Sparkling Gem Proof 1867 Rays Shield Nickel
Key Issue in the Series
Exquisite surfaces exhibit a few horizontal streaks of pinkish rose iridescence along with considerable brilliance. A marked cameo finish goes unmentioned on the old style PCGS insert. This is a beautiful example of a rare and highly desirable issue. The original mintage has long been estimated as quite low, but more recent research leads us to believe it was fewer than 100 pieces -- remarkably struck at different times and reflected by four die pairings. Today it is believed by PCGS that about 60 individual examples exist, the presently offered piece near the top of those that survive in terms of condition and eye appeal.
Notes on the Shield Nickel
Introduced in 1866, the copper-nickel five-cent coin has remained an integral part of our nation's coinage ever since. The origins of this new style coin were born out of the suspension of specie payments during the Civil War. Gold coins disappeared from circulation in late 1861 and silver coins in the spring of 1862. Initially the silver half dime was replaced with five-cent Fractional Currency notes, which circulated well after the war concluded with General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865. In order to provide an alternative to these notes, Congress followed the the three-cent copper-nickel coins of 1865 with a similar five-cent copper-nickel coins authorized by the Act of May 16, 1866. Both denominations have planchets composed of 75% copper blended with 25% nickel. When initially discussed the proposed weight of the new copper-nickel coin was to be around 30 grains, or about one and half times the existing but not currently circulating silver half dime. As discussions progressed, Joseph Wharton, whose nickel output was larger than any other and who essentially controlled the market, was able to convince Congress to increase the weight to 77 grains, thereby using more nickel for each coin produced (the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania bears his name today). Mint Engraver James Barton Longacre designed the new coin, with the obverse displaying a large central shield with arrows crossed at its base, draped in a hanging wreath with a broad cross above. The date is below and IN GOD WE TRUST is in small letters at the top. For the reverse a large Arabic 5 is central, with 13 small stars surrounding, with 13 glory rays, each alternating in sequence around the 5. Above the 5 is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with CENTS below.
The inclusion of the Rays on the reverse proved to be problematic. The combination of copper and nickel produced a very hard planchet that was difficult to strike up fully with the intended designs. Furthermore the nickel alloy was so hard that the dies soon developed cracks and did not last long during the coining process. When the complaints reached Treasury Secretary McCulloch, he promptly ordered the rays be removed on January 21, 1867, and production was halted until new dies could be created, which came into production on February 1, 1867.
Research by R.W. Julian found that Chief Coiner Snowden delayed striking Proofs of the Rays design for inclusion in annual Proof sets for the initial weeks of January in 1867. However, it is entirely likely that Mint Director Henry Linderman had the 1867 Rays Proofs struck clandestinely to be distributed to his collector friends, as was common during the Linderman era at the Philadelphia Mint. The fact that at least four different die marriages exist of this rare coin in Proof finish (per the research of John Dannreuther, in particular), seems to point to multiple strikings, perhaps well after the designs had been replaced by the No Rays style (although there is no evidence on the timing beyond the coins that exist today).
The Proof 1867 Rays five-cent coin remains one of the key issues to the Shield nickel series and to the entire copper-nickel five-cent series.
Estimate: $0.00 - $0.00
PCGS Population: 13; 3 finer (Proof-66 finest).