Stack’s Bowers Galleries to Offer Gem Uncirculated 1889 Three-Dollar Gold Piece

Featured in the Rarities Night Session of our August 2023 Global Showcase Auction will be a Gem three-dollar gold piece from 1889, the final year that the denomination was struck. This example has been graded MS-65 by PCGS and is one of 28 MS-65 grading events listed in the PCGS Population Report, with only 17 recorded finer.

Our cataloger describes this piece: “This is an exceptionally well preserved and attractive example of the popular final year 1889 $3 gold issue. Smooth surfaces are highly lustrous with a soft satin finish. Sharply struck with vivid rose-gold color.”

The three-dollar gold piece was never a popular or particularly useful denomination. Many numismatists think that the denomination was introduced to facilitate purchases of 100-subject postage stamp sheets. This explanation has been challenged by researchers and experts who think that the coins were introduced in part to monetize the glut of gold that poured eastward from California in the 1850s and to expand the number of transactions possible with United States coinage.

James Barton Longacre furnished designs depicting Liberty wearing a Comanche-inspired feathered headdress on the obverse and showing an “agricultural wreath” on the reverse.

Mintages began declining not long after the denomination’s introduction in 1854. By 1860, mintages had declined below 10,000 and would only rise above that level twice again over the 29 years until the denomination was retired. A handful of dates were struck at the branch mints in operation at the time, but the lion’s share of the 504,000 pieces struck from 1854 to 1889 came from the Philadelphia Mint.

Numerous Mint and Treasury officials called the denomination’s usefulness into question. In 1889, Mint Director James P. Kimball wrote a letter to the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures advocating for the three-dollar gold piece’s abolition which read “this is a denomination which serves no useful purpose being in fact limited to its production for cabinet purposes.”

The Mint’s coiner delivered 2,300 three-dollar gold pieces dated 1889 in December of that year, some of which were given as holiday gifts, some of which were saved to memorialize the series’ end. Lower-end Mint State 1889 three-dollar gold pieces are relatively abundant, and experts estimate a surviving population of somewhere between 300 and 500 coins, roughly two thirds in Mint State grades.

For more information on our August 2023 Global Showcase Auction, or to consign your numismatic items to this or another of our upcoming auctions, call 800-458-4646 or email [email protected].

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