It is often said that this seemingly useless coin was “’fathered by the gold rush and ‘mothered’ by the U.S. Postal Service.” From the 1840s to the 1870s, however, it seemed as though the government just enjoyed toying with coin denominations to see what would and would not work. This may have been the case for this coin because many honestly could not justify a three-cent coin, so Senator David Stevens Dickinson tweaked the coins’ use to fit the priorities. Luck would have it that the postal service planned on reducing the cost of stamps from five cents to three. Additionally, the California gold rush diminished the value of gold while it spiked the price of silver; which caused the public to hoard all silver coins to melt because the metal value was higher than the coin’s face value. These conditions created the perfect circumstances to get approval on the new three-cent coin easily. Once approved, it was up to the chief engraver, John Longacre, to design the tiny coin, which was certainly a challenge. The coin was so difficult to engrave due to its small size that the coin had to be redesigned three times, with type one and two only lasting three to four years, respectively, in circulation. The third hurdle the creators met with this coin was making the coin worth spending but avoiding hoarders. Dickinson then had to create an alloy of silver and copper to meet these requirements; the alloy came to be 75% silver and 25% copper, enough to produce the coin at cost but prevent hoarders.
The coin ended up being useless and more of an annoyance overall. These small coins were easily lost, easily worn because of the alloy from which they were made, and once the price of stamps increased again, rarely useful. It is simply surprising these coins were produced for 38 years.