PCGS Proof-66 Ranks Among Finest-Certified Survivors from an Unknown Mintage
Over the course of a 13+ year career as a professional numismatist and cataloger for one of the nation's leading rare coin auction houses, I have been extremely fortunate to handle most of the rarest and most highly coveted coins ever struck in the United States Mint, and for many of these issues more than one example. While preparing our June 2012 Baltimore Auction, I was delighted to discover that Stack's Bowers Galleries is once again offering multiple examples of the rare and enigmatic Proof striking of the 1867 With Rays Shield nickel. I say enigmatic because, although many numismatists believe that only approximately 60 Proof 1867 With Rays nickels exist in all grades, the issue is not mentioned in the annual Mint Director's Report and, as such, has an unknown mintage. The issue is a formidable rarity in all grades, especially in Gem Proof, and it is particularly impressive that the two specimens that we will be offering in our June Baltimore Auction are PCGS-certified Proof-66 and Proof-65, respectively. The finer of the two coins, the gorgeous Proof-66, is the coin that I wish to discuss in greater detail in this article.
This premium Gem is one of the finest Proof 1867 With Rays nickels to survive, tied with only two other Proof-66s as the highest graded by PCGS in the Proof category. Furthermore, this coin was certified during the "green label" historical period of PCGS grading, and was thus certified prior to the introduction of Cameo and Deep Cameo designations on Proof coinage. There is actually good contrast between the frosted devices and mirror fields on this piece, so a Cameo designation would likely be awarded if this coin were resubmitted in today's market. For reference there are four Cameo-designated Proofs of this issue certified in PCGS Proof-66, but none finer.
No signs of carbon specks or spotting are present on either side of this coin, and the surfaces are brilliant with only a hint of faint toning. The strike is bold on all the intricate devices, which stand tall against mirrored reflectivity in the fields. Matching the minutia to the known diagnostics provides a perfect fit, with light filling in the lower portion of the letter E in UNITED from incomplete die polish and the center ray below the second letter T in STATES on the reverse very thin, in the latter case due to overzealous die polishing. The leaf below the letters RU in TRUST is detached from the cluster at its base. These diagnostics confirm the Proof status of this rare piece, although the coin's outward appearance would certainly suffice in this regard. Formidable in rarity and desirability, and worthy of inclusion in the most advanced numismatic cabinet.