By CoinWeek …..
The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is one of the most valuable and famous of all United States coins. Produced in secrecy and without official authorization in either late 1912 or early 1913, the coin is the last to bear the Liberty Head design created by United States Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber design. Coin collectors became aware of its existence in 1919 when Mint employee Samuel Brown showed the nickels at a Chicago Coin Club meeting. Shortly before doing this, Brown had placed an ad in The Numismatist claiming that he was willing to pay $500 each for 1913 nickels. This was an enormous sum for a civil servant at the time but the ruse worked, and all five nickels were purchased by Colonel E.H.R. Green.
To learn more about the history and allure of the nickel than you will anywhere else, CoinWeek recommends that you read the book Million Dollar Nickels: Mysteries of the Illicit 1913 Liberty Head Nickels Revealed… (Zyrus Press, 2005) by numismatists Paul Montgomery and Mark Borckardt and researcher Ray Knight. The book is out of print but not difficult to source. It covers the various origin theories of the coin–all of which contain some degree of exaggeration and mythmaking–and tracks the coins through 80 years of private ownership. The book culminates in the re-discovery of the Walton nickel in 2003.
What’s interesting about coins like this is not just the collector story but also the story of the dealers from whom the collectors source their material. The rare coin industry has always included an element of competitive hustle, an element that is only amplified in the case of trophy coins like the 1913 Liberty nickels. Montgomery, Borckardt, and Knight are well positioned to tell that side of the story as they were all prominent dealers at the time the book was written.
Perhaps our favorite anecdote relates to how a coin dealer and his group of (dealer?) friends went to see Marilyn Chambers in Behind the Green Door with one of the nickels in his pocket. History in your hands, indeed.
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Additional 1913 Liberty Head Nickel coverage at CoinWeek: Charles Morgan and Douglass Mudd discuss the Bebee 1913 nickel in this exclusive video.