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Original 1867 Rays Proof Shield Nickel to be offered by Heritage at Summer FUN Coin Show

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. Heritage will be offering a cameo Gem example in the upcoming 2010 July Orlando, FL (Summer FUN) Signature US Coin Auction #1142, taking place July 8-11.

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 www.shieldnickels.net, titled “Third Obverse Die Identified for Proof 1867 Rays Nickel.

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 left base of the 1 in the date over the right side of a dentil. The earliest state of this die, as on the present coin, shows numerous markers, including:

  • All leaves are complete; none are “hollow.”
  • The 7 in the date is clearly recut and has not yet faded.
  • No die polish is evident in the lower vertical shield stripes.
  • All berries are complete and attached, with those at the inner right recut. The lowest inner-right berry shows a tiny die polish line to the adjacent leaf.
  • A die line runs from the seventh horizontal stripe, angling down through several stripes. A curly die line from the 10th horizontal stripe runs down through the left side of the shield, ending in the circle or ball ornament (a.k.a. terminal volute).
  • The left fletchings are detached at the lower right (lower front) portion (where they join the shield), but the detached part has not yet degenerated into a small lump or dot as on later die states.

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. The Reverse A, also from the earliest die state, displays:

  • A slightly weak center ray below the second T of STATES.
  • Full, rounded dentils from 3-5 o’clock, with no space between them.

In total, Dannreuther outlines six different striking periods for this coin, with different dies and die markers evident for each. 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.

To summarize, although there may be more 1867 Rays proofs known than originally thought, many are later restrikes. The coin Heritage is offering in Orlando, however, 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. Itis 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.

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