When the gold $3 piece was released, in 1854, its design was generally praised in the press.
The Delaware State Reporter, Dover, wrote in its May 9, 1854, issue: “The new gold piece of three dollars value will be issued in a few days. We have seen one, through the kindness of the proprietors of Harden’s Express, and admire it for the beauty of its workmanship and the good taste exhibited in its design.”
The newspaper also observed that the gold $3 was between the size of the gold $5 and the gold $2.50. “It is however, very distinct in its appearance from either of these coins and can never be mistaken for them by any one who looks at its face,” which it noted had the head of an Indian princess.
Almost immediately, there were complaints about the new coins and how they could be confused for $5s. A writer to the Daily National Intelligencer, Washington, D.C., noted in the Jan. 29, 1855 issue:
“There is in circulation among us a small number of coin of the value of three dollars, the general appearance of which is so like the half eagle that it is often passed for five dollars.… I have seen and heard of but about a dozen pieces being in use, more than half of which were given and taken as five dollar pieces.… A very remarkable case of this sort came to my knowledge yesterday. A neighbor owed his wood merchant seven dollars and in payment sent two three-dollar pieces and one dollar. The merchant returned four one-dollar pieces, saying that his debtor had sent too much. Of course the four dollars were again returned to the merchant with the information that the larger pieces were but three dollars each, and not five, as he supposed them to be.”
The gold $3s didn’t prove popular in circulation. After the first few years of coinage, mintages fell off drastically to just a few thousand a year. Coinage ended with 1889-dated coins of which 2,300 were produced for circulation.
The Feb. 26, 1890 issue of the Watertown Daily Times, Watertown, N.Y. quipped of a bill introduced in Congress to suspend coinage of the gold $1 and $3 pieces: “This will be the first news to most people that such pieces are coined now days. The fact has not come to the observation of the general public.”
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