When I heard that the finest-known 1913 Liberty Head nickel will go on the auction block Aug. 15 at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money, I almost felt tingles.
The story of the nickel is one of my favorites.
Stack’s Bowers Galleries putting it up for sale provides the chance to tell this story another time.
There are only five known.
Their production remains a mystery but somehow involved Samuel W. Brown, a former Mint employee.
The Professional Coin Grading Service grades this piece Proof-66.
It once was owned by Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., a Baltimore banker of the mid 20th century who is credited as being the only person to have ever assembled a complete collection of U.S. coins.
Consigning this finest-known example is the family of Dr. William Morton-Smith.
Stack’s Bowers said he was an old-time collector from Boston whose numismatic interests were spurred by a remarkable discovery.
Dr. Morton-Smith inherited a Colonial desk that had once belonged to his great-grandfather.
One day, he came across a compartment in it that housed a coin collection.
There were Colonial coins, half cents, large cents, a complete set of proof Liberty Head nickels, and much more.
The discovery of this hidden treasure inspired Dr. Morton-Smith to learn all he could about the coins.
He became a coin collector.
Over the decades, he added the great rarities.
Stack’s Bowers points out that this particular coin in 1996 became the first coin in the world to cross the $1 million threshold.
Dr. Morton-Smith also owned an 1804 dollar from the Garrett Collection and the Lord St. Oswald-Norweb 1794 silver dollar.
Those coins rank even higher in the numismatic hierarchy, but my heart belongs to the 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
That is the rarity average people can understand.
It seemed like something that could be found in change and put in a Whitman album.
Why this is so is due to clever promotions done by old-time Fort Worth, Texas, coin dealer B. Max Mehl.
His numismatic dealing career lasted over half a century, ending with his death in 1957.
But he put a permanent mark on the hobby by running numerous ads offering to pay $50 for a 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
He knew he would never have to pay out.
But the public didn’t.
Because of mass media, the 1913 rarity overshadowed coins like the 1804 and 1794 dollars.
I first learned of it when another example sold at auction was purchased for $46,000 by Omaha, Neb., dealer Aubrey Bebee in 1967.
That was the year I began regular reading of numismatic periodicals.
Naturally, the sale made headlines.
The coin was later donated by Bebee and his wife to the ANA.
I hope to be in the auction room when this coin goes up for bid in Philadelphia.
The Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction will add another chapter to the illustrious story of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel as well as add luster to its own reputation.
Today I say, “Congratulations.”
The kid in me says, “Goody-goody.”
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today
More Collecting Resources
• The Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-2000 is your guide to images, prices and information on coinage of the 1900s.
• Start becoming a coin collector today with this popular course, Coin Collecting 101.