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Famous nickel gets $3.7 million

A 1913 Liberty Head nickel that sold to a phone bidder for $3,737,500 Jan. 7 was the highlight lot of Heritage Auctions’ Florida United Numismatists sale.
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A 1913 Liberty Head nickel that sold to a phone bidder for $3,737,500 Jan. 7 was the highlight lot of Heritage Auctions’ Florida United Numismatists sale.


Overall, the auction of U.S. coins realized over $36.5 million. All prices recorded here include a 15 percent buyer’s fee.

Heritage said the nickel price ties it as the third highest price ever achieved at public auction for a U.S. coin.

Buyer of the famous nickel, of which just five are known, was anonymous as was the seller, but he or she was described as a prominent East Coast collector.

Reed Hawn of Texas once owned that coin and the pedigree now includes his name on it as an owner of it from 1985 until 1993.

“They call it the Olsen-Hawn coin, which really stresses the importance to me,” Hawn said.

“Not only is it a privilege and honor to own those coins, but an obligation to handle them right.”

He reminisced a bit about owning the coin, but could only joke about who the current owner might be.

“I remember I used to say I’d be the first person to sell a million dollar coin and it raised just under that in 1993,” Hawn said.

Of the current price he said, “Well that’s great.”

Then Hawn returned to joking.

“It’s really nice to be back on the front page,” he said.

The nickel that sold grades Proof-64 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Only the Eliasberg specimen grades higher at Proof-66 by the Professional Coin Grading Service.

“The bidding on this coin was definitely competitive,” said Greg Rohan, Heritage Auctions president, who himself had acted as agent for a $3 million bid. “The winner is an advanced East Coast collector who, needless to say, now has the ultimate centerpiece to his collection and has assured his place in numismatic history.”

Two other coins sold at the sale for over $1 million each.

A 1927-D Saint-Gaudens $20 grading PCGS MS-66 by PCGS brought $1,495,000. See Page 21 for a separate story.

The third million dollar coin was actually a pattern. It is the 1874 $10 Dana Bickford $10 gold piece. It is one of only two known examples of Judd-1373 and it grades PCGS Proof-65 Deep Cameo. It realized $1,265,000.

“That’s a lot of money for a pattern,” Hawn exclaimed when he was told what else sold at the sale.

“The Bickford pattern ... is one of the most celebrated issues in the U.S. pattern series,” said Rohan. “Not only is this just simply a beautiful work of art, it comes with a rich and mysterious history, all of which gives it an irresistible appeal.”

One of the most interesting lots in the sale was comprised of five 1943 experimental cents that had been produced as preparation for the steel cents of that year.

The lot opened at $18,000 and then went through multiple competitive bids. When the gavel finally fell, it went for $161,000 to a telephone bidder.

Combined with a paper money auction and the international sale in New York the same convention weekend, Heritage recorded sales of $53 million.

“We’re still continuing to see solid results in the U.S. coin market,” said Rohan, “despite the fluctuations of the overall economy in the last year. We expected a drop off of some kind from the record prices of two years ago, but were still surprised to see just how well everything performed. In fact, the auction exceeded our estimates by 20 percent. Combine that with more than 6,300 bidders and more than 93 percent of lots sold and you have a satisfying outcome and a strong statement on the market.”

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