This is a strange coin
It seems rather conventional at first glance, but then you look at it: is that Lady Liberty wearing a Native American headdress?
This coin is as unique as its design. First, it’s an unusual denomination: $3. Second, the reason it was made is more than a little odd.
In 1851, the postage rate of a local prepaid letter was lowered from five cents to three cents. At the same time, a three-cent silver piece was introduced as a convenience, because the public hated the large cents that were in circulation then—and the thought of forcing our beleaguered citizens to fish out not one, not two, but three cents to pay for one stamp was just too much. Hence, the three-cent piece.
Then in 1853, the logic was carried further. Why not initiate a $3 gold piece so that people could more easily buy three-cent stamps by the sheet?
There you have it: this coin was created so that people could buy sheets of stamps more easily.
Needless, perhaps, to say, public demand never met production of this coin. Which is all the better for collectors, because many $3 coins have remained in excellent condition over the past 150+ years.
When you look at the coin, you see on the obverse a Native American “princess,” actually modeled on the Greco-Roman Crouching Venus statue that was then in a Philadelphia museum. She wears a feathered headdress with a band bearing the word “LIBERTY.” Such headdresses date back to early depictions of Native Americans, as far back as the 16th century. In the 1850s, Native American “princesses” were widely accepted as a symbol of America, until Columbia became more common. The words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” encircle Lady Liberty.
The reverse shows a wreath of tobacco, wheat, corn, and cotton. Within the wreath are the words “3 DOLLARS” and the date.
In 1889, the $3 piece shuffled off this mortal coil, and our nation’s coin denominations got significantly more practical (boring!).
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