Many interesting and scarce $3 gold pieces are not all that expensive. In type sets they are the most difficult denomination, but demand is so low when it comes to collecting a complete set that a lot of dates that should be much more expensive are excellent deals.
One of the many great deals is the historic issue 1855-S. The first year of the $3 gold piece was the previous year, which had also been the first year of coin production at the new San Francisco Mint.
San Francisco did not produce a $3 gold piece in 1854. It is likely that they did not have dies until late in the year since they had to be shipped from Philadelphia. Back then it was not exactly a safe or fast trip.
Even if the dies had been in San Francisco in 1854, the odds are pretty good that the new facility on Commercial Street would have never gotten around to using them. Inside the mint were cramped quarters, loud machines and the unpleasant smell of acid. Employees were regularly sick and the officials almost immediately asked for a new facility. That was not really the first priority in Washington. The first priority might have been avoiding being sent across the country through all the potential threats to inspect the San Francisco Mint.
The first year of production was, appropriately, gold. The priority was large gold coins. There were mintages of more than 100,000 of gold eagles and gold double eagles. After that, however, there was a small mintage of gold dollars that might have been needed and token mintages of gold quarter eagles and half eagles. Had there been an attempt to mint a $3 gold piece, it too would have probably been just a token production.
The mintage of the first San Francisco $3 gold piece was put at 6,600, which was probably something of a test of the new denomination. That happened at New Orleans and at Dahlonega in 1854 and the two never produced the denomination again. At San Francisco the $3 gold piece was produced again, so there was at least minimal use of the denomination in the heart of gold country.
Apparently there were no coin collectors among the fortune seekers back in 1855. With a 6,600 mintage there were not many coins to save, but we see a lack of supplies in any grade with a current price of $680 in F-12 going up to $25,000 in MS-60.
Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen 88 examples of which only two were Mint State, both graded MS-61. The Professional Coin Grading Service total stands at 92 coins but once again only two were called Mint State, one graded MS-61 and the other MS-62.
The 1855-S is tough, but it may be a great deal in Mint State since these four are all fairly low in terms of grade. The reason for the modest price has to be demand. This is unlikely to change unless we see an example in a lofty grade like MS-63.