1866 Shield Nickel. Rays. MS-66+ (PCGS). The predominantly silver gray surfaces of this Shield nickel reveal blushes of iridescent lilac-blue and champagne-apricot under a light. Both sides are smooth and satiny with isolated softness over the lower right reverse, yet with all other areas boldly to sharply defined. Though fractional notes did their best to alleviate the shortage of small change in circulation in the East and Midwest during the Civil War, the small notes became soiled and tattered after only a short stint in daily use. Production of base metal coins was increased to rectify this situation, but silver coins were still hoarded in significant quantities. Seeing an opportunity to make a profit, nickel baron Joseph Wharton lobbied Congress to produce new coins out of various alloys of "his" metal. Nickel is notoriously difficult to use for coinage and tended to quickly wear out dies or break them. However, the overall dislike of the worn fractional notes was such that Whartons campaign was successful. As was feared by Mint personnel, the specified thickness and diameter caused myriad issues for the new design. The dies cracked and broke often and the coins seldom struck up well. Today, thanks to the over 14 million struck, Mint State examples of the first year 1866 are not especially rare. However, if a strong strike and excellent luster are desired, there are precious few that fit the bill. While there are a couple hundred grading events recorded at the MS-65 level, most have substandard surfaces and lack eye appeal. Only once in a great while does an example appear that is worthy of a premium Gem appellation and the present coin is just such a piece. Destined for inclusion in the finest of type collections or Registry sets.