Jim Bisognani: Can You Spare a Trime?

Posted on 2/8/2024

As the groundhog predicts an early spring, Jim starts investigating Three Cent Silvers for a Texan dealer friend.

February can be frightfully cold in many regions of the US, especially here in New England. With this in mind, a dealer friend from Arizona called me last week to convey (in what he called a "modest inspirational boost") that "Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow." For those of you who don't track the Pennsylvanian rodent's meanderings, this means that hallelujah, we'll have an early spring!

While most sane people can question the validity of Phil's recent track record with more than a measure of skepticism, I can somewhat gleefully point to the fact that most all MLB teams are reporting in Florida or Arizona this week to commence spring training workouts, and real spring training games are scheduled to start in less than two weeks. That's more like it, I say; you can almost taste spring.

Yet, whether it be spring or winter, the collector's coin market remains a study in continuity. As I review market activity, no groundhog needs to be prodded from their burrow to confirm that collector coins — especially US type coins — are surging in price.

Circulated US Type coins are advancing

A dealer friend from Texas voiced his concerns to me: "Jim, Barbers, Seated and Capped Bust Type coins in VF-XF are really in heightened demand. I have to keep raising the ante on my bids to budge a supply." This dealer hailing from the Lone Star State went on to say that the majority of his recent purchases (which account for tens of thousands of dollars) were for raw circulated coins in the $20 to $75 range. Better-date Indian Cents and early mintmarked Lincoln Cents are courting higher demand, too. "Just when you think you have pricing under control, demand surges and prices again escalate," my friend said.

1914-D Lincoln Cent
Click images to enlarge.

Brother, can you spare a trime?

Another series on this dealer's wish list includes Three Cent Silvers. "I always liked the little trimes and I have several collectors anxious to get their hands on VF-XF examples of the Type III, specifically issues from 1863 through 1872. Those Civil War and post-Civil War issues had such low mintages, and given the very frail attributes of the coin, it's hard to find any examples that aren't damaged to some degree."

I concur. It's really amazing that any of the Three Cent Silvers survived given that they are the second-smallest US regular issue in diameter, reporting in at 14 mm and 0.75 grams (the smallest being the 1849-1854 Type I Gold Dollar at 13 mm and 1.67 grams). It's hard to imagine that coins receiving even modest circulation could have survived unscathed. This accounts for the plethora of bent and otherwise damaged coins of this type that you may see in various dealers' bargain boxes at shows.

I, of course, was compelled to take a quick review of the NGC Census on Three Cent Silvers from 1863 to 1872, the same coins that my Texas dealer friend was asked to locate. Astonishingly, according to the NGC Census, NGC has only certified 28 examples graded VF-XF! When I relayed those figures to my friend, there was an audible gulp before he replied. "I am more than a bit surprised," he said. "I knew that they were very scarce, but I didn't realize it was that small a population. I guess I really have my work cut out for me!"

I suggested that he expand his search to include any examples graded AU 50 through AU 58, as the NGC Census within those grade designations blossoms to a more robust 98 graded. He said he would contact his clients about that possibility.

1866 3 Cent Silver graded NGC AU 50
Click images to enlarge.

While on this fact-finding mission, I was compelled to dig a little deeper. While the circulated examples from VF 20 to AU 58 totals 126 on the NGC Census, there are 652 examples of Three Cent Silvers in grades MS 60 through MS 67, with 182 of those graded MS 64.

As one might surmise, the frequency of any coins from 1863 to 1872 appearing at public auction is quite limited. In fact, while searching for circulated examples like the ones that the Texas dealer is attempting to find, I can only find five sales total. Three of those sales were nearly 20 years old. So, I think that my dealer friend will have his hands full trying to locate a suitable raw or certified example for his clients.

A thirst for history

Another collector and fellow coindexter hailing from Michigan told me that he and his girlfriend had just gotten back from a trip to San Antonio, Texas. Per Kevin, they took in all of the sights, and being thirsty and for historical investigation, they first stopped at Menger Bar, which is renowned as the establishment where Theodore Roosevelt selected many of his famous Rough Riders in 1898, in preparation for the Spanish-American War. Not wanting to waste a good venue, Teddy also used the bar as his unofficial headquarters as well as an induction station. Then, my friend from Michigan, of course, made a visit to the Alamo.

After that amazing tour, Kevin said that he and his friend scoped out a few local coin shops. "I visited a shop appropriately named 'Alamo Heights Coin Shop'," he said. According to Kevin, they had everything from Native American jewelry to coins. "I spotted an 1891 Mexican 8 Real graded NGC AU 50," he continued. "The coin looked really great for the grade, so I began to haggle and ended up getting it for $85." After seeing some photos of the coin, I can easily see why he thought it was a premium coin for the grade.

Mexico 1891CA MM 8 Reales graded NGC AU 50

So keep an eye out during your travels, my fellow coindexters. When the opportunity arises, be sure to stop into any brick-and-mortar coin shops along the way.

Hey, wait a minute... That groundhog might have something. It's going to be nearly 60 degrees and sunny here tomorrow!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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