The 1913 Liberty Head nickel was reported in April to have sold in a private sale for $5 million. That is an interesting price for a coin that seems to defy the odds at every turn. It might well be that the 1913 showed the value of being in the news regularly. The exposure seems to give the 1913 Liberty Head nickel a special appeal when it appears at auction.
The story of the 1913 nickel starts with an offer to buy one for $500. It was placed in The Numismatist by Samuel Brown in 1919. A year later his price was $600. That very year he appeared at the Chicago ANA with an example of the previously unknown coin.
This activity has made Samuel Brown the leading suspect in figuring out who created the five examples of the 1913 nickel. Brown worked at the Mint until 1913 where, among other things, he had been an assistant curator of the Mint?s coin cabinet.
Brown is the only suspect in creating the 1913, but not everyone is comfortable with the idea. He was considered to be a model citizen who served as mayor of North Tonawanda, N.Y., and participated in other civic activities. Also, the general belief is that he lacked the skill to make a 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
With that said, most see his advertisements as a means of cover when he in fact had created all five 1913 nickels.
Once the five coins reached the hands of Col. E.H.R. Green, the 1913 was on its way. He offered $10,000 for an example. Dealer Max Mehl also offered a big price for a 1913. Years later Bowers and Merena would do the same.
The 1913 has benefited from its ability to attract interesting owners. J.V. McDermott never met a bar he didn?t like. He always took his 1913, and it got passed around to the point that it technically became circulated just from being shown off so much.
Aubrey Bebee bought the McDermott coin and celebrated with ice cream with his wife Adeline.
Reed Hawn bought the example owned by then-L.A. Laker owner Jerry Buss. When I called and explained to Hawn?s wife that I wanted to ask Hawn how it felt to pay $385,000 for a nickel, his wife shot back, ?I want to ask him that, too.?
Along the way the 1913 Liberty Head nickel has appeared in TV shows, articles and books. With each public sale certain to produce worldwide interest, it makes every one an event in itself.
With five known, the prices might seem high, but two are housed in museums. They are not likely to ever come onto the market. That leaves just three coins, and it is possible that one of them might be donated.
If you have the money, want to get on the list of owners and an example is placed at auction, you really have no choice. You have to go after the coin like it will be your last chance to own one, since it probably will be.
Just where the 1913 Liberty Head nickel goes next in price is an interesting question. When it first broke the $1 million price barrier, there had been very few coins topping the $1 million mark. Now there have been a number selling this high, and the real issue is just how high the 1913 might go at auction.
We cannot be sure, but because every sale is such an event, it will be fun to see what price the next one commands.