2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Three Cent Nickel Piece. First coined in 1865, the dime-sized coin was issued at a time when coins were quite difficult to keep in circulation. The Civil War had resulted in mass hoarding of silver and gold coinage, and by the summer of 1862, Congress passed a bill authorizing currency in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 25¢ and 50¢. Originally called "Postage Currency" they were receivable for all U.S. Postage Stamps. In fact, the first issue bore facsimiles of then-current stamps. Subsequent issues were referred to as "Fractional Currency."
The third issue of Fractional Currency (December 1864) added a three-cent note to the other four denominations. Derisively referred to as "shinplasters" they wore quickly and were unwanted by the public. In March 1865, Congress authorized a bill to strike a 3¢ coin composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel to replace the unpopular 3¢ notes.
The coin was designed by James Longacre and featured the head of Liberty in a simple cornet and ribbon, and a large Roman numeral III on the reverse surrounded by a laurel wreath similar to that seen on the copper nickel cent of 1859.
Mintages for the first ten years or so were fairly healthy, but as the supply of shinplasters dwindled and economic situation eased, the need for the coin evaporated. Mintages slowed to a trickle by the late 1870s and 1880s. Most after 1876 (except for 1881) were Proof strikings and in fact, three years (1877, 1878 and 1886) were Proof only. A change in the postal rates in 1890 resulted in the denomination being abolished.
Because it is an "odd" denomination, and has long been forgotten by the general public, the Three Cent Nickel has never enjoyed a great deal of collector popularity. It»s a pleasing enough design – simple and straightforward, and speaks to an era of necessity and sacrifice.