The 1913 Liberty Head nickel.

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The 1913 Liberty Head nickel stands as an iconic American five-cent piece, crafted in exceedingly limited quantities without authorization from the United States Mint. This unique circumstance renders it one of the most renowned and sought-after rarities in American numismatics. Remarkably, in 1972, a single specimen of this five-cent coin fetched a groundbreaking price, surpassing the US$100,000 mark. By 1996, another specimen achieved an unprecedented milestone, becoming the first to command a price exceeding US$1 million. Subsequently, in 2004, a specimen exchanged hands in a private sale for a staggering US$3 million, only to be resold for US$3.7 million at a public auction in 2010.

The total count of existing examples stands at a mere five, with two held in private collections and three housed within museums, adding to its allure and mystique.

How much is a 1913 Liberty head?

The Walton specimen was returned to the ANA museum by the brothers, where it had been housed since July 2018. In October 2022, the Firman family auctioned the coin to GreatCollections Coin Auctions for US$4,200,000. According to the American Numismatic Association, there are only five recognized 1913 Liberty Head Nickels: the McDermott, Eliasberg, Norweb, Olsen, and Walton.

1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $4.56 million at auction in Philadelphia in 2018

Many Masons collect coins. Numismatics is a natural extension to Speculative Masonry and there is a specific niche in the hobby that specializes in collecting Masonic Mark Master Tokens as well as other Masonic material. Many prominent Masons, particularly in the United States, are or have been featured on our Coins. Currently, George Washington is on the quarter and Franklin Delano Roosevelt is on the dime.

1913 Liberty Head nickel credit to the National Numismatic CollectionNational Museum of American History.

The history of this coin is an intriguing one and its existence and legality are often debated in the hobby despite its having been produced at the Philadelphia mint from government issued dies. Its pedigree includes many notables, including Col. Edward Howland Robinson Green who was the son of Hetty Green (the miserly “Witch of Wall Street”).

The King of Egypt, King Farouk, owned two for a short period, as did famous coin dealers B. Max Mehl and J.V. McDermott who was present at most notable coin shows in the 1960’s but never took a table. He preferred to conduct his business at the bar and would freely pass his example of the valuable coin around to customers and onlookers seemingly without a care as to who handled it or where it might get to. His trust was never ill founded as he always got the coin back at the end of the day.

It is generally agreed that five examples of the coin were struck in the Philadelphia mint (the US has three others currently in operation in Denver, San Francisco and West Point and has operated at times four others.), but there is much debate as to when and by who. R.W. Julian, noted researcher, had access to Mint documents and speculates that the coins were struck in December 1912 following the order to destroy the dies created to produce Charles Barber’s Liberty “V” design for 1913. This coin had been in production since 1883, and remained as a primary circulating coin for years following its demise in favor of James Earle Fraser’s Indian/Buffalo nickel design introduced in that year. Other researchers point to the fact that the 1913 “V” did not surface until 1920 and contend that the coins may have been produced as late as 1918.

It is my contention that they were struck in December 1912, on or about the 16th, and that the delay in their introduction was due to the owner’s belief that the Statute of Limitations would expire and protect him from possible prosecution.

The coins were unknown until August 23rd, 1920 when Samuel W. Brown brought his example to the ANA (American Numismatic Association) Convention being conducted in Chicago. Prior to the show, Brown took out an add in “The Numismatist”, the organization’s newsletter offering $500 for an example “In Proof Condition If Possible.” He repeated the add in January 1920 upping the offer to $600. the October 1920 issue of the newsletter told the story: “Samuel W. Brown of North Tonawanda, N.Y. was present for a short time on Monday. He had with him a specimen of the latest great rarity in U.S. coinage-the nickel of 1913 of the Liberty Head type.It was among the exhibits the remainder of the Convention, with a label announcing that it was valued at $600,which amount Mr.Brown announced he was ready to pay for all proof specimens offered to him.” Brown seemed to know much about the coin, having stated at the convention that a “master die” for the design was produced for the 1913 Liberty nickel prior to the order being received to change to the new Indian/Buffalo design. That specimens were struck “believed to be five” in proof (a special technique in striking used just for collectible coins)and that none were placed into circulation. He then left an example of the coin in the care of Chicago Coin Club President, Alden Scott Boyer so that it can be displayed and examined by all Numismatists in attendance. Later the coin was returned to Brown after he wrote Boyer the following letter:

“Dear Mr. Boyer- I would appreciate it very much if you would return the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel you have with your coins in the Masonic Temple vault in your city. I have a deal pending for the sale of this coin, and it is necessary that I have it within the next ten days. If you will, kindly send it to me express, charges collect, and estimate the value at $750. thanking you for your courtesy in this matter.”

The theory is that Samuel Brown had something to do with the coins’ creation, developed a market for it with his advertisements and then sold all five that he minted. A member of the ANA since 1906, Brown was an Assistant Curator to the Mint’s Coin Cabinet from 1904-1907 and was a clerk/storekeeper at the Mint until 1913. It can be argued that he gained access to the ill fated dies himself about the time of the coins’ creation. It can also be argued that someone else produced the coins and brought them to him as he was known to be an avid collector associated with the Mint. Nothing in his job descriptions would permit access to the secured dies and there is much concern about the activities of a security guard at the Mint who was later dismissed in 1918 under unclear circumstances. After the Convention of 1920, the coins passed to the hands of various and equally colorful individuals. Col. EHR Green took as much pleasure in spending his wealthy mother’s money as she did in hoarding it. (One story is that despite her wealth when E.H.R. Green at the age of 9 injured his leg in a sledding accident, Hetty prefered to treat the injury herself then call a Doctor. Two years later, his leg was injured. This time she dressed him in rags and took him to various free clinics for treatment, rather than spend a few dollars herself). Two specimens were known to be in the possession of King Farouk of Egypt who was forced to abdicate in 1952, having gotten there through purchases via either dealer Burdette Johnson or collector Eric. P. Newman. The dealer Abe Kosoff also acquired one of the coins and later sold it to Ambassador R. Henry Norweb whose example is seen now in the Smithsonian Institution.

A final specimen was last seen in 1962 when dealer George O. Walton was killed in a highway accident on his way to a show in Wilson N.C. This example is still unaccounted for and many speculate that it was either never with his goods, scattered across the roadway, or stolen by those who attended the accident victim. Its disposition is sought avidly by the collecting community and is one of the greatest numismatic mysteries today.

What role did Brown play in the rarity’s creation?

That I can not say with certainty, but I know this. As per the North Tonawanda Evening News, June 19th, 1944, Brown who was 64 at the time of his death, served North Tonawanda as a Republican Mayor from 1932-1933, having moved to the city in 1913 to go “into association with Wayne Fahnestock in Frontier Chocolate Company. Later Brown was employed by Pierce-Brown, Co. retiring in 1924. ” Brown was a member and Past Master, of Sutherland Lodge No. 826 of the Free and Accepted Masons and further served as District Deputy Grand Master of Niagara Orleans District. He was further a member of Buffalo Consistory and the Ismailia temple and the Shrine Club of Tonawanda. If you are interested in learning more about the world’s most valuable coin, please join me in subscribing to rec.collecting .coins, the ANA, and further reading can be found in “Twisted Tales Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction From U.S. Coin History, by Robert R. Van Ryzin, 1995 Krause Publications, Iola WI”. If you happen to have the missing example of this coin, I would gladly accept the donation. :-)

John R. Sinnock’s initials appear at the base of the neck on the coin next to the date. There is some speculation that renowned african-american sculptor, Dr. Selma Burke contributed to the design and that the Mint Engraver did little to add to the portrayal. Her “Four Freedoms” plaque featured in the Recorder of Deeds office at 505 D Street N.W. in Washington, does share many of the attributes of the portrait on the dime. Her close association with the President adds credence to the argument, but it is still uncertain as to the depth of her influence on Sinnock’s final approach.

Eliasberg, the finest known 1913 Liberty head?

The Eliasberg specimen reigns as the epitome of excellence among the rare 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Among the five existing specimens, two boast proof surfaces, while the remaining three were struck using standard techniques. With a distinguished grade of 66 bestowed upon it by leading professional grading services such as PCGS and NGC, the Eliasberg specimen stands as the pinnacle of its kind.

Originally acquired from Newman and Johnson by the Numismatic Gallery, a prominent coin dealership, the Eliasberg specimen eventually found its way into the esteemed collection of renowned collector Louis Eliasberg. It remained a prized possession within Eliasberg’s comprehensive compilation until his passing. In May 1996, the numismatic world witnessed a historic moment as the Eliasberg specimen fetched an unprecedented sum of US$1,485,000 at an auction conducted by Bowers and Merena, setting a new record for coin sales. The fervor surrounding this numismatic treasure only intensified in subsequent years, with its value climbing to an impressive US$1,840,000 when it was auctioned again in March 2001. However, its journey did not end there. In May 2005, Legend Numismatics acquired the Eliasberg specimen for a staggering US$4,150,000, further solidifying its status as an invaluable numismatic gem. Two years later, in 2007, it exchanged hands once more, this time to an unnamed collector in California for an astonishing US$5 million, underscoring its enduring allure and significance within the world of numismatics.

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