Best Buy: The Rare Gold Rush $3 'Princess'
Many of you have asked us to bring you special offers of interesting and cost effective coins when we come across them. This offer is a direct result of what many of you have requested. The $3 gold piece is one of our country’s most scarce and fascinating gold coins. While the denomination never caught on with the general public, it has been a coveted collectible since the 19th century. Numismatists have always been drawn to the $3 “Princess” due to its unusual face value, extreme rarity, and attractive design. Other than the $4 “Stella,” which typically sells for $75,000-$150,000, the $3 piece is the rarest of all United States gold denominations.
While all $3 gold pieces are special items, the 1854 issue is particularly desirable. Not only was it the first year of issue, but it is actually a distinct one-year type coin. The 1854 is also a tougher date to acquire in the series, yet commands an extremely modest premium compared to the more available 1874 and 1878 issues. Numismatists are also drawn to the 1854 issue due to the fact that it was struck at the peak of the California Gold Rush.
When we were offered a group of these scarce 1854 “Princesses,” we jumped at the opportunity. This coin possesses all of the traits we look for in a rare coin: history, numismatic significance and value. We’re excited to make available a select group of these Gold Rush $3 gold pieces to our clients.
HISTORY AND RARITY
The $3 gold piece can trace its roots to 1845, when the federal government authorized the first postage stamps. The price per stamp was initially five cents, but this rate was considered too high. To spur stamp purchases, the unit price was lowered to three cents in 1851. Simultaneously a 3¢ silver coin was introduced to make buying stamps easier. The price reduction helped postage stamps gain traction with the public and usage flourished in the early and mid-1850s. The U.S. Mint followed suit by striking over 35 million 3¢ silver coins from 1851-1853.
Given the popularity of three cent stamps and their corresponding silver coins, politicians began contemplating a $3 gold coin. Not only would the coin help facilitate buying sheets of stamps, but bankers could also use them to trade for rolls of 3¢ coins. Furthermore, there was a temporary surplus of gold flowing in from the California gold rush and the Mint was looking for new ways to convert this metal into coin.
Once congress approved the new $3 gold piece in early 1853, U.S. Mint Chief Engraver, James Longacre began work on the coin’s design. He faced a challenge with the $3 coin, as he needed to clearly differentiate it from the quarter eagle and half eagle. His proposed solution was to make the coin large and flat—clearly different in size from the quarter eagle—and give it a totally unique motif. His goal was to make the design uniquely American with an Indian princess on the obverse and a wreath of corn, wheat, cotton and tobacco on the reverse.
Despite the U.S. Mint’s hopes and optimism, the $3 gold piece fared poorly upon release. The public largely rejected the coin, deeming it too similar in size to the half eagle. It has also been questioned whether the average American typically bought sheets of stamps—after all $3 was still a sizeable amount of money at the time. Even after a few years of production, the $3 Princess could not find its place in everyday commerce.
Even in the face of this lukewarm reception, the Philadelphia mint continued to produce $3 coins for another 35 years. Mintages were anemic; in many years fewer than 5000 pieces were struck. Dies for the $3 coin were sent to the branch mints repeatedly in the 1850s and 1860s, but they refused to strike the coins. Demand was so low that in 1875 and 1876, only a small number of proofs were made for collectors—no coins were made for circulation.
When the denomination was finally discontinued in 1889, a grand total of just 538,174 pieces had been struck over the span of 36 years. To put this in perspective, 538,174 coins might have represented a month’s worth of $5 gold coin production during that same era! Furthermore, the mintages only tell half the story, as a substantial percentage of $3 coins were later melted. According to mint records, 49,087 $3 pieces were destroyed by the U.S. Mint in the 1890s.
While the general public had little use for the coin, early coin dealers were already touting them as collectibles. Philadelphia-based firms would buy the coins at face value from the mint and sell them to collectors throughout the country. Since the coins were almost never seen in circulation, they had a novelty factor and traded for a premium outside of Philadelphia. The $3 piece was also a popular component in jewelry; today many surviving specimens show evidence of mounting, solder and polishing.
Once it became officially obsolete, the coin’s value as a collectible began to climb. In the 1920s, for example, most 19th century gold coins were only worth face value but $3 pieces were already trading for sizeable premiums. U.S. gold coin collecting was still in its infancy, but the $3 “princess” was one of the first items to be actively pursued with numismatists.
The 1854 issue is numismatically significant for three reasons:
- It is the first year of issue. In every United States coinage series, first years of issue are especially popular and desirable. In fact, many collectors assemble sets composed entirely of first years of issue.
- It was struck during the California Gold Rush. In fact, the $3 Princess (along with the Gold Dollar and Double Eagle) largely owes its existence to this gold discovery. As the yellow metal flowed in from California, the U.S. Mint was able to expand its gold coinage production.
- It is a distinct one-year type. On the reverse, the word 'DOLLARS' is smaller on 1854 $3 Princesses compared to the 1855-1889 issues. The font was considered too difficult to read and was later enlarged.
For these reasons, the 1854 $3 Gold Princess is a coveted numismatic item that appeals to multiple audiences. The coin is important for type buyers, Gold Rush enthusiasts, gold specialists and first-year collectors.
We would recommend any $3 gold piece based on its story and rarity alone. Its philatelic connection, fascinating background and limited production have intrigued collectors since the 1880s. The 1854 issues, however, possess an added layer of desirability. Given their exceptional backstory, scarcity and numismatic significance, we believe they represent outstanding value. We’re thrilled to have found a group of these at reasonable prices—and expect you will be equally excited.
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Free shipping included on all orders. Please note all coins sold will be NGC or PCGS certified. The Gold Rush $3 Princess is a scarce and undervalued coin. We don't expect these coins will last long, and may not come around again for a while. Take advantage of this special offer by calling us at 800-831-0007, or by sending me an email.
*Prices listed include shipping, handling and insurance, but prices are subject to change due to market fluctuation and product availability.