Step into the captivating realm of rare numismatics, where a true gem has enthralled coin and history enthusiasts for over a century. The tale of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels is nothing short of mesmerizing, with its origins shrouded in mystery and its production likely unauthorized. The exorbitant prices paid by avid collectors only add to the allure of these legendary coins.
In the entire world, a mere five specimens of this remarkable coin exist, heightening their appeal to collectors and history aficionados across the globe. Each nickel carries a tale woven with secrets and enigmas, captivating even those unfamiliar with the subject.
Prepare to embark on a journey through time as we delve into the enthralling history of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel!
Table of Contents
- 1 History & Background of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel
- 2 The Journey of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels
- 3 Eliasberg Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
- 4 Olsen Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
- 5 McDermott Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
- 6 Norweb Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
- 7 Authenticity & Certification of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel
- 8 Conclusion
History & Background of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel
The first Liberty Head nickels were struck in 1883, and the five-cent coins featuring Lady Liberty and thirteen stars on the obverse ran until 1913. The reverse, however, underwent several alterations throughout the years.
The then Mint Chief Engraver Charles Edward Barber included a Roman numeral V (five) on the coin’s reverse side, indicating its denomination. A wreath encircled the numeral, and the edges of the nickel were inscribed with the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ET PLURIBUS UNUM, meaning “out of many, one,” signifying the unity of the states.
The US Mint’s Oversight
Exploiting a glaring oversight by the US Mint, fraudsters swiftly capitalized on the similarity in size between the newly introduced nickel and the circulating five-dollar gold coin. With cunning precision, they began gilding the five-cent coins, successfully deceiving many unsuspecting individuals into accepting them as valuable five-dollar pieces. The gravity of this situation prompted the US Mint to approach Barber for a solution, resulting in a crucial design adjustment.
To rectify the issue, Barber ingeniously relocated the motto “ET PLURIBUS UNUM” to the top of the wreath, replacing it with the word “CENTS.” This strategic alteration aimed to prevent further confusion and safeguard the integrity of the nickel currency.
The Birth of the Buffalo Nickel
In the early years of the twentieth century, the US Mint observed a substantial surge in the demand for nickels, primarily driven by the proliferation of vending machines and the flourishing economy. To meet this demand, the Mint commissioned a fresh design meticulously crafted by the talented artist James Earle Fraser.
This innovative Buffalo Nickel showcased the profile of a Native American man on its obverse side, accompanied by the year of minting and the word “LIBERTY.” On the Reverse, instead of the customary Roman numeral, a majestic buffalo was intricately engraved, while the remaining elements remained unchanged.
The introduction of the new nickel received a warm reception from the public, seamlessly blending into everyday life. However, an intriguing turn of events unfolded in 1919 when Samuel Brown, a conveniently placed Mint employee, unveiled an enigmatic treasure at the gathering of the Chicago Coin Club.
It was a Liberty Head coin bearing the unmistakable inscription of the year 1913. Curiously, the remainder of the coin’s design remained identical to the previous year, save for an incongruous year that didn’t belong.
The Samuel W. Brown 1913 Nickel
As reported by esteemed publications such as Numismatic News and The Numismatist, the magazine where Brown placed his advertisement, an article reported the conference and the remarkable coins owned by Samuel:
“Samuel W. Brown of North Tonawanda, N.Y., was present for a short time on Monday [Aug. 23]. He had with him a specimen of the latest great rarity in U.S. coinage – the nickel of 1913 of the Liberty Head type. It was among the exhibits the remainder of the Convention, with a label announcing that it was valued at $600, which amount Mr. Brown announced he is ready to pay for all proof specimens offered to him. An explanation of its rarity is that at the close of 1912, the mint authorities not having received orders to use the dies of the buffalo type nickel at the beginning of 1913, prepared a master die of the Liberty Head type dated 1913, and from this master die a few pieces – believed to be five – in proof were struck. None of these are believed to have been placed in circulation.”
A year later, in 1920, Brown attended an American Numismatic Association conference, where he exhibited the four remaining unique coins. He acquired them through an advert posted on the famous numismatic magazine ad for $500 each. The ad read:
“1913 LIBERTY HEAD
“In Proof condition, if possible.
“Will pay $500 cash for one.
“SAMUEL W. BROWN
“North Tonawanda, N.Y.”
This particular story raises serious doubts among historians, leading many to believe that Brown fabricated the account to justify his possession of these invaluable specimens. If his claims were indeed false, the question remains: If so, how did he get his hands on the nickels that would become one of the world’s most precious pieces of numismatic history?
The 1913 Nickel Theories
The most plausible theory suggests that Brown himself minted these nickels. As an employee at the Mint, he had unrestricted access to the necessary equipment. Brown likely understood that rarity plays a pivotal role in determining a coin’s value, and with only five of these nickels ever known to exist, their scarcity would make them incredibly valuable.
It stands to reason that the desire for financial gain drove his motives. Given the absence of security cameras during that era, he would face no immediate repercussions without tangible evidence linking him to the production. Adding weight to this theory, Brown stopped working at the Mint in 1913, shortly after the introduction of the new coins.
Some people contend that the coins may not have been minted illicitly. They propose alternative explanations, such as the Mint conducting tests with the new design or ordering these specimens for special collection purposes. However, these theories fail to account for how the coins found their way into Brown’s possession or why they left the Mint in the first place.
Regardless of the true origin story, the enigmatic background surrounding these coins only enhances their allure and the excitement they generate.
The Journey of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels
Samuel Brown did not hold onto the coins for an extended period. Although the exact circumstances remain uncertain, it is believed that he sold the nickels sometime between 1920 and 1923.
An advertisement published in The Numismatist in 1923 revealed that five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were available for purchase, with the ad attributed to August Wagner, a coin collector hailing from Philadelphia. However, it remains unclear whether there were additional owners of the set between Brown and Wagner.
The Next In Line Colonel E.H.R. Green
Colonel E.H.R. Green was the next prominent owner of the coins, which were in his possession for ten years until he died in 1936. Subsequently, during the auction of his estate, Eric P. Newman and B.G. Johnson acquired the complete set for $2,000.
Newman and Johnson, however, were reluctant to pay the requested price of $500 per coin, considering that only two out of the five coins were in proof condition, while the others displayed signs of damage. In correspondence documented by Heritage Auctions, Newman expressed the following sentiment:
“… I have decided to buy the Nickel Collection offered for $2,000, which includes all regular issues, patterns, mis-strikes and mutilations except three of the five 1913 Liberty Head Nickels. When you remove from the little black case the two 1913 Liberty Head Nickels for me (as well as the three Buffalo Nickels in that case) I want two bright perfect specimens of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels. With respect to the three excluded 1913 Liberty Head Nickels, I will buy them if you will accept $1,000 for them.”
The Breaking up of the 1913 Liberty Nickel Set
Later on, Newman and Johnson broke up the set for the first time in history. All five pieces have distinctive names, and their paths are relatively well-known from then on.
Walton Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
One of the most captivating narratives surrounding the 1913 Liberty Head nickels revolves around George O. Walton, a devoted coin collector hailing from North Carolina. In 1945, Walton purchased one of these coveted coins from Newman and Johnson for approximately $3,750, equivalent to over $60,000 in 2023.
In 1962, Walton planned to exhibit his cherished Liberty Head nickel at a coin show. Tragically, fate intervened as he suffered a fatal car accident en route, leaving him deceased at the scene. His family inherited his prized coin collection, including the famous 1913 nickel, which they decided to auction a year later.
Astonishingly, the coin was returned to them with the assertion that it was a counterfeit. This turn of events initiated a perplexing four-decade period during which one of the five coins was believed to be missing, fueling the curiosity of numismatists worldwide.
The 1913 Liberty Nickel Set Reunion
After forty years, the American Numismatic Association (ANA) resolved to reunite the set, or at least the four pieces whose whereabouts were known, for the first time in decades. To promote the event, the ANA partnered with the auction house Bowers and Merena, offering a substantial reward of at least one million dollars to anyone who could present the elusive fifth piece at the exhibition.
Hearing of the potential windfall, Walton’s heirs came forward with the previously suspected counterfeit nickel. Professional coin grading services ultimately authenticated the coin as genuine. In 2013, it fetched a staggering $3,172,500 at auction, purchased by Jeff Garrett, a former president of the ANA, who displayed it in a store for five years.
In 2018, the Walton specimen found its new owners, Martin Burns and Ron Firman, the brothers who subsequently placed the coin on exhibit in the ANA museum. Today, coin enthusiasts have the opportunity to behold this remarkable artifact in all its glory.
Eliasberg Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
This particular specimen, deemed the finest among the five, boasts an impressive grade of 66. It remained part of Newman’s collection until it caught the attention of esteemed numismatist Abe Kosoff, who swiftly sold it to Louis E. Eliasberg for $2,350 in 1948. Eliasberg, recognizing the coin’s significance, held onto this famous nickel until his passing.
In 1996, Jay Parrino acquired this treasured piece of the 1913 Liberty Head set for a staggering sum of $1,485,000. The value continued to soar in 2005 when Legend Numismatics secured the Eliasberg nickel for an astounding $4,150,000.
Subsequently, in 2007, an anonymous collector from California stepped forward to claim this exceptional coin, acquiring it for an unbelievable $5 million. Regrettably, the current whereabouts of this nickel remains unknown.
Olsen Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
The Olsen nickel, boasting an impressive grade of 64, exhibits fantastic condition. While Fred Olsen is associated with this remarkable coin, he was not its initial owner. Newman and Johnson initially sold it to James Kelly. However, the most intriguing aspect of this specimen lies in its history with King Farouk of Egypt, who acquired and held onto it for a period of time.
In 1972, World Wide Coin Investments purchased the nickel for $100,000, only to sell it six years later to Superior Galleries for double the price. Since then, the coin has changed hands multiple times, eventually fetching an astonishing $3,737,500 in 2010. The identity of the buyer remains unknown, as does the current whereabouts of the Olsen nickel.
McDermott Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
This Liberty Head nickel, like the others, passed through the hands of James Kelly before being named after its subsequent owner. However, its story is relatively less captivating. In 1943, a coin collector named McDermott from Iowa acquired it for a modest sum of $900.
It is believed that McDermott proudly boasted about his prized possession wherever he went, resulting in the coin bearing noticeable signs of wear and damage over time. Despite receiving tempting offers from interested buyers, McDermott steadfastly declined, cherishing his nickel.
Following McDermott’s passing in 1967, the coin was auctioned off for a considerable sum of $46,000 to Aubrey Bebee, a passionate collector. Eventually, Bebee generously donated the McDermott specimen to the ANA in 1989. Today, visitors can admire this particular nickel in all its glory at the Money Museum.
Norweb Liberty Head Nickel from 1913
The Norweb nickel, another notable 1913 Liberty Head nickel, found its way into the possession of King Farouk of Egypt in 1949. However, prior to his ownership, the coin belonged to F.C.C. Boyd, a dedicated coin collector, and was part of the collection at the Numismatic Gallery.
Following Farouk’s overthrow by a new government in 1952, his assets were put up for auction, leading the nickel to return to the Numismatic Gallery. Eventually, it was acquired by Henry Norweb, a US diplomat, who generously donated it to the Smithsonian Museum in 1978. To this day, the Norweb nickel proudly resides in the museum’s collection.
Authenticity & Certification of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel
It is crucial to highlight that all five specimens of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel have undergone professional grading and certification to verify their authenticity. While errors can occur, such instances are rare in the world of numismatics, as professional coin gradings services like PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) and NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Company) are widely recognized for their trustworthiness and reliability.
The importance of grading your coin cannot be overstated. Professionals possess a keen eye for detecting characteristics and errors that may go unnoticed by others, and such findings can significantly elevate the value of your coins. Similarly, when purchasing a coin, it is imperative to insist on certified specimens to safeguard against deceptive practices and ensure a fair transaction.
In conclusion, the tale of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels is undeniably captivating. It encompasses all the elements one seeks in a compelling story: mystery, enigma, drama, intricate plots, and even a touch of gossip. However, this narrative is far from fiction. For over a century, these coins have entranced coin collectors worldwide, leaving them intrigued and enthralled.
From the enigmatic origins of these coins and the identities of their first owners to the perplexing four-decade disappearance of one of the nickels and the notable individuals, both famous and anonymous, who have possessed them, their journey is nothing short of riveting. Furthermore, the exorbitant prices at which they have been bought and sold add an additional layer of intrigue. As a captivating chapter in the history of U.S. coins, we hope you thoroughly enjoyed delving into the story of these remarkable specimens!