I. R. Bama's Blog

11 Dec 2020

Three Cent Coins Part One: If You Got the Money Honey, I've Got the Trimes

Coins-United States | I. R. Bama

This is the first part of a three part series on three cent coins, namely the Trime (three cent silver) and the three cent nickel, and a discussion of the economics that brought this odd denomination into circulation. In an earlier blog, I postulate that there are three foundations or pillars of numismatics; Art, History and Metallurgy. But there is a fourth pillar which became clear to me while researching three cent coins. That would be the pillar of Economics. Economics can be considered an essential foundation because it explains the economic justification for a coin's existence. It goes hand in hand with History.

Part one of this series is a presentation about the Trime, also known as the three cent silver coin. Part two will consider the economics of the times that necessitated the creation of a three cent coin, and part three will be a presentation about the three cent nickel.

A three cent coin seems absurd in today's world because of present day economics. It seems to have a little value (as opposed to wealth) in today's world of commerce. Any way you look at this coin, it is an odd coin. It doesn't fit in a monetary scheme based on the decimal system. All of our other coins were multiples of 5 and 10. The half cent for example was worth .005. a single cent was worth .01, a nickel .05, a dime .10 and so forth leading up to the dollar, 1.0. And, then there were the three cent coins. There was a specific reason why they came into existence because of actions the U.S. Postal Service took during that period and that will be discussed in part two of this series. Adding to the interest of the three cent coins is that for a significant period of time the Trime and the three cent nickel circulated simultaneously. While we have seen this happen with other coins, it only occurs during one calendar year. Not so with three cent coins: they were both circulated side by side for sixteen years. Production of Trimes ended in 1873 and three cent Nickels ceased to be made in 1889.

As we have discussed in other blogs by myself and others, we often find that relationships within the mint were very much politicized leading to great conflicts between the principles in charge of the mint. The situation that lead to the creation of the trime was no exception. The rivalry between Chief Engraver Longacre and Chief Coiner Franklin Peale was bitter. It was partly fueled by the fact Peale was controlling master hubs used to make dyes. Properly, the hubs should have been controlled by Longacre and this led to the rift.

Longacre prepared a pattern of the coin for submission to be considered for the design of the three cent silver coin. This design was suppressed by Peale with the support and allegiance of Mint Director Robert Patterson. Peale designed two different patterns which can be seen below along with Longacres's pattern.

Longacre knew his design would never see the light of day to be considered, so he employed a flanking maneuver and sent his pattern independently to the Treasury Secretary Thomas Corwin and President Millard Fillmore. Shortly thereafter, Patterson sent in all three patterns but fully threw all of his weight into recommending one of the Peale designs. However by that time, President Fillmore had been impressed by Longacre's design and it was adopted.

This was an humiliating defeat for Patterson, He rightly perceived that his political capital was spent and would no longer have any influence. Using the excuse of poor health, he resigned shortly thereafter.

As for Peale, he had a checkered history at the mint and engaged in highly questionable behaviors such as using mint employees to perform work for him privately that our hard earned tax dollars paid for (some things never change, do they?). He openly feuded with other officers of the mint and eventually was summarily dismissed by President Franklin Pierce.

The first three cent silver coin was issued in 1851. It is the smallest silver coin ever issued by the mint and the second smallest coin ever minted. The honor of being the smallest coin minted is the gold one dollar coin.

Trimes were designed by James B. Longacre. Because silver coins were being horded, Type I trimes had a composition of .750 silver and .250 copper. They weighed 0.8 grams and had a diameter of 14 mm. This type was minted in Philadelphia and New Orleans (one year only). All trimes have a smooth edge. Type I trimes were issued from 1851-1873. Initially the trime was popular. They were nicknamed fish scales by the public due to their small size and silvery color.

This coin began to lose popularity for several reasons and this resulted in lower mintages Because of their size, they were easy to lose. This was significant when one considers that in this era, people generally were paid less than ten cents an hour. Because of the base metals, they tended to become tarnished or discolored easily and one source describes them as becoming "filthy" over time.

These coins had less than three cents worth of silver. Because of this feature, they weren't horded because they were not worth the face value of the coin. This was the first issuance of fiat money. The term fiat means that coins and currency have no intrinsic value. They are worth what they are worth because the government says so!

The Act of 1853 standardized the silver content of all coins with the exception of the dollar to be .900 silver and .100 copper. This necessitated a change in the design and composition of Type II and Type III trimes. Because of the increase in silver content, the weight of these two types was reduced to 0.75 grams. The diameter and style of the edge remained unchanged. These coins were only minted in Philadelphia.

Longacre modified the design of Type II and III coins in order to distinguish them from each other. Each type has a different obverse and Type II and III share the same reverse design which differs from Type I. Striking issues also contributed to the design changes.

Because of how small this coin is, it limited the artistic license in its design. Most people do not consider this to be an aesthetically pleasing coin. The type I obverse features a six pointed star with a federal shield superimposed on the center of the star. The star is encircled by "The United States of America" and the date at the bottom of the obverse. The reverse features the Roman numeral III inside the curve of a C which is stylized and beaded. There are thirteen stars on the border. It was issued from 1851-1853. The mintmark on the 1851 O can be found on the reverse on the right side of the C in the three O' Clock position.

The type II obverse (1854-1858) was modified in design. The star was made larger and two extra outer rims were added to the star to make three total. The obverse for Type II and three added an olive branch above the Roman numeral III and a bundle of arrows tied with a ribbon below the Roman numeral. The changes made for problems in strike and we most often see poorly or lightly struck examples.

The type III obverse (1859-1873) was modified to correct the problems of type II minted coins. Longacre removed one of the outlines of the star leaving two of them and enlarged the pica of the letters.

Stay tuned for part II about the economics driving the creation of this coin, coming soon to a blog near you!


Mega Redbook

PCGS Coin Facts

The Numismatist December 2011 page 34

NGC 1851-1873 Silver Three Cents



Level 5

Nice summary of the history of the three cent piece.


Level 6

Very nice. I enjoyed reading this blog and learned from you as well. Nicely researched and sourced. I'll wait here for the next part. Thanks.

It's Mokie

Level 6

Nice Job, very informative.


Level 5

Very interesting coin. I don't own any of these though. Be a great coin to concentrate on. Be a great coin club topic. Looking forward to next topics on this coin.


Level 5

Excellent research and blog! I only have two of these coins, one from my Grandfather and one I found in a coin star earlier this year. As usual, history and coinage, it don't get much better. Thanks!


Level 6

Looking forward to the parts of the trilogy.

I'm not a fan of the three-cent nickel pieces, but I love the time design! This coin has the most interesting, shrouded history of a US coin, I think.


Level 5

I for some reason really like the look to the 3 cent nickel, but I can't pin down exactly why. Thanks for the blog!


Level 5

Nice blog! And I love the pic of a toner.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

@ Counhunter4... Stock photo for illustrative purposes only. Not a coin I own.


Level 7

Longacre had a great idea with these coins. . They seemed to fit. You are 100% right on an impact a coin like this can make a difference in an economy. Same as my Fugio . Who knew what this coin would do. It set us on the way to our conage.. I know this is not a favorite with the look. Or big with colle fire but it did its job. These are the coins people like to collect. Great job on your history as usual and the most important research.thanks. For your work. I do have one!!

walking liberty

Level 4

graet job! WL

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