Throughout history, the US Mint has released exceptional coin examples that have caught the public’s attention right away. Sure, some of the releases were ‘hit or miss’ depending on the political and economic situation in the country. But, no coin has managed to reach that ‘superstar’ level of fame among the non-numismatic population like the 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
The early 1910s were a strange time; the world was in the midst of the Great Depression, and people valued every single nickel. It was a difficult period to make people appreciate and pay extra for special coins. But, the 1013 Liberty Coin nickel had the power to do even that. In the following paragraphs, we’re coin to tackle the origin of this iconic coin, as well as look at the current demand and market value of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it!
The Story of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel
The origin stories of coins are rarely interesting; usually, they’re a government-handled issue, printed by the US Mint, following a precise procedure. However, the origin story of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is far from boring.
To replace the Liberty Head design, the Indian Head nickel was introduced in early 1913. These would become the first official nickels in 1913, and nobody has ever heard of something called the Liberty Head nickel. Sure enough, a few years later, someone would show an example of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel at a meeting in Chicago. In 1920, the US numismatic community learned that there are only five examples of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and they were all owned by Samuel Brown. Now, Brown was a numismatist who actually displayed the nickels at a Numismatic Association convention, and people offered 500 USD for each of the rare nickels.
But, how did Samuel Brown just randomly possess five never-released nickels; nickels that have never even been announced by the US Mint?
Well, it has been concluded that the very Samuel Brown was actually an employee of the US Mint and that he himself struck those five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Some historians do believe that the US Mint did actually order the printing of the 1913 Liberty head nickels, but only for the so-called ‘cabinet purposes’.
Nevertheless, in 1924, Samuel Brown managed to sell all five of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels to Colonel E.H.R Green. Mr. Green kept the nickels until his death in 1936 when his estate decided to auction them. From there on, those five nickels rarely made appearances, and there was even a rumor that a sixth specimen existed and was somehow lost.
1913 Liberty Head Nickel: Different Specimens and Values
Despite there only allegedly being three examples of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels, there are claims (and proof) that the nickels are of different specimens. This means the coins are of different grades, or are proof examples of the coins. Let’s take a look at the alleged specimen;
- Eliasberg specimen – out of the five coins, two of them have proof surfaces. The remaining three were allegedly made using standard striking techniques. The Eliasberg specimen is to this very day the finest 1913 Liberty Head nickel, meaning it is the best preserved out of the five coins. It has received the highest grades from professional grading services. The last known sale/auction of this coin was in 2007 when it was sold to an unnamed collector in California for 5 million USD.
- Olsen specimen – the Olsen specimen may not be the best preserved, but over time, it has become the most popular 1913 Liberty Head nickel. It was even featured on an episode of a popular TV show Hawaii Five-O. It has received exceptional grades from professional grading services. The latest auction where the Olsen specimen eas sol was the one in 2010; the nickel was sold to an unnamed collector for 3,7 million USD.
- Walton specimen – while the whereabouts of the nickels are generally known information, to some extent, the Walton specimen was nowhere to be found for almost 40 years. The elusive nickel was finally displayed in 2003 for the first time, where the set value for the coin was 1 million USD. It is believed that the coin was last seen at a 2018 auction, where it was sold for a price between 4 and 5 million USD.
These are the three best-known specimens of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and their latest market/auction values. The remaining two nickels are the McDermott and the Norweb specimen.
Both are held by museums, where they are shown off for their extraordinary rarity and value. The McDermott specimen is currently at the so-called Money Museum in Colorado, while the Norweb specimen can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution as a part of their National Numismatic Collection. Their current market value is unknown to the public.
Production Facts and Fiction
It is not a secret that much of the available information about the 1913 Liberty Head nickels are alleged and undocumented. Nevertheless, factual accuracy has seemingly never been a problem for collectors and numismatists. It seems that the rumors and the alleged origin story make the coins somehow even more in-demand and valuable.
From the very moment, the 1913 Liberty Head nickels were shown in public, there has been considerable discussion about the origin story, how the nickels were made, and whether Samuel Brown really made them. Research, or rather circumstantial evidence shows that Mr. Brown, while working as a clerk or storekeeper, wasn’t really someone who possessed the knowledge of making/striking coins. Many even doubt his involvement in the process since no actual proof of his employment at the US Mint exists.
Some suggestions about the origin of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels were made in the past few decades, mostly by expert numismatics and numismatic magazines. Overall, it is believed the coins were made for Mint cabinet needs or exclusively for one wealthy collector. Others suggest that a Mint employee, coiner, or engraver, made the coins for themselves, and their own amusement. After decades of research and connecting the dots, some facts were finally proven, including;
- The dies for the 1913 Liberty Head nickels were made a year prior, as records show the dies being shipped to San Francisco in November 1912.
- The US Mint director at the time, George Robers, decided not to do anything about the five cents coinage until the new designs are ready.
- There are most definitely only five of the 1912 Liberty Head nickels and not six as some belief. All of the nickels have some level of reflectivity and mirror-finish.
- Samuel Brown, suspected to have worked at the Mint, was indeed an employee of the Mint until November 1913, when he resigned. It is not known what his job or position in the Mint was.
Ownership and Value Registry
To understand why these coins are valued at millions of dollars, we need to take a closer look at the ownership and value registry, from the very moment Samuel Brown showed the nickels for the first time, to this very day.
The early ownership is almost in all cases connected to Samuel Brown; all roads lead to his displaying of the nickles and eventually selling them for 500 USD each to the Coloen Green (as mentioned previously). Colonel Green was an avid coin and stamp collector, whose total estate was estimated around 40 million USD. After Colonel Green’s death in 1936, the nickels were in the possession of Burdette G. Johnson, Stephen Kenneth Nagy, Jr., Wayte Raymond, and August Wagner; all of these ownerships occurred up until the 1950s.
From there on, the nickels were in the possession of Aubrey and Adeline Bebbe, who paid 46,000 USD for the very McDermott 1913 Liberty head nickel specimen. Then, the nickels were acquired by Dr. Conway Anderson Bolt, Frederick C.C. Boyd, and many others. Ever since the 1940s, nickels primarily appeared in auctions.
On the first auction, the Olsen specimen was sold for 3,750 USD. In 1996, the Eliasberg nickel was sold at an auction for a whopping 1,485, 000 USD. From there on, the value of the nickels skyrocketed, only to reach the highest recorded price of 3,172,500 USD in April 2013. various auctions have been held ever since, and the value varies between 3 and 5 million dollars. The two specimens of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels are held by the national museums, as previously mentioned, while the other three are currently in possession of unnamed collectors.
Generally speaking, coin origin stories aren’t nearly as interesting as the story of the 1913 Liberty head nickels. Hopefully, we’ve managed to bring the origin story, general insights, and the value of the nickels a bit closer to our readers, regardless of whether one is familiar with the story or not.
For more information about these rare and exquisite nickels, make sure to check out the American Numismatic literature, as well as the information provided by reliable sources, such as professional grading services like PGS or the Heritage Auctions.