In 1851, a U.S. postage stamp cost three cents.
America was growing fast at this time and the California Gold Rush prompted the development of new U.S. gold coins.
The Mint Act of February 21, 1853, authorized a $3 coin struck in gold. This gold coin matched up with an existing three-cent silver piece, which was already heralded as a convenient coin for Americans to buy stamps.
Numismatics widely assume that the $3 gold piece was created so people could quickly and easily buy a sheet of 100 first-class stamps. The beautiful $3 Indian Princess gold coin is an exquisite example of the close connection between postal and coinage history in our country.
Yet even today there remain questions about the $3 gold coin.
One industry expert wrote that “whether or not the $3 denomination was actually necessary or worthwhile has been a matter of debate among numismatists for well over a century.” Despite the mystery around the $3 gold, it remains a highly sought-after coin.
Numismatics began collecting the intriguing $3 Indian Princess gold piece as early as 1879. The entire series, produced from 1854 to 1889, saw so many low-mintage dates that the whole run is considered rare. The highest mintage of any $3 gold coin was a tiny 138,618. Many were lost to the melting pot in the 1930s, which reduced the number of survivors available today.
Many consider the $3 Indian Princess the most beautiful gold coin struck in the 19th century. Designed by the United States Mint’s chief engraver, James B. Longacre, the $3 gold coin was the first time he had been given the freedom to create a design of his own imagination.
Longacre wrote that previous to the $3 gold coin, he had been directed to adapt Roman or Greek features into U.S. coins. For the $3 gold piece, Longacre was determined to create something uniquely American.
“From the copper shores of Lake Superior to the silver mountains of Potosi, from the Ojibwa to the Araucanian, the feathered tiara is a characteristic of the primitiveness of our hemisphere as the turban is of the Asiatic,” Longacre wrote.
He was inspired to feature an “Indian Princess” on the obverse of this stunning coin. A lustrous orange-gold color, the coin shows a gorgeous Indian “princess” adorned with a feathered headdress, with the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcing around her. On the reverse, the date and denomination is surrounded by an agricultural wreath celebrating corn, tobacco, cotton, and wheat.
In 1855, the word DOLLARS was enlarged, amid complaints from the public.