Today everyone associates a nickel with five cents, yet our nation's first nickel was the three cent coin. Quite the odd denomination, right? Well it wasn't quite as odd as one might think. You see, our fledgling nation was expanding. With the discovery of gold in California we started to look west. Communication at the time was largely limited to letters and the limited use of a new technology called the telegram.
Postage at the time was paid by the receiver, not the sender, and cost five cents a letter. Clearly this was an inefficient system resulting in non-acceptance of letters or simply delays as the postman collected postage. So the first U.S. stamps were issued in 1847. At the time you had the option of pre-paying with a stamp or having the receiver pay for the letter upon delivery. By 1851 the postal service became more efficient and postage stamps dropped to three cents. However, for those who opted to send mail payable upon delivery, postage remained at five cents. The three cent silver was minted the same year.
Relationships between the North and the South deteriorated into civil war by 1861. With the war hoarding of silver and gold naturally took place. In response fractional currency bills were introduced. These had limited life and lacked popularity. The 2 cent piece helped fill that void in 1864 and was the first coin to include "In God We Trust".
The next year the three cent nickel was introduced. The coin lacked the motto "In God We Trust" as the coin was determined to be too small to include the inscription. The copper-nickel coin helped replace the fractional currency bills and continued in declining mintage until postage once again raised to five cents from three cents in 1889. Lady Liberty graced the obverse with a wreath surrounding the Roman Numeral three on the reverse. Interestingly, there is no "cents" or any other denomination listed on the coin other than a simple three.
Another fascinating twist is that from 1865-1872 two competing three cent coins were minted simultaneously. To pay for your postage you might find yourself using either a three cent silver or a three cent nickel! Mintage of the three cent nickel would continue through 1888. As postage once again raised to five cents the "need" for a three cent coin vanished and like the two cent and twenty cent coin they have faded into the pages of history save for a few coin collectors like those of us here.Read more...