When the Silver Three Cent Piece was introduced, the coins were struck in 75% silver and 25% copper, representing a unique composition within American coinage. The weight of these pieces was a mere 0.8 grams or approximately 12.4 grains. This composition and weight would be used for the initial years of the series from 1851 to 1853.
Starting in 1854, the standard composition of 90% silver and 10% copper was adopted. This change also served to reduce the weight to .75 grams or 11.6 grains, giving the coins the lowest weight of any United States coins ever produced.
Across both compositions, the Three Cent Silvers had a diameter of 14 mm and a plain edge. The diameter was only slightly larger than the type one gold dollars, which at 12.7 mm were the smallest coins produced by the United States Mint.
Due to the small size of the coins, strike is a major problem across the type one and type two issues of the series. Other problems that are encountered on coins of this unusual denomination are heavy clash marks and dipped, cleaned surfaces. An original three cent silver piece should be slightly toned, in various colors, while white coins have virtually always dipped and/or cleaned.