,230. The elegance of William Barber’s design contributes to the desirability of these.

Braided Hair Three Cent Coppers!

Entertaining Three Cent patterns was made in 1863. These are probably almost entirely copper, though it is plausible that they could be of a bronze alloy.

In the context of U.S. coinage, the term bronze usually refers to alloys that are 95% copper with the balance being tin and/or zinc. So, the definitions of bronze and brass overlap. In other societies, the term ‘bronze’ is defined differently.

18633centThe obverse of 1863 Three Cent Copper patterns is very similar in appearance to the obverse designs of Braided Hair large cents and half cents, which were last struck in 1857. U.S. half cents and large cents were specified to be 100% copper.

The reverse appears like that of a regular issue Two Cent piece, but there is a numeral ‘3’ on the middle, rather than a numeral ‘2.’ These patterns could well have embodied serious proposals for Three Cent Coppers.

From 1859 to some point in 1864, Indian cents were struck in an alloy of 88% copper and 12% nickel. This was changed to an alloy of 95% copper (“bronze”). Two Cent pieces, which are also 95% copper, were first minted for circulation in 1864. If a Three Cent Copper coin had been introduced circa 1864, it would have been logically consistent with regular issue Indian cents and Two Cent pieces, and in line with the reality that many U.S. citizens were sad about the demise of large cents in 1857.

In November 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65BN’ piece for $2,555.30. In June 2010, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-64BN’ J-319 Three Cent Copper. It brought $2,990.

On copper coins and patterns (including bronze), the grading services designate each as having brown (“BN”), red & brown (“RB”) or nearly full red (“RD”) color. Those that are certified as ‘Red & Brown’ (RB) rather than ‘brown’ (BN) are worth a premium, on average. The red color, however, is sometimes added or unnatural for other reasons. Collectors should consult experts before paying large premiums for copper pieces solely because of red color.

In August 2011, Heritage auctioned such a pattern that was NGC-certified as ‘Proof-64RB’ for $4,025. A year earlier, Heritage auctioned one with the same NGC certification for $3,450. I believe that it is different from the J-319 piece auctioned in August 2011.

The NGC-certified ‘Proof-64RB’ J-319 pattern that sold in 2010 was said to be from the Eliasberg Collection, and appears to be so, lot #158 in the May 1996 auction by Bowers & Merena. I was enthusiastic about it when I examined this pattern in 1996.

Regular Three Cent Silvers in Copper or Aluminum

During some years, general dies for regular Three Cent Silvers were used to make pieces in copper and/or in aluminum. Saul Teichman believes that these were made for collectors, and probably sold during the 1870s in sets containing multiple denominations of patterns.

In any event, a copper or aluminum Three Cent Silver cannot often be acquired for less than $5,000. In October 2014, a PCGS-graded “62” 1863 Three Cent Silver in aluminum went for $2,943.38 at a Heritage auction in New York, a good deal.

Patterns of Three Cent Nickels

Regular Three Cent Nickels were minted from 1865 to 1889. During the 1860s, there were struck many patterns that are only slightly different from regular issues. Rather than patterns, they seem like die varieties of Three Cent Nickels.

Many of these, especially varieties from 1868 and 1869, can be purchased for less than $5,000 each. It would be tedious to list all those that have been auctioned for less than $5,000 during the last five years.

The 1865 J-410 patterns are appropriate examples, as they are obtainable for well under $5,000 each. These were struck from dies that are almost identical to dies for regular Three Cent Nickels of 1865. Noticeable differences, which are slight, relate to numerals on the obverse and ribbons on the reverse.

In January 2013 in New York, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-66’ piece for $3,290. The Eliasberg J-410 piece re-appeared in the Stack’s-Bowers auction of March 2011.

This Eliasberg J-410 was not certified when auctioned by Bowers & Merena in May 1996, and was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-65’ before March 2011. In 1996, it was catalogued as grading ‘64’ and I graded it as ‘64+’. Given that grade-inflation has occurred since 1996, a PCGS grade of 65 now is understandable. In May 1996, this pattern realized $2,200 and, in March 2011, $3,680.

In August 2013, at an ANA Convention, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned another J-410 pattern. That piece was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ and CAC-approved. It went for $2,115.

The 1868 ‘Agricultural Wreath’ patterns (J-615) are especially noteworthy, as they are very apparently different from the regular issues. The obverse rim is particularly broad. The wreath on the reverse is fancier than that on the regular issue, and exhibits multiple agricultural products, including corn, cotton and tobacco.

I call these ‘Agricultural Wreath’ Three Cent Nickel patterns. They are not particularly expensive.

In August 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-64 1868 Agricultural Wreath pattern for $1,380. A year earlier, a PCGS-certified, and CAC-approved, ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ Agricultural Wreath pattern of the same design, though struck on a thicker planchet, brought $2,645.

In August 2015, again at an ANA Convention, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-67 Cameo’ Agricultural Wreath Three Cent Nickel, with a CAC sticker, for $3,818.75. This could have been a reasonable price for a stunning pattern.

Aluminum Three Cent Nickels


There are aluminum strikings of 1868 Three Cent Nickel patterns from regular dies. Some, perhaps all, of them were included in sets of all coinage denominations in aluminum. These sets are among the coolest of all American numismatic items.

Eric Newman had such a set, which was said to have been obtained by the U.S. Treasury Secretary soon after it was produced in 1868. Unfortunately, Newman’s set was ‘broken up’ and sold piece by piece at auction in November 2014.

Earlier, in January 2007, Heritage offered a complete set as one lot, which did not sell during a live auction session. This was the Fewsmith-Newcomer set. A collector reported that he purchased this set a little later, after I recommended it to him.

In January 2011, the Garrett set, another 16-piece complete set all in aluminum, was auctioned intact by Heritage in Tampa. It went for $211,500.

The Newman 1868 Three Cent Nickel in aluminum was NGC-certified as Proof-64 and CAC-approved. It brought $4,406.25 in November 2014 in New York. Earlier that same year, a PCGS-certified Proof-62 piece sold twice, for $1,645 in April and for $1,750 in June.

In January 2011, Heritage auctioned an 1869 Three Cent Nickel pattern in aluminum, for $4,600. It was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-63’ and CAC-approved. Simpson’s name was printed on the blue label inside the PCGS holder.

Many varieties of patterns in aluminum, of all denominations, were struck during the 1860s and early 1870s. Most cost more than $5,000 now, though more than a few are worth lower amounts.

Copper Three Cent Nickels

For several dates in the series of Three Cent Nickels, there survive copper strikings from regular issue dies, pieces that contain zero nickel. These tend to be extremely rare.

Although copper was used for die trials of nickels, some or all of the surviving Three Cent Nickels in copper were made for other purposes. Collectors and dealers obtained patterns, broadly defined, from the Philadelphia Mint during the second half of the 19th century.

Some Three Cent Nickel dates in copper are so rare that they appear very infrequently, and, when they are auctioned, they bring far more than $5,000. Others sell for less than $5,000. It is practical to seek to obtain one.

The J-413 pattern is a striking in copper from a regular pair of dies for 1865 Three Cent Nickels. In August 2012, at the ANA Convention in Philadelphia, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-65 Brown’ piece for $2,990. A year later, in August 2013, at the ANA Convention in Rosemont, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-63 Brown’ piece of this variety for $1,175, a good value from a logical perspective.

In January 2011, Heritage auctioned an 1867 in copper (J-558) that was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-64RB’ and CAC-approved, for $,4025. In April 2013, Eric Newman’s 1870 copper Three Cent Nickel was auctioned for $3,760. It was NGC certified as ‘Proof-62 Brown’.

In March 2011, Stack’s-Bowers sold an 1872 Three Cent Nickel pattern (J-1185) in copper. It was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-62 Red & Brown’ and brought $2,875.

In January 2011, Heritage sold a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64 Red & Brown’ 1873 in copper for $4,312.50. More recently, in October 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64 Red & Brown’ 1875 for $4,700. Representative of multiple dates in copper have thus sold for less than $5,000 each.

Charles Barber Three Cent Nickels!

Although Charles Barber is widely recognized as the designer of dimes, quarters and half dollars that were introduced in 1892, many collectors do not remember or never knew that Barber designed the Liberty Head ‘V’ five-cent nickel, which was first issued in 1883. It is also not widely known that, in 1879, Charles Barber succeeded his then recently deceased father, William Barber, as chief engraver of the U.S. Mint.

barber3cnIn 1881, patterns for Three Cent Nickels were developed that are similar to regular issue Liberty Head five-cent nickels (1883-1913). These are cool and would be wonderful complements to sets of Liberty Head five-cent nickels, as would be One Cent Nickel patterns, which I discussed in Part 1.

In January 2015, Heritage auctioned a Barber 1881, ‘V-nickel style’ Three Cent Nickel pattern. It was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-63 Cameo’ and had a sticker of approval from CAC. It brought $3,760.

While this design was presumably considered for coins of the standard 25% nickel alloy, patterns with the same Barber Liberty Head design were struck in copper, too. In August 2011, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64 Brown’ piece for $2,760.

For less than $5,000 each, an intriguing and noteworthy collection of Three Cent piece patterns could be assembled. Time and patience would be required. Collectors of regular issue Liberty Seated half dimes, Three Cent Silvers or Three Cent Nickels, however, could quickly enhance their respective sets with patterns that relate to such regular issues.

© 2016 Greg Reynolds


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Recent Articles in the U.S. Coin Patterns for Less than $5,000 Series:

Two Cent Pieces | Donut Cents, 1¢ Nickels and Flying Eagles


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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