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1913 Liberty Head nickel

1913 Liberty Head nickel

The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is an American five-cent piece.  The United States Mint's official records do not record any Liberty Head nickels produced that year.

Only five examples are known to exist: two in museums and three in private collections.

Samuel Brown placed an advertisement in The Numismatist in December 1919 offering to pay US$500 for each. He claims that he purchased five coins as a result of this ad and displayed them for the first time at the American Numismatic Association's 1920 annual convention.  However Mr Brown was a U.S. Mint employee in 1913 in the coining department and also with the Mint Collection, so it possible that he minted these himself and the adverts were a cover story, or these coins were a test strike presented to him.

According to Bowers in his May 1996 catalog of the Eliasberg Collection "In early January 1913, it was perfectly legal to make a 1913 Liberty Head nickel at the Mint .. under practices then in effect at the Mint, all one had to do was to exchange another date of five-cent piece for a 1913 Liberty Head. Although none had been made in quantity for circulation, in early 1913 the Liberty Head motif was the standard design in use, the 'Buffalo' nickel not yet having been either perfected as to design or issued for circulation."

"The first 'experimental' Indian-Buffalo nickels were struck on January 7, 1913, but production for circulation did not take place until after February 15, as there were problems with the design. For someone in the Medal Department of the Mint to have struck a few 1913 Liberty Head nickels for cabinet purposes early in January 1913 would have been neither unusual nor illegal. The Liberty Head motif was the official design until it was replaced with the Indian-Buffalo motif, and this did not happen until well into February 1913."

Brown sold the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels in 1924.  The lot passed through several coin dealers before being purchased by Colonel E.H.R. Green.  Following Green's death in 1936, his extensive coin collection was auctioned off, and the five of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels were purchased by two dealers, Eric P. Newman and B. G. Johnson.  The dealers broke up the set for the first time. 

The five known examples are:
1 Eliasberg specimen
2 Olsen specimen
3 Norweb specimen
4 Walton specimen
5 McDermott specimen

1 Eliasberg specimen

The finest grade of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels is the Eliasberg specimen, named after Louis E. Eliasberg which has been graded Proof-66 by various professional grading services, including PCGS and NGC.

Provenance: Samuel W. Brown, August Wagner, Stephen K. Nagy, Wayte Raymond, Col. E.H.R. Green, Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman, Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg (Numismatic Gallery), Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., Jay Parino, Dwight Manley, Edward C. Lee, Legend Collection, Anonymous California Collector.

The Numismatic Gallery purchased this coin from Newman and G. Johnson and sold it to collector Louis Eliasberg through Numismatic Gallery. On November 7, 1950, Mr. Eliasberg completed a coin collection containing a specimen of every United States coin of every date, metal, denomination, and mint mark ever struck which were known as of that date.

In May 1996, the Eliasberg specimen was sold at an auction by Bowers and Merena where it was purchased by dealer Jay Parrino for US$1,485,000 – the highest price by any single coin up until that time.
In March 2001 it was auctioned for US$1,840,000.
2003 auctioned and bought by Ed Lee for US$3 million.
In May 2005, Legend Numismatics purchased the Eliasberg specimen for US$4,150,000.
In 2007, the Eliasberg Specimen was sold to an unnamed collector in California for US$5 million.

2 Olsen specimen

Currently graded NGC PF64, previously PCGS PR64.

Provenance: Samuel W. Brown, August Wagner, Stephen K. Nagy, Wayte Raymond, Col. E.H.R. Green, Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman, James Kelly, Fred Olsen, B. Max Mehl, King Farouk, B. Max Mehl, Will W. Neil, B. Max Mehl, Edwin Hydeman, Abe Kosoff, WorldWide Coin Investments, Bowers and Ruddy Galleries, Inc., Continental Coin Co., Superior Galleries, Dr. Jerry Buss, Superior Galleries, Reed Hawn, Stack's, Spectrum Numismatics, Legend Collection, Midwest Collection.

When Newman and Johnson broke up the set of five coins, the Olsen specimen was sold to James Kelly and then to Fred Olsen. Olsen sold the coin to Egyptian King Farouk.
1972 sold to World Wide Coin Investments for US$100,000, thus inspiring an episode of Hawaii Five-O ("The $100,000 Nickel", aired on December 11, 1973).
1978 sold to Superior Galleries for US$200,000
2004 sold for US$3,000,000 by California collector Dwight Manley to Bruce Morelan and Legend Numismatics.
2005 Legend sold the coin to Blanchard and Co in who placed it with a collector
2010 sold for US$3,737,500 by Heritage Auctions to an unknown collector.

3 Norweb specimen

The Norweb Specimen, named for previous owner Ambassador Henry Norweb, is officially ungraded and in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Norweb Specimen. Currently in the Smithsonian Institution.
Provenance: Samuel W. Brown, August Wagner, Stephen K. Nagy, Wayte Raymond, Col. E.H.R. Green, Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman, F.C.C. Boyd, Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg (Numismatic Gallery), King Farouk, Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplin, Norweb family, Smithsonian Institution.

Newman and Johnson sold the Norweb specimen to F.C.C. Boyd, who then resold it to the Numismatic Gallery.
1949 Egyptian King Farouk bought the Norweb specimen to replace the Olsen specimen that he had sold. It remained in Farouk's collection until he was deposed in 1952. Two years after that, Farouk's possessions were all auctioned off by the new regime in the same Sotheby's auction as the King's 1933 double eagle $20 gold coin which disappeared when withdrawn from sale by the Egyptians.
1953 Sold by the new regime in Egypt by Numismatic Gallery to Ambassador Henry Norwebe.
1977 Norweb donated the specimen to the Smithsonian where it remains.

4 Walton specimen

The Walton Specimen, named after George O. Walton M.A.N.A. President 1956 A.N.A. Sometimes referred to as the Reynolds specimen.

Image above courtesy of Bowers and Merena Galleries

Provenance: Samuel W. Brown, August Wagner, Stephen K. Nagy, Wayte Raymond, Col. E.H.R. Green, Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman, James Kelly, Dr. Conway Bolt, North Carolina Collector, George O. Walton, Melva Walton Givens, Ryan Givens, Jeff Garrett/Larry Lee.

In 1962, Walton died in a car crash on his way to a coin show to exhibit the 1913 Liberty Head nickel and other coins in his huge collection. A quarter-million dollars worth of coins were recovered from the crash site, and among them was the Walton Speciman 1913 Liberty nickel.

When Walton's heirs placed his coins for a 1963 auction, the nickel was returned because the auction house thought it was not genuine. The coin remained with his sister, Melva Walton Givens for over 40 years.

In 2003, the American Numismatic Association arranged an exhibition of the four 1913 Liberty Head nickel whose whereabouts were known. The ANA launched a nationwide hunt for the missing fifth specimen, arranging with Bowers and Merena auction house to offer US$1 million as a guarantee for consigning it to one of their auctions.

An additional US$10,000 reward was offered for letting representatives of Bowers and Merena be the first to see the genuine, missing fifth specimen. The Walton heirs brought their coin to a ANA convention in Baltimore where the Professional Coin Grading Service compared it to the other four known specimens and determined that the Walton specimen was genuine.

The coin, while owned by the Walton family, was on loan to the American Numismatic Association's Edward C. Rochette Money Museum in Colorado.

26 April 2013 - The George Walton specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $3,172,500 at the Heritage Central States Numismatic Society auction in Schaumburg, Ill. to Jeff Garrett, Lexington, Ky., coin dealer and member of the board of governors of the American Numismatic Association. Garrett's partner in the purchase was Larry Lee of the Coin and Bullion Reserve of Panama City, Fla. The coin had been in the possession of Ryan Givens, George Walton’s nephew.

5 McDermott specimen 

The McDermott Specimen, named after J.V. McDermott. Currently in the American Numismatic Association Money Museum.

Image Courtesy of American Numismatic Association

Provenance: Samuel W. Brown, August Wagner, Stephen K. Nagy, Wayte Raymond, Col. E.H.R. Green, Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman, James Kelly, J.V. McDermott, Aubrey and Adeline Bebee, ANA Money Museum.

McDermott often carried the coin around with him to show his drinking buddies losing its original mint luster and becoming circulated in condition. After he died the McDermott specimen was sold at auction to Aubrey Bebee in 1967 for US$46,000. Bebee donated the coin to the ANA in 1989, where it is exhibited in the Money Museum.


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