It is a rarer and rarer occurrence when I get to feel like I am a 12-year-old kid again, but when Heritage sold a specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel Jan. 7, I did.
I didn’t have a spare $3,737,500 to buy the coin for my collection, leaving the rarity to a fortunate East Coast coin collector to pick up.
What I did have was the memory of another sale. I did not witness Omaha, Neb., dealer Aubrey Bebee buy a 1913 nickel in 1967 for $46,000, but I had read the news of the sale in Coins Magazine.
That put my mind into kid dream mode: what would it be like to have $46,000 and to be able to buy a 1913 nickel? Or what if my grandfather had scraped up $900 to buy one in the early 1940s when he was paying a monthly mortgage of $25? (If you read a September column of mine, this is my other grandfather.) He was not a coin collector, but he was the one I imagined in my mind who would have been the one to buy the coin. Why? Well, his brother-in-law was a stamp collector who had once gone to a stamp club dinner and met Col. E.H.R. Green, who had owned all five 1913 nickels at one time.
That brother-in-law would never have been able to scrape up money for a major purchase like that, so that is how I traced it back to my grandfather.
Amazing how logical you can be when you are 12 years old and constructing a numismatic fantasy, isn’t it?
My finances at the time would never have allowed such a purchase and I knew my father would have considered the idea of spending so much on a coin as complete nonsense.
How do I know that? Well, I asked him at the time, of course.
I was getting along on $5 a week from my paper route and $46,000 was enough money to buy roughly 2 three-bedroom homes that could be found all over America.
Someday, I thought, I would be able to buy such a coin.
That dream has not come true, but what has happened is I have the opportunity from time to time to see such coins sold. It is quite an experience, though once the awe of the high price began to wear off, I had a sense of disappointment that the new owner, unlike Bebee, does not wish to be identified.
So what was it about the 1967 sale that captured my imagination? It really wasn’t Bebee, though knowing who the buyer was was nice. It wasn’t the price, though it was a princely sum in those days.
Even at 12 I knew that it is all about the coin itself. Owning such a treasure is what set my imagination on fire. The idea of owning something that almost nobody else can own is a powerful motivator whether you are 12 or middle-aged. I think every collector can identify with that.
Every collector has probably constructed his own fantasy acquisition at one time or another. It is part of the hobby experience and probably motivates buyers who chase the finest coins to put in Registry Sets.
My final thought about the Heritage sale was the coin sold just after 10:30 at night and I felt a bit like a kid who had gotten to say up past his bedtime.