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NumisMedia Monthly Article Archive

Our monthly articles detailing specific areas of numismatics for dealers, collectors, and investors of United States Rare Coins

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NumisMedia Monthly

April 2016

Tiny Rarities: Three-Cent Silver

       Many of the early Three-Cent Silver coins had substantial mintages, most nearly a half million or more for the dates up through 1862. But there is a lack of available Three-Cent Silver coins in the market, especially in the mint state grades. A large number of these coins were most likely lost, mainly because of their minute size, and even today some of them are found in foreign coin lots because they are not easily identified by the novice collector. Another issue that plagues the number of high grade survivors is the fact that they are so thin, easily bent or damaged, so attrition definitely influences the rarity of these little gems.

       The Three-Cent Silver series began in 1851 and ended in 1873, and there were three varieties over this span. There are some wonderful rarities throughout this series; however, the coins dated from 1863 to 1872, from the Type III variety, are the most sought after by many collectors. A majority of these coins minted for commerce from 1863 to 1872 were melted in 1873, accounting for the scarcity in all grades.

1866 Three-Cent Silver MS65 PCGS CAC

1866 Three-Cent Silver MS65 PCGS CAC sold for $3,055 at the Heritage Auctions Houston Money Show U.S. Coins Signature Auction in Houston, Texas, December 3-6, 2015

       In most auctions some of these dates will sell for premiums well above their current values. For example, an 1871 in NGC XF45 sold for $940 in the FUN Sale earlier this year. The current FMV for an XF40 is $650 and the MS60 is $960. In the Central States Sale last year, an 1866 in AU55 brought $1,880 against the FMV of $840 in the same grade. There are only 39 coins certified in the circulated grades for the 1866 by both PCGS and NGC and there are 143 in all the Mint State grades, with MS68 the highest. These rare circulated coins, like the mint state grades, can bring some heavy bidding competition when up for sale at auction leading to higher premiums.

       Take a look at the population figures for the coins from 1863 to 1872. We have listed the circulated grades from G4 through AU58, the Mint State grades, and the total certified for each date by PCGS and NGC combined.




       The total number of coins certified in all grades from 1863 to 1872 is just 1,591. There are only 315 certified in AU and lower grades. If you are looking for a series of coins that may be underpriced in today's market, you may want to consider the circulated Three-Cent Silver in these dates. These lower grade coins are consistently bringing premiums above the current market levels, and better yet, they outperform the higher grade Mint State issues when it comes to sales above current levels. Below is a graph of the 1866 Three-Cent Silver in grades AU50, AU53 and AU55. This graph shows the progress of the FMV prices over the last six years; all three of these grades increased over 25% in this six year span.

FMV Graph - Twenty Cents 1876 CC MS64 MS65 MS66

       Next is a graph for the same date in grades MS64, MS65 and MS66; while the coins are obviously worth more, the amount of percentage increase over the same time span is less, with the exception of the MS66. The MS64 and MS65 increased about 15% while the MS66 increased about 45%. This makes sense because the price difference between the MS66 to MS67 is over $7,000 and a buyer for a MS66 would still get a superb quality coin for the money. Moreover, the number of coins available is strictly limited in MS66 and higher.

FMV Graph - Twenty Cents 1876 CC MS64 MS65 MS66

       Aside from the scarcity of the Type III variety dates, there are several other Three-Cent Silver coins that are quite rare in the highest grades. Registry collectors continue to demand the highest grades for their sets which can create some extreme values. The 1854 has only one coin certified in MS68 and the current FMV is $65,630. The 1856 also has only one coin certified in its highest grade, but it is MS67 with an FMV of $28,280. There are two coins certified in MS67 with none higher for the 1867; the current FMV is $18,530.

       The 1869 in MS67 had an FMV of over $35,000 at one point but has dropped to the current $29,580. This can happen when a population report rises because of multiple certifications in a high grade, even though this is a coin that had a low original mintage of just 4,500. It also makes a difference when there is a single coin in MS68, although we have no record of a sale at this time. The highest grade rarities can command some extremely high values, but when multiple coins are certified, the values will tend toward lower levels.

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