The Civil War affected almost every aspect of American life — including the availability of American coins. All silver coins were hoarded during the Civil War, even the three-cent silver, the tiniest silver coin the U.S. Mint had ever produced. Coin hoarding was creating a problem for post-Civil War commerce because there were so few coins in circulation to make change or buy a postage stamp (which at this time cost three cents).
- The denomination of the coin is represented by a large “III” (the Roman numeral representing the number three). Each “I” in the Roman numeral has parallel score marks running from the top cross-piece of the letter to the bottom, giving it the look of an ancient column from Greek and Roman architecture.
- The “III” is bordered by a very elaborate wreath. The two open ends of the wreath almost touch at the top center of the coin, just above the middle “I.” (Longacre was famous for his engravings of hair and wreaths.)
The design of the three cent nickel is simple but elegant, a testament to James Barton Longacre’s talent and long experience as an engraver and illustrator.
- The main element on the obverse is Lady Liberty, who represents the United States. She is rendered in the style of ancient Greek and Roman statues — a style that was very popular on U.S. coins in the 1800’s.
- Lady Liberty is in profile, facing left and wearing a beaded coronet (a small crown) inscribed with the word “LIBERTY.” Longacre was well-known for his skill in engraving hair and wreaths, and his Lady Liberty has long, beautifully flowing hair.
- The three cent nickel was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver at the United States Mint.
- It was introduced in 1865 to supplement the three cent silver (an existing three-cent coin that was being kept out of circulation by post-Civil War hoarders). It was also intended to replace the very unpopular three cent paper notes (“fractional currency,” also derisively nicknamed “shinplasters”).