The US Mint produced the 3 Dollar Indian Gold coins between 1854 and 1889. The coins' odd denomination of 3 Dollars was probably chosen to facilitate the trading of 3 cent postage stamps in bulk. For the same purpose, a 3 cent silver coin had been introduced in 1851. The 3 Dollar gold coin made it much easier for consumers to buy stamps in large numbers instead of individually. The coins were minted at the US Mint facilities in Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco and Dahlonega. They are made out of 90% gold and 10% copper and each coin contains 0.14512 oz of gold. According to the 1934 annual report of the US Mint, a total of 539,792 such 3 Dollar coins had been produced. All 3 Dollar gold coins are extremely rare and hard to find these days.
The 3 Dollar Indian Gold coin is identical in design to the Indian Gold Dollar. Both types of coins were designed by James B. Longacre, Chief Engraver of the Philadelphia Mint. A leftward facing Lady Liberty with a Native American headdress bearing the word "LIBERTY" is depicted on the obverse side. "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" is engraved around the periphery of the coin.
Just like on the Indian Gold Dollar, the reverse side depicts an agricultural wreath of corn, cotton, wheat and tobacco tied with a bow. The coin's denomination “3 DOLLARS" and the year of issue appears at the center of the coin. Coins that were minted in New Orleans (mint mark: O), San Francisco (mint mark: S) or Dahlonega (mint mark: D) contain a mint mark just below the bow at the bottom. However, coins that were minted in Philadelphia don't have any mint mark.
|Gold Weight||Face Value||Diameter|
|0.14512 oz||3 Dollars||20.55 mm|
|Philadelphia||1854 - 1889|
|San Francisco||1855 - 1857, 1860, 1870|
A 3 Dollar gold coin was authorized by a congressional bill on the 21st of February 1853. There is still some discussion among numismatists today regarding the intended purpose of this coin. Most experts believe it was issued to facilitate the purchase of sheets of 3 cent stamps. These stamps had been authorized by Congress in 1851 along with a 3 cent silver coin. Whereas the silver coin facilitated the individual purchase of these stamps, the 3 Dollar coin made it easier to buy hundreds of 3 cent stamps at once. However, some historians believe that the California Gold Rush of that time was the true reason for the coin's introduction.
The US Mint deliberately chose to use thinner planchets for the new 3 dollar pieces than for the similarly designed $2.5 Indian Quarter Eagles, resulting in a substantially larger diameter for the new coin. Mintage started in 1854 and about 30 percent of the eventual total mintage was produced that first year alone. Due to complaints from the public, the lettering of the word "DOLLARS" on the reverse side was enlarged in 1855.
The 3 Dollar gold piece was never really popular among the public. However, some people used these coins as gifts or even in jewelry. During the last 10 years of mintage from 1879 to 1889, large numbers of 3 Dollar gold coins were remelted at the US Mint facility in Philadelphia. The last coins were produced in 1889 and Congress officially abolished both the 3 Dollar and 1 Dollar gold coin on the 26th of September 1890. The US Mint then still had plenty of 3 Dollar gold coins in stock and 49.087 pieces (from the final years of mintage and the high mintage years 1874 and 1878) were therefore remelted in the 1890's.
Even though production of the 3 Dollar Indian Gold coin lasted from 1854 to 1889, only the US Mint facility in Philadelphia produced them every year during this period.
Annual mintage of 3 Dollar Indian Gold coins at the various US Mint branches varied between 500 coins (Philadelphia 1881) and 138,618 coins (Philadelphia 1854). Proof coins were almost exclusively minted at the Philadelphia branch of the US Mint and proof mintage varied between 20 coins and 291 coins (1888). Actual proof mintage numbers for the years 1854 to 1858 are not quite certain.
Click here to see a table with detailed mintage numbers.
Three Dollar gold pieces from all years of mintage are nowadays extremely rare. Perhaps it is a bit easier to find coins that were minted during the first year of mintage, since 163.738 out of a total of 539.792 coins were minted in 1854 alone.
Annual proof mintage varied between 20 coins (1874, 1875, 1877, 1878) and 291 coins in 1888. Only proof coins and no regular circulation coins were minted in 1873, 1875 and 1876.
Only one 3 Dollar Indian gold coin is known to have been minted in San Francisco in 1870.
Even though the coins are now very rare for all years of mintage, the coins minted in Dahlonega and New Orleans in 1854, San Francisco in 1855, 1857 and 1860 as well as in Philadelphia in 1873 and 1877 are nowadays especially hard to find.