Saturday, April 26, 2014

Trimes or Fish scales - the 3 cent silver coins

It may be hard to imagine how anyone thought it a good idea to issue a silver coin with a value of just three cents.  We did just that in 1851and we continued to do so for twenty two years.

These weighed abut a third of what a modern dime weighs. However, they were almost as large in circumference, which made them very, very thin.  Here's a closer look at one:

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

Unlike dimes and half dimes of the time, the first of these in 1851 were not 90% silver, but only 75%. If they had been 90% silver, they would have to have been made smaller or would have cost too much to produce.  That was already becoming a problem with the larger silver coins - as the price of silver rose after the discovery of gold in California, people began hoarding silver coins.  These three cent pieces weren't of sufficient value to bother, though.

However, the debased mixture tarnished quickly and these were not popular, so in 1854 they returned to 90% silver.  Not wishing to change the width, these were made lighter by reducing the thickness even more.

They were useful for buying 3 cent postage stamps, which was the new price to carry a domestic letter up to 3,000 miles as of 1851 (it had been 5 cents prior to that).  Don't think that this was an insignificant amount of money - a workman might have been paid only ten cents per hour at that time.  In tmodern terms, you might think of this as $5 or $6. 

Now, imagine having a coin that small but worth that much.  It's so small and thin that if you dropped one accidentally, you might not hear it hit the floor.  It could easily work its way through a very small hole in your pocket.  Losing that much money so easily didn't help their popularity. 

It wasn't all that hard to bend these, and today you can find these that obviously were bent - was that to make them easier to find when fishing in a pocket or purse? 

We call them trimes now, but people who used them called them "fish scales".  I said that these were produced for 22 years, but most of them (36 million or so) were made from 1851 to 1853.  Less than 5 million were produced from 1854 to 1858 and less than 2 million from 1859 to the last in 1873.  

See Three Cent Silvers (1851-1873) for more about these tiny coins.

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

This week's Coinweek Giveaway:

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