By Jim Carr
Odd denomination coins are my favorite part of numismatics. They appeal to me because they give us a window into the history of our country. They also provide the opportunity for some excellent story telling when discussing this hobby with non-numismatists. Not many people alive today are aware that the United States minted a three-cent coin. Even fewer have held one. Here are some short descriptions of some of the oddities issued by the United States Mint.
Half-cents were first struck in 1793. Their mintage continued until 1857, but there were many stoppages in production. These coins were made of copper, and were slightly smaller than an inch in diameter. The Mint struck fewer than 8 Million examples during the entire series.
The half-cent was an integral part of commerce in early America. The Spanish Real, also known as “Pieces of Eight”, was the standard for silver coinage at the dawn of American history. 1/8th of a real was called a bit, and was equivalent to 12 ½ cents (a quarter is sometimes referred to as two bits). Because of this division a half-cent coin was necessary for making change.
Circulation strikes of the two-cent coin were issued from 1864 through 1872. Proofs were also issued in 1873. Of the 45 million two cent pieces struck the Treasury of the United States repurchased approximately 17 million. These coins were melted down and re-coined into cents.
Two-cent pieces were struck to alleviate a shortage of circulating currency brought on by the American Civil War. Following the war any coin with valuable metal content was hoarded.
Three-Cent Silver and Nickel:
Three Cent coins, also referred to as “trimes” were struck in both silver and nickel. In 1851 postage rates were decreased from five cents to three cents, and a three-cent coin became desirable to increase the ease of postal purchases.
The three-cent silver coin was struck for circulation from 1851 through 1872. Proof only issues are also available from 1873. These coins had a metal content of 75% silver and 25% copper from 1851-1853. Starting in 1854 the content was changed to 90% silver 10% copper. They are the lightest circulation coin ever minted by the United States, weighing either 0.8 grams (1851-1853) or 0.75 grams (1854-1873). Slightly fewer than 43 million three cent silver coins were minted.
The three-cent nickel coin was struck between 1865 and 1889. No circulation strikes were produced in 1877, 1878 or 1886, but proofs were made for all of these years. The three-cent nickel was predominantly used to alleviate coinage shortages following the American Civil War, and post war production was high. Mintage figures dropped quickly as the mint caught up to the demand for small change. Despite the name, the three-cent nickel is predominantly copper, with a metal content of 75% copper and 25% nickel. Slightly more than 31 million three-cent nickels were minted.
A half-dime may seem like an odd denomination today, but a five cent coin has been around since the dawn of federally issued coinage and continues to this day. Before nickels we use today were made of nickel they were made of silver.
Some numismatic historians consider the half-disme to be the first coin struck by the United States Mint, while others believe that the piece should be considered a pattern coin. What is clear is that the Coinage Act of 1792 authorized production of a five cent silver coin, and that production of the half-disme began in July of 1792.
The twenty-cent piece was the brainchild of Nevada Senator John P Jones. When he was elected there was a significant shortage of small denomination coinage in the western part of the United States. Large denomination coinage like silver dollars and gold coins were plentiful in the west, but the mass migration of settlers failed to bring smaller coins with them. The Coins design immediately doomed it to failure. The diameter and design devices were considered too similar to that of the contemporary quarter, and public opinion of the coin quickly soured.
Twenty-cent pieces had a metal content of 90% silver and 10% copper. Circulation strikes were minted in 1875 and 1876, and proof only issues were minted in 1877 and 1878. The entire series has a mintage under 1.5 million, with 1,155,000 minted in San Francisco in 1875. Of the original 10,000 1876-CC twenty-cent pieces minted, fewer than two-dozen are believed to exist today.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the article. This is my first numismatic article. please contact me if you have suggestions or criticism. We are always looking for new article ideas and new content providers, so if there is something you would be interested in hearing about, or something you want to tell others about please let us know.