The $3 Indian Princess Gold coin is an interesting coin that was released by the US mint from 1854. The denomination and the coin itself was unusual as there were no $3 coins before that and the design of the coin was different from the usual styles that were prevalent then. It is now known as one of the most beautiful coins that was designed in the mid 19th century.
History: 1854 $3 Indian Princess Gold coin
In the year 1845, an Act of Congress set the rate of the first United States postage stamps at 5¢. In the following years, this was found to be high and in 1851, Congress authorized both a 3¢ postal stamp and a 3¢ silver coin. It was thought that the introduction of a 3¢ silver coin would help to buy a postal stamp without the need to use the heavier and unpopular copper cents. Congress passed the bill in 1853, which also included a provision for a $3 Gold coin. Though we can't be sure, this coin was thought to be intended for easy 'postal transactions'; buying a roll of 100 postal stamps or a bag of 3¢ coins. Later numismatists have dismissed the idea saying that it was produced only because of the abundant supply of Gold from the California Gold rush.
James B. Longacre, the 4th Chief Engraver of the U.S. mint designed the $3 coin. This was the only coin where he was given free reign in terms of designing and he fully utilised that opportunity. The result was a different kind of design that would be recognised as more 'American' than the coin designs that were in norm then; usually borrowed from Greek and Roman coins.
The obverse of the coin features Lady Liberty as the 'Indian Princess' wearing a head-dress (more like a feathered tiara) with a band that says 'LIBERTY'. It is said that Longacre modeled the Liberty after his own daughter, Sarah. Surrounding the Liberty is the statutory legend 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA'. The reverse shows an agricultural or a cereal wreath enclosing the year of minting and the denomination. The 1854 coin alone has a smaller and shorter 'DOLLARS' as compared to the date digits. This in itself makes the 1854 a design sub-type.
Longacre wanted to differentiate the $3 from the closest denomination, the quarter-eagle or the $2.5 by making the coin thinner and so the designs were struck on thinner planchets. The coin had a weight of 5.02 grams with reeded edge and a Gold content of 90% and 10% Copper. It had a mintage of 138,618 coins the 1st year.
Even though the $3 piece wasn't getting circulated much in the 1880s, there was a mintage of 6000 coins in 1887, to feed a new fad that was spreading across the country. It was suddenly fashionable for men to present a potential 'lady'-friend with a $3 coin with one side replaced with the initials of the lady. But Congress finally abolished the $3 piece in 1890 and 1889 was the last year it was minted.
The $3 Indian Princess Gold coin, though debated over a century over its relevance, manages to retain it's position as one of the most beautiful and coveted coins by collectors.