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Original 1867 Rays Gem Cameo Proof Shield Nickel to be offered at Heritage’s Summer FUN Coin Auction

The 1867 Rays Shield nickel business strikes are conditionally rare coins in the highest Mint State grades, but they are generally obtainable for a price. The 1867 Rays Shield nickel proof coins, however, are celebrated rarities, well-known to series specialists and advanced numismatists.

John Dannreuther, director of research at PCGS, has delved extensively into the die diagnostics and Mint history surrounding the 1867 With Rays and No Rays proof issues–and reissues. Much of what follows is from the summation in the Bowers Shield and Liberty Head nickels Guide Book and from Dannreuther’s PCGS article, published in the June 2007 PCGS Rare Coin Market Report and reprinted on, titled “Third Obverse Die Identified for Proof 1867 Rays Nickel.”

Three Different Obverse Dies Used

Dannreuther has established that three different obverse dies were used for the 1867 Rays proofs, which were restruck at various times, all paired with a single reverse die that was lapped on each reuse. The first obverse used, Dannreuther-1, shows the characteristics below:

–The left base of the 1 in the date is over the right side of a dentil.

Dannreuther writes concerning the first use of this obverse that it likely was used to produce 10 to 15 1867 With Rays proofs earlier than previously believed. Earlier research by R.W. Julian had indicated that, when the order was given on January 21, 1867, to suspend coinage of the With Rays design, chief coiner Archibald Louden Snowden had so far supposedly “refused” to make any 1867 With Rays proofs for sets. However, Dannreuther believes that is likely untrue since, based on the die emission sequence and die state information he has established, Dannreuther-1 is the earliest known stage of this obverse die. Dannreuther writes:

“Most likely, the 25 Proofs reported delivered on February 5, 1867 are the ones with the Pattern reverse, as determined by specialist Douglas Kurz. These No Rays Pattern reverse Proofs have a very slightly different (but later) stage of State a, indicating that some With Rays proofs were probably struck in January or early February right before the No Rays Proofs with the Judd-507 Pattern reverse.”

The appearance of “hollow” leaves, a lump or dot at the lower-left forepart of the fletchings, the absence of visible recutting on the 7, etc. would indicate later die states and presumably coincide with a lesser degree of the marked field-device contrast also evident on this coin.

Six Different Striking Periods

Dannreuther outlines six different striking periods with different dies and die markers evident for each–a remarkable conclusion, but one outside the scope of the present coin. Mint Director Henry R. Linderman (1867-69, 1873-79) was known not to be averse to lining his pockets when the call came from his numismatist friends outside the Mint for a special coin or two. Dannreuther speculates that perhaps the original Dannreuther-1 obverse die had been destroyed when more examples of the 1867 Rays proofs were asked for, leading to the production of the Dannreuther-2 and -3 dies, each time paired with the successively lapped Dannreuther-A reverse.

Although there may be more 1867 Rays proofs known than originally thought, many are later restrikes. This piece bears every hallmark of being one of the few (10-15) true originals struck, both in die diagnostics and the heavy cameo contrast and lack of die polishing notable on both sides. The piece is fully struck throughout, with reflective, untoned surfaces. The only mentionable flaws are some minor handling marks seen in the obverse field at 2 o’clock.

To Be sold as LOT 3257 at the 2010 July Orlando, FL (Summer FUN) Signature US Coin Auction #1142

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