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1889 Three-Cent piece

An 1889 nickel three-cent piece can range in price from $90 to $500, depending on condition, according to U.S. Coin Digest.  (Image courtesy of

An 1889 nickel three-cent piece can range in price from $90 to $500, depending on condition, according to U.S. Coin Digest. (Image courtesy of

There is always something special or maybe even sad about the last coin of a type. In the case of the 1889 copper-nickel three-cent piece it was the last year of three-cent pieces of any type and to that degree seems almost sad. The three-cent piece might have deserved better but realistically by 1889 its days were certainly over. That does, however, make the 1889 a special three-cent piece and a great value as well.

As the last date of a denomination it can certainly be said that the importance of the 1889 three-cent piece can be found in the story of the dates which came before it.

The idea of a three cent piece had appeared in 1851 when there was a national coin shortage as the discovery of gold in California had upset the gold-to-silver ratio which made a silver coin cost more to produce than its face value. That saw the public start to hoard silver.

In an attempt to find some lower denomination silver issue which would circulate Congress authorized a 75% silver three-cent piece. They were popular briefly but once the crisis was past their use was reduced even though they were raised to 90% silver.

The 90% silver three-cent piece would last until 1873 but in reality they were rarely seen in circulation after the early 1860s. The problem was that once again the public was hoarding silver coins. In fact, in the 1860s they were not only hoarding silver and gold but even copper-nickel cents. Making change was down to using tokens and stamps.

A series of changes followed with the cent and two-cent pieces being made of bronze while new three- and five-cent coins were created using a copper-nickel alloy. The first of the new three-cent coins was released in 1865.

The new copper-nickel three-cent piece was popular briefly but mintages never came close to the 11,382,000 of 1865. It was not a case of the public not liking the three-cent piece but simply a case of the public having no real use for a three-cent piece especially with cents and nickels available.

Congress, back when the first 75% silver three-cent piece was made, had some suggestion that the denomination would be handy when it came to purchasing stamps. That, however was basically spin as what Congress was trying to do to some who suggest they were helping the public as opposed to putting out a debased 75% silver coin. The proof is in the results in that the use of the three-cent piece declined. Maybe the public was not writing enough letters but the truth seems to suggest the denomination just had limited use.

The 1889 mintage of just 21,561, while low in most minds, was actually higher than all three dates in the 1880s. In fairness, the mints were busy making dollars but 21,561 is not really a mintage that would make much of a dent in any serious commercial need.

Today, the 1889 lists at $90 in G4, which is a great price as you cannot get a coin with a mintage less than 25,000 for under $100. In MS60 the price is $320, while an MS65 is at $660 with a Prf65 around $500.

Some might have reasonable questions about the low proof prices but it is justified. At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation they have graded 50 examples of the 1889 in MS65 or better but the Prf65 or better total is just under 700. The Professional Coin Grading Service reports 100 examples in MS65 or better but close to 800 in PRf65 or better.

If anything, you can begin to question the proof prices based on the numbers seen by the two major grading services but some of the totals are repeats so the total of known examples may not be as high as it seems.

Certainly the 1889 is available and with its low mintages it has to seem like a good deal. Add to the mintage its special place in history as the final three-cent piece and you have an interesting coin at a very reasonable price.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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