The year was 1865, the end of the Civil War. A nation had to heal, the South had to rebuild, and an economy needed to recover. Most coinage had become scarce and fractional currency was a temporarily solution. One of the first steps to recovering the economy was to issue coinage to replace fractional currency.
To answer the call came a three cent nickel. At this time, the mint already had a silver three cent issue that had become unpopular due to it’s size (people claimed they were easily lost being so small) and the mint was fearful that the coin would be hoarded for it precious metal content. Learning from the silver three cent piece the mint changed the diameter from 14mm to 17.9mm and the composition to 75% copper and 25% nickel.
Designed by James B. Longacre, the three cent nickel was minted from 1865 to 1889. The obverse design features the head of Liberty facing left and wearing a beaded coronet inscribed LIBERTY in incuse letters and the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA”.
The reverse design features the Roman numeral III in the center to identify the coins value, surrounded by a wreath which was an adaptation of the laurel wreath.
General Market Notes
During the late 1860’s the three cent nickel performed the job of eliminating the hated fractional currency and had significant mintages to reflect the demand. Examples from 1865 to 1870 are the most available and affordable to collectors.
By the 1870’s, U.S. postage rates were increased from 3 cents and demand began to drop. By the 1880’s many were questioning why the coin was still required and by 1889 the series died a quiet death. Demand was so low in its last decade of existence and created the key coins to the series; 1884 & 1885 and several semi-keys; 1879, 1880, 1882, 1883, and 1887.