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For detail-oriented numismatic sleuths only !!!!

20 posts in this topic

(Lecture #23, Sunnywood's advanced course in Shield nickels !!)


This is what I do when I am bored on a Sunday morning !! laugh.gif Here is the story of a master die ("hub") made in 1868, which was not manufactured properly. By looking at the evidence (coins !!) we can figure out something that happened at the Mint in 1868.


Take a look at pages 214 - 216 in the 4th edition of the Cherrypicker's Guide. I think everyone who is interested in coins should look at this, because it is incredibly cool to be able to see how the new master hub which was fashioned in 1868 deteriorated rapidly. For anyone who doesn't know the story, it is important to understand that a "hub" is a master die from which the working dies are made. The hub has the letters and devices RAISED like a coin. A hub is supposed to be made out of hardened tool steel. It would then be used to make the design impressions in the working dies (so that the working dies have the letters incuse, not raised). The impressions are made when the steel for the working dies is still in the soft annealed condition. After the working dies are impressed with the design, they are heat treated to harden the steel. Then they could be used to strike actual coins.


The "No Rays" reverse which was being used in 1867 had fat puffy stars which didn't strike fully (even the highest graded coins struck from this reverse are often missing star radials). Also, one of the star points near "OF" on the reverse was truncated. So I guess the coiners decided it was time for a new master die ("hub") for the reverse design. They made a nice one, with nicely defined stars, but apparently it wasn't heat treated properly, so that it was too brittle. (Perhaps it was too carburized, or it was oil-quenched but then not tempered ??) When they started using it to impress working dies, some of the raised letters began to break off. Only a very few dies were made before the first breakage occurred. That is why Variety 5 ("No Broken Letters") is extremely rare.


By the way, the cataloguers at Bowers & Merena made a HUGE mistake in the Philip Flannagan catalog (Baltimore auction, 11/29 - 12/1/2001). Check out Lots 6105 and 6106. They are both NGC MS65 coins, catalogued as the rare "No Broken Letters" variety. The lot description under Lot 6105 goes into detail about this variety. But they missed the point !!! On inspection I determined that these coins were ordinary garden-variety 1868 nickels, struck with the Reverse of 1867 (fat puffy stars, star points to the lower right serif of the "E" in STATES), and NOT REVERSE OF 1868 (crisp defined stars, star points to the lower left serif of the final "S" in STATES). Collectors should understand that an 1868 nickel with no broken lettering on the reverse is only the rare Variety 5 if it is a Reverse of 1868 coin. There are plenty of ordinary Reverse of 1867 coins with no broken letters, such as these two coins in the Bowers auction.


As the hub began to deteriorate, first the "C" in CENTS broke, then the "S" in CENTS, then the first "S" in STATES, then the "D" in UNITED. These breakages correspond to Varieties 1 through 4. Finally, the master hub was retired, and the coiners evidently went BACK to using the older hub (Reverse of 1867). We know they went back to using the old one, because there are no 1869-dated coins known with the reverse of 1868. Most 1869's have the old reverse of 1867. Later in 1869, another new hub was fashioned, and this one lasted successfully throughout the remainder of shield nickel production. The newer hub is usually called the reverse of 1870 (although there are a very few 1869's known with this reverse). There are two examples of 1870 shield nickels known with the 1867 reverse, but all the rest have the 1870 reverse.


Interestingly, the 1865 No Rays pattern shield nickel, J-418, has the reverse of 1870 !!!! So this is proof that these pattern was NOT struck in 1865 as a prototype, but was rather a backdated fantasy issue produced by some enterprising individuals at the Mint for their numismantic clientele.


We can often study die states, and find coins with progressively more die cracks, and even cuds (caused by chips & chunks breaking off the die). In this way, we can chronicle the life of a working die. But it is much more rare to be able to study and chronicle the life of a master hub die. And it is rare to have a production hub deteriorate so rapidly. So any true numismatist should find the story of the Reverse of 1868 coins fascinating !!!!


My set of these coins includes:


Variety 1 (FS-002.94) NGC MS66

Variety 2 (FS-002.95) NGC MS65

Variety 3 (FS-002.96) NGC MS65

Variety 4 (FS-002.97) - missing from my collection !!

Variety 5 (FS-002.98) NGC MS64 (a TRUE "No Broken Letters" shield nickel !!)

Variety 5.5 (FS-002.99) - AU (NCS encapsulated)


If anyone has a high-grade Variety 4, let me know ...





Thanks to Dennis Paulsen for writing the article in the Cherrypicker's Guide on Reverse of 1868 shield nickels, and to Bill Fivaz and J.T. Stanton for publishing it !!

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Excellent post, Sunnywood. I love these numismatically-oriented posts!!!


BTW, did you inform the good folks at B&M of their cataloging mistake?


Thanks again for sharing. I hope you get bored more often! And, hope your dog is doing well!




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Great post!! but I have a theory about the 1870 and the pattern grin.gif What if the pattern was made in 1865. Then when the other hub was in need of replacing, the mint workers found the hub from the pattern, and used it for the 1870 instead of making a new one? I am probably way off, but you never know! and all I know about shield nickels I just read in your post grin.gif

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What if the pattern was made in 1865. Then when the other hub was in need of replacing, the mint workers found the hub from the pattern, and used it for the 1870 instead of making a new one?


Nice suggestion, but a look at the history and the facts tells us otherwise !! The mint considered quite a handful of designs for the new copper-nickel five cent coin. In preparation for choosing the new design, a number of obverse and reverse dies were prepared. The different dies were paired together in various combinations, for the consideration of those officials at the Mint, the Treasury, and perhaps Congress, to decide which design would be selected for the new coin. As a result, the Mint struck a substantial group of pattern nickels.


All of the trial obverses which were paired with the various trial reverses in this pattern group were dated 1866 !! There are four obverse designs in this series of 1866 patterns, which can be seen in the recent Bowers FUN catalog. They are: the Lincoln obverse, the Washington obverse, the union shield obverse (with the date divided by the lower ball of the shield), and the union shield obverse as eventually adopted.


These four obverses were paired with a group of proposed reverses, including four designs using various wreaths (the Dutch 5, the tall 5, the short 5, and a "5 cents"), plus the reverse with 13 stars and rays which was in fact adopted. The "No Rays" reverse was NOT part of this group.


The fact that none of the other pattern obverses under consideration (Lincoln, Washington, or the shield with split date) ever appeared with the No Rays reverse proves that the No Rays design was not under consideration at that time.


After the adopted design was put into production, it became evident that there were serious problems striking up this design fully in the relatively new alloy. Ultimately, it was proposed to modify the adopted reverse by removing the Rays. A new die was prepared without the rays. This new die turns out to be very special. I believe it was either hand made, or fashioned from a hub that was never re-used. The new die had the later-adopted No Rays design, however, the stars are positioned such that a star point directly to the centerline of the first "A" in AMERICA. The die also has two centerpunch dots and recutting on the left side of the "5". Sadly, most of the books on shield nickels omit any mention of this transitional reverse die. However, it can be found in pattern books such as Judd or Pollock.


The special new No Rays reverse die was used to strike some pattern coins with the regular 1866 obverse. This is the J-507 pattern, which is a true transitional pattern. When it was decided to go into production with the No Rays design in 1867, a new master hub was created (the No Rays design, the so-called "Reverse of 1867" hub referred to in my first post). So the first No Rays die ever used was actually the special transitional die, with the star pointing to the middle of the first "A" in AMERICA. If the 1865 No Rays coin had been struck in 1865, it would have had this reverse.


Here are a few additional interesting tidbits:


1) Some 1866 No Rays (J-507) patterns appear with the regular Reverse of 1867, rather than the transitional special reverse. These were undoubtedly struck later.


2) There is also a pattern (J-416) dated 1865 that has the With Rays reverse as adopted in 1866. This pattern is struck from the same obverse as the 1865 No Rays (J-418). You might therefore ask whether THIS pattern was struck in 1865 !! However, it has been reported that a careful comparison of the obverse die state between J-416 and J-418 shows that the J-418's were struck first, then the obverse was repolished, and the J-416's were struck !!! Since the J-418 must date from 1869 or later (it uses the Reverse of 1870), therefore the J-416 must also be a backdated fantasy. You see what a microscope can prove !!!! Furthermore, the 1865 date on this obverse die was actually punched from the logotype used for the three-cent nickels. It is a bit small for the shield nickel. It was obviously an "unofficial" effort !!!


3) In 1867, a very few proofs and about two million business strikes were initially made with the Rays reverse. Later, when the No Rays reverse was adopted, these No Rays coins were struck from dies made from the new ("Rev. of 1867") master hub. The transitional "special die" used to strike the J-507 originals was NOT used in production. So all regular 1867 No Rays proofs and business strikes have the reverse of 1867. Or so it was thought until a little discovery I made this past year !!!!!


I found an 1867 No Rays proof, struck in the regular copper-nickel alloy, but struck with the special transitional No Rays die. This die marriage was previously known only in copper as J-573, P-649. (See lot 946 in the January 2003 Bowers Rarities Sale. There is also an example in lot 947 using the regular reverse of 1867, which is J-573, P-650. Judd did not distinguish between the two reverse dies, but Pollock was insightful enough to draw the distinction.) The coin I discovered is best designated as "1867 No Rays proof, transitional reverse of J-507." It was graded NGC PF65 CAM, but of course the insert just said "1867 No Rays." I spotted the coin on Ebay, and noticed the special reverse from the photos !!! Nice Cherrypick !!! tongue.gif


Here's a question: is this a pattern? or a regular issue 1867 No Rays proof? After all, it is the legally adopted design, struck in the correct authorized alloy, and dated with a regular-issue year. I have put this question to many pattern experts, who came up with wildly differing theories and responses as to the coin's origin and status !!!




P.S. In the literature, the reverse hubs are numbered as follows:


With Rays = Reverse Hub I

No Rays "Reverse of 1867" = Reverse Hub IIa

No Rays "Reverse of 1868" = Reverse Hub IIb

No Rays "Reverse of 1870" = Reverse Hub IIc


The special transitional No Rays hub (from which apparently only one working die was made), and which has the star pointing to the middle of the first "A" in AMERICA, is unfortunately LEFT OUT !!! Perhaps we could call it Reverse Hub II, or IIo ("two-zero").



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Can you educate me on the difference between "original" 1867 w/ rays proofs and "restrikes"??




Sure, you've come to the right place !!!! laugh.gif Here is a thorough dissertation, complete with pictures !!!!


Walter Breen had it wrong in his Encyclopedia of Colonial and U.S. Proof Coins (1977), so ignore and discredit that book. The die state he decribes there as the only genuine proofs are actually the restrikes. However, in his Complete Encyclopedia (1988), he gets it partly right, because he allows that there are two distinct die states. However, he still gets it backwards as to which are the originals !!! More details below.


We know that the J-507 transitional No Rays pattern was made in 1866, so the "No Rays" concept was well underway as of the beginning of 1867. There were 2,000,000 business strikes with Rays at the beginning of 1867, and then almost 29,000,000 without. So it is clear that the transition took place early on in the year.


According to Bob Julian, as early as January 1867, Chief Coiner A. Louden Snowden wrote in a personal communication that he "refused" to make 1867 proofs of the With Rays type. Of course, such proofs were made dated 1866, so obviously Snowden knew they could be made. I don't feel that this means that none were officially made. In fact, I believe this comment may have been made in response to the Mint's manufacture of (25) such pieces in early January, which may not have been of excellent quality.


On January 21, 1867, the transition became official: the Secretary of the Treasury ordered that subsequent nickels omit the rays. This is consistent with the ratio of business strike mintages of the two types.


The first delivery of silver and minor proof sets was made on February 5, 1867. There were 25 sets delivered. Of course they may have been struck prior to January 21. By the time of the next deliveries of proof sets (100 on February 18, and 200 more on February 25), the transition had already occurred. Survival rates dictate that these deliveries must have included the No Rays nickel.


The question is, were the 25 proof nickels delivered on February 5th the Rays type? If so, these would represent 25 originals, and any others would be restrikes. Some folks have incorrectly proposed that all 1867 Rays proofs are clandestine "restrikes" either from 1867 or beyond (more about that later), and therefore more akin to your 1884 and/or 1885 trade dollars, or your 1913 Liberty nickel. I will cite the evidence to disprove this below.


It is my belief that only the first 25 complete silver-minor proof sets contained the 1867 Rays proofs, and that a small number of additional examples were struck at a later date.


Now, let's have a look at the facts. First, all genuine 1867 Rays proofs come from the same single pair of obverse and reverse dies. The obverse die was also used to strike some 1867 No Rays proofs. The reverse die may be identified easily by weakness in the Rays at the second "T" in STATES.


Dannreuther reported that the Eliasberg 1867 Rays and 1867 No Rays proofs were struck from the same obverse die. Further, the die state is earlier on the Rays proof. This proves that some 1867 Rays proofs were "originals" and were struck before the No Rays proofs. This, along with detailed die diagnositcs, is recounted by Amspacher at Bowers ANA 2000 Sale, Lot 538.


Further, I have found the same to be true of my 1867 Rays PCGS PR64 Original, as compared with three examples of the 1867 No Rays proof that I own. All of these coins shared the same obverse die, but my Rays proof was a prior die state, a no-questions original. Here is my 1867 Rays proof PCGS PR64:




Notice the following characteristics: the topmost leaf on the right has no center vein, and there is no die polish at the base of the white vertical pales (i.e. in between the raised veritical stripes). Breen has this wrong even in the 1988 work - the true originals have NO die polish roughness at the base of the paleways.


Now, here is a restrike:




Notice the repolished glossy surfaces, the heavy die polish at the base of the stripes, and the topmost leaf is now partly polished away and hollow & detached.


Some originals have a granular appearance which gives the appearance of die rust. This has made some folks speculate that such coins were struck later, but before the heavy repolishing. Here is an example of a granular looking coin:




However, I suspect this is still an original, as it still looks like a die state prior to that seen on the later 1867 No Rays proofs. Some of the famous examples can be classified as follows: the Norweb coin, and the Breen plate coin (which he calls original) are clearly repolished restrikes, while Reed Hawn and Eliasberg are clearly originals.


I can provide further detail if you like tongue.gif






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Oh my Lord, TDN actually wants MORE information !!!! blush.gif


While Breen's analysis of the coin's history and die states may have been inaccurate, he was very good at compiling census data. Breen was able to account for only 12-15 specimens total.


Breen's assumption that the mintage was " 25+ " was based on the notion that there were 25 delivered with the proof sets on 2/5/1867, plus some more later on.


Bob Julian interpreted Snowden's letter to mean that none was struck officially, and that they were all clandestine strikings ordered by Lindermann and carried out by his infamous midnight minters. I do not agree with this for the reasons cited in my prior post. (Namely, that Dannreuther has established that there were originals struck from the obverse die prior to the coining of the No Rays proofs in 1867.) I believe Julian reported the consensus mintage estimates at 15+ to 25+.


A look at the pop reports tells a different story. Currently, PCGS shows a total certified population of 39 pieces !! At the same time, NGC shows a total census of 11 coins graded. If you take this at face value, there are 50 coins out there. However, those of us who spend a lot of time looking at the pop reports know how completely inaccurate and misleading this can be.


Of the 39 pieces reported at PCGS, 11 are PR64, and 20 are graded PR65. I can assure you in no uncertain terms that both of these numbers are wildly inflated.


As you may know, one collector/investor in California (who silently backs a major numismatic player) has been hoarding a group of these coins for some time. It is said he has "half the mintage" but I don't know how many that is !! Perhaps Laura could tell us how many 1867 Rays proofs this particular California person has.


Typically this date appears at auction 0-2 times per year, not counting 1989 when speculative frenzy brought many coins to market that were being flipped very rapidly. There were 7 auction appearances that year.


Looking at all of the catalog photos I could find, I could identify two restrikes and six originals. In my opinion, at most 25 originals were struck, and not more than 5-10 restrikes. I believe the restrikes were struck under Lindermann's authority in the 1867-1868 era. This was a time when many such fantasy coins were produced for resale and profit.


The reason I feel it was not any later than that is that there is only one reverse die used on these coins, and it is a die that (to my knowledge) was never used on 1866 Rays proofs. Someone knew what he was doing. It would have been easy to pull one of the reverse dies used on 1866 proofs by mistake, but that didn't happen. The exact die pair was used, and the reverse die was repolished at the same time as the obverse. I don't think it was too much later than 1867. Perhaps it was even during 1867, in which case the use of the term "restrike" becomes interesting.




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Sunnywood!!!!!!!!!! smile.gifsmile.gifsmile.gif Thank you for the fantastic "power post!!!" Unbelievable depth of information. Something to aspire to for each of us in each of our series! I am duly humbled. blush.gif


Glad to see you haunt the place again! Hoot

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Hoot laugh.giflaugh.giflaugh.gif


Nice to see you again too !! Thanks for the kind words. I ought to write a book on shield nickels lol. But who has the time !! tongue.gif




P.S. EVP - I did inform my friends at Bowers & Merena about the error in the Flanagan catalog. They politely thanked me, but I don't believe any mention of the error was made at the auction. I hope nobody bought those lots under a misimpression !! Caveat emptor !! (However, I'm sure Bowers would have accepted a return if the buyer pointed out the discrepancy. They have always been decent about that.)

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ought to write a book on shield nickels


YES YES!!!! Perhaps a prod and a push from fellow board members could help you along! I know of few people who put out books rapid fire - an endeavor of love! (Heck, you have the beginnings in this thread! lol!) laugh.gifsmile.gifgrin.gif


Thanks again for the great posts. cool.gif



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I'm already getting prepublication orders !! grin.gif Perhaps this would be an appropriate time for a celebratory jaunt to the Four Seasons Nevis Resort? Oops, no, I guess I actually have to write the thing first. Only problem is, with me as author, the section on mint state coins alone would be the size of the Breen Complete Encyclopedia !!!





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