American 3-Cent Coin & Nickel: What’s the Difference?

In 3 cent, American, Nickels, Silver on December 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm

What is the strangest coin you’ve ever encountered?  There are certainly quite a few unique and intriguing coins in the world.  Two of the most unusual coins in American history are denominated 3-cents; the silver 3-cent coin and the 3-cent nickel.  Today both coins are fairly scarce.   The silver 3-cent coin only ever saw mintages of about 37 million, and many of these were hoarded for their silver content during the Civil War.  The 3-cent nickel, however, only reached 32 million.  These coins were scarce even in their prime, so most saw lots of use in commerce and after their recall, many were destroyed.  Those mintages alone mean that the silver 3-cent coin and the 3-cent nickel are real collector’s treasures today.

The silver 3-cent coin, often referred to as a “fishscale” or a “trime.”

A 3-cent coin in general seems like an odd denomination, almost counter-intuitive.  Some numismatists have even said it sounds as phony as the “three dollar bill.”  It’s important to remember that the first 3-cent coin was introduced in 1851 when postage decreased from five to only three cents, so it was largely implemented to provide quick and easy payment of postage!  The 3-cent silver piece was also the smallest and lightest coin ever minted by the U.S.  With a diameter of only 14mm (approximately a ½ inch) and a weight of 4/5ths of a gram, it certainly earned that title.

In its day, the 3-cent silver coin was sometimes referred to as a “trime” or “fishscale,” because of its dark toning and small size.  It was first minted from 1851 to 1853 with a composition of .750 silver and .250 copper.  This is what led to the dark toning – the silver was debased by adding such high amounts of copper.  In 1854 the makeup was changed to .900 silver and .100 copper.

Because of silver shortages during the Civil War, widespread hoarding of all silver coins occurred, and these 3-cent silver coins were also affected.  The Treasury attempted various alternatives to solve the problem, eventually settling on issuing fractional currency notes.  These paper notes were never very popular as they were reportedly easy to lose and unwieldy in large amounts.

The 3-cent nickel, introduced as a stopgap measure to prevent silver hoarding during the Civil War.

Then in 1865, the introduction of the 3-cent nickel provided an answer to the issue of the unwieldy notes.  The three-cent nickel was composed of .750 copper and .250 nickel and was larger than the existing silver coin of the same denomination.  This 3-cent nickel was never intended as a permanent issue or to be valuable, only as a “stopgap” measure until wartime silver hoarding had ceased.  The 3-cent nickel continued to be produced until 1889, 16 years after the three-cent silver coin was discontinued.

These coins are not just unusual because of their denomination.  From 1865 to 1867, both the silver and the nickel 3-cent coins were minted, which presents an interesting question to both numismatists and coin collectors; why in the world would the Treasury decide to mint two different coins of the same denomination for three years? The answer isn’t really very clear.

Many numismatists believe that the 3-cent nickel was only discontinued in 1889 because it shared the same diameter as the dime (the ten-cent silver coin) which caused confusion in the newly introduced mechanical vending machines.  Another factor in the 3-cent nickel’s demise is that in 1883, the letter postage rate dropped from 3 cents to 2 cents, thus removing the primary justification for this coin and its silver predecessors.

Although the 3-cent coin and the 3-cent nickel were introduced for largely the same purpose, each coin carries its own unique history, both in terms of American history and numismatic history.  Part of preserving history, on a personal level, is about picking up those things you find intriguing, and the 3-cent silver and nickel coins are both carry extremely unique stories within their histories, which is why these coins are such a valuable addition to your collection.  You can help keep history alive by making sure to carry on the legacy of these coins and passing their stories on.

Amanda Paulger-Foran, for

Have questions, comments, or concerns?  Give us a ring, send us an e-mail, or ship out that letter snail mail!  We would love to hear from you!  Contact us here.

The Day Which Will Live in Infamy

In American, Bill, Hawaiian Overprint Note, Notes on December 5, 2013 at 9:16 pm

My family has a long tradition of military service, almost all of them in the United States Army. My father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather all spent many years in the service.

December 7th 1941 was a turning point for America’s involvement in World War II.  The Japanese Imperial Army launched an attack on the naval base at 7:48 AM Hawaiian time, with fighters, bombers and torpedo planes ripping through the air above the base in two massive waves. Eight U.S. Naval battleships were damaged, including four that sunk.  Because of the unexpected nature of the attack during negotiations with the Japanese, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 7th “a day which will live in infamy.”

That day, the American people realized that as much as they wanted to keep themselves out of the war that ravaged Europe and the Pacific, they were no longer able to.  On December 8th America declared war on Japan and decided to affiliate themselves with Great Britain and the other allied forces in Europe. My own grandfather fought on the European front, and went to Japan after the war was over as part of the occupation force.  I always wondered why my father called my great-grandfather “Ojiisan” (the formal Japanese term for “grandfather”) instead of “grandpa.”  He spent so much time in Japan after the war where he became accustomed to the term that his grandchildren picked it up.

As a precaution after the Pearl Harbor attack against any future invasions, the U.S. declared that any paper currency used in Hawaii should be protected.  Notes were overprinted with “Hawaii” on the reverse and a brown seal on the obverse, so that if the currency fell into enemy hands it would be demonetized and unusable. Because the overprinted stamps were impossible to miss, it would be extremely easy to identify the bills.  Most of these bills were destroyed in a crematorium after the war, to prevent their circulation, but some service men and women saved the bills as souvenirs.

As we nestle quietly into the start of December, still surrounded by the history of a war that America stepped into as the holidays were underway, it’s important that we honor memory of our servicemen and women.  We need to be sure to remember all of our veterans; but to those who survived Pearl Harbor, and to those who fought on the European and Pacific fronts; they deserve respect today, as we remember their sacrifice, hard work, and dedication to this country.

Amanda Paulger-Foran, for

Have questions, comments, or concerns?  Give us a ring, send us an e-mail, or ship out that letter snail mail!  We would love to hear from you!  Contact us here.

I Found the Last of its Kind in my First Car

In American, Franklin, Half Dollars, Kennedy Half Dollars on November 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

When I inherited my first car from my grandmother (an ’89 Chrysler New Yorker) I never expected to find a 1963 Franklin half dollar wedged into the ash tray.  Of course I was 16 at the time and had no idea what kind of story this unfamiliar coin had to tell.  I knew from my high school American History classes that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, but beyond that, this coin had no particular value to me.

Because of JFK’s assassination, 1963 proved to be the swift death of the Franklin half dollar.  This was an unexpected move since at its inception in 1948, production was intended to follow for 25 years.  But the United States ceased production of the Franklin coin so in 1964 production of the Kennedy half dollar, a tribute to one of America’s most-loved presidents, could begin.

The Franklin half dollar has its own story to tell, of course.  Benjamin Franklin was a founding father, who instilled future generations of Americans with the ideas of freedom and liberty. He was an innovator in politics and education, considered one of the revolutionaries in the American Enlightenment period, and an inventor.  Because of his vast achievements across the political and scientific realms, he has been commemorated time and again on everything from the names of warships to his profile on coins.  More than two hundred years after his death, his name still carries huge cultural significance, as I can only imagine John F. Kennedy’s will as well in the next two hundred years.

The 1963 Franklin half dollar is such a collectible treasure because unlike the ceased production of many other coins, this coin was not expected to lose steam any time soon.  At the time of JFK’s assassination, the Franklin half dollar was still estimated to have another 10 years of production.  Many of these coins were not saved because no one realized that they would be the last of their kind.

These Franklin half dollars are slowly but surely disappearing from sight. They are such interesting and unique coins and yet their quick demise 50 years ago means that they’ll only get harder to find.

When I brought my new-found treasure to my mother, she instantly remembered the famous events from that year.  She was fourteen when the assassination happened, but she recalls it like yesterday. She recollects hearing about the shooting after she got out of school, her devout Republican mother crying when she came home.  She recounted the events as her mother told her them – two shots, one to the head and one to the neck.  He was dead.

JFK was a beacon for the Catholic-American people, as the first non-Protestant, Irish-Catholic president.  He was the youngest man to be elected to the presidency at only 43 years old.  He was a veteran, a senator and a writer which also garnered him the Pulitzer Prize for his book Profiles in Courage in 1957.  He was a loved president and his assassination is still considered one of many defining events in American history.  

As we move into the holiday season, I know I’m looking for gifts with stories to tell.  I’m not looking for mass-produced products that have no sentimental value.  When I look at the 1963 Franklin half-dollar, I don’t just remember that as the year of Kennedy’s death: I think about what JFK did for this country.  I think about what Benjamin Franklin did for this country.  And I think, most importantly, about what I can do to preserve the history and the legacy that this country bears, and why that instillation and preservation was also equally as important to Franklin and JFK.   

 Amanda Paulger-Foran, for

Have questions, comments, or concerns?  Give us a ring, send us an e-mail, or ship out that letter snail mail!  We would love to hear from you!  Contact us here.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers