1873 Proofs – all proofs for this year have the closed 3 variety in the date. This would be expected since proofs were prepared early each year and the closed 3 was first used early in the year until complaints came in that the 3 looked too much like an 8. So for the rest of the year the business strike 3 Cent Nickels were made with the Open 3 in the date. Since the mintage for the 1873 Closed 3 proofs is put at 1100, the reason to strike more proofs later in the year never came to be so therefore there are no Open 3 proofs.
My first reference used is Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins, 1722-1989. Here on the page for 1873 under the Three Cent Nickel paragraph it begins by saying: Closed 3 only and the mintage is put at (1100+). Then the following diagnostic markers are mentioned: Polish near eye, Scattered striae between NIT and chin., Many fragmented leaves; isolated leaf tip within wreath at 11:00. All of this becomes important when examining actual examples of 1873 proofs.
Our first coin is a very early die state but was returned uncertified and labeled as having PVC residue, so we have graded it PR60 and it has the inventory number of 282.
Notice how the lower obverse rim is very broad and has the raised outer edge, possibly from unparallel dies when struck or an uneven planchet with a wider side. This can be seen on the corresponding upper half of the reverse as well. This reverse is rotated clockwise to about the 12:30 clock position.
The 1873 Proofs come with several other reverse rotations. There is this clockwise rotation on the present coin and two counterclockwise rotations, one at 11:00 and another at 11:45. The proof comes in the proper non rotated position as well. The clockwise reverse rotation appears to be the scarcest of the rotations. A survey of 100 examples of the 1873 proof showed the 11:45 to be the most common. The 11:00 and the non-rotated proofs are found about as often as each other and about half as often as the 11:00 version. Only about 10% of the proofs had the scarcest 12:30 clockwise rotation.
This subject of die rotation is covered very well in the Ultimate Guide to US Three Cent Nickels book by Allan Gifford. The different rotations are given four different variety numbers from P01 though P01c and they correspond to the earliest to latest die states.
Now back to the various diagnostics found on this example of the 1873 proof. Here is an image of the date area to show its position below the bust and notice the slight repunching on the 1 and 3.
The 1873 Proof is listed as RPD-002 in The Authoritative Reference On Three Cent Nickels book by Kevin Flynn and Edward Fletcher. As can be seen on this example there is repunching underneath the serif of the 1 and below the top and middle of the 3. Also mentioned in this listing is possible doubling on UNITED, which I have not been able to confirm. Then a disconnected leaf above the right ribbon and another disconnected leaf at 12:00 are also listed as die markers. We will show further down in the analysis examples of these disconnected leaves and how they are indicators of die state.
The date position is evenly centered vertically between the bottom of the bust and the tops of the denticles but shifted to the right with the top of the 1 much further from the bottom of the bust then the top of the 3 is from the bottom of the curls. The distance from the bases of the digits to the tops of the denticles are all practically the same. The position of the tip of the curl is directly above the center of the balls of the 3. The positions of the four digits in relation to the denticles below are as follows. I find that these details help confirm a variety and sometimes may lead to the identification of new varieties.
The tip of the left serif of the 1 is just left of the center of the dentil below.
The center of the 8 is also just left of the center of the dentil below it.
The center of the 7 is above the space between the two dentils below.
The right outside edge of the lower loop of the 3 is above the right edge of the dentil below.
The repunching below the serif of the 1 and the positions of the 1 and 8 can be seen in this closeup.
The repunching inside the 3 and the positions of the 7 and 3 can be seen in this closeup. the later die state examples the repunching inside the 3 fades away, but the repunching under the serif of the 1 is always visible.
A new die marker that Ive noticed on 1873 proofs is a die chip just above the hairline below the I in LIBERTY on the coronet. The above picture from the early die state coin shows how prominent the die chip is early on.
This next example of an 1873 Proof 3 cent Nickel is in a PR63 PCGS holder and has an even toning on both sides. It has a reverse rotated to the 11:00 position (the most common rotation) and is in a later die state.
On this later die state coin the die chip on the coronet is still visible but not as strong as it was earlier in the die’s life.
The disconnected leaf tips on the reverse were mentioned in two of the descriptions mentioned so far. One of the descriptions says there is an isolated leaf tip within the wreath at 11:00 and the other mentions a disconnected leaf at 12:00.
In reality there is an earlier die state that has all but one of the leaf tips at the top part of the wreath fully connected. This die state comes on the coin we have been studying with the clockwise reverse rotation. Later on, three more leaf tips become disconnected. One of them could be described as being at 11:00 and the other two are in the 12:00 position. The one leaf tip that is disconnected on this early die state coin is nearly nonexistent on the later die state coins. It is the second lowest leaf on the top left cluster.
In the above picture is the same area of the reverse on a later die state example. This coin has the reverse rotated to the 11:00 position. Compared to the earlier die state reverse above it can be seen that much of the leaves details has been reduced.
Starting from the left, the lowest leaf on the left cluster is now disconnected, as the one reference had noted about a leaf within the wreath at 11:00.
Next is the second lowest leaf on the left cluster is only a tiny fragment now.
Then above that the second highest leaf of the left cluster is just a disconnected tip. The same can be now said for the second highest leaf on the right cluster, it is also just a disconnected tip. These two leaf tips are the ones that could be described as being at 12:00.
Lastly the second lowest leaf tip on the right cluster used to be fully connected but now it is much thinner and only connected down towards the bottom.
Here on the picture above is the isolated leaf tip above the right ribbon end. This is the earlier die state coin where this leaf tip is already disconnected. On the later die state, seen in the picture below, the leaf is still disconnected and about the same size.
Finally there was mention of die lines in the field between the NIT in UNITED and the chin. These lines are shown in the picture below. I hope to get another example that better illustrates these lines.
While looking for the die lines in the field below NIT there was always a strong long die line to the left of the upright of D in UNITED going well into the field below it. This next photo show this die line which I believe will always be visible on 1873 proofs.
In conclusion, as more examples of 1873 Proof 3 Cent Nickels become available to me for study, I plan to add to this die study and refine the details that change during die stages from earliest to latest.