Only 5 Examples of The Rarest U.S. Nickel Exist: The last One Brought $5 million At Auction

by James DiGeorgia | 08/17/2018 5:26 PM
Only 5 Examples of The Rarest U.S. Nickel Exist: The last One Brought $5 million At Auction

The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is one of the three most famous coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint. The other two coins that share the limelight is the 1804 Silver Dollar and the 1933 $20 Saint Gaudens. The 1913 Nickel had some help becoming one of the most famous coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint thanks to marketing acumen decades ago. A Texas rare coin dealer B. Max Mehl who spent millions of dollars advertising in magazines, newspapers, on the radio selling copies of his book Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia which listed prices he would pay for all sorts of rare coins. Mehl leveraged the idea that if a person found one of these 1913 Liberty Head nickel in their change, that person would be able to sell the coin to him and could pay off their mortgage on the ranch or their children to college.

B. Max Mehl’s ads offering to buy one or more of the five 1913 nickels minted by the U.S. Government captured the country’s attention and was crucial to the success of his advertising campaign which extended over three decades.  Along the way, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel gained incredible fame. It is said that traffic was slowed in big cities as streetcar conductors examined incoming nickels from passengers, seeking a prized 1913!

The circumstances surrounding the striking of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels are not known today. Numismatic scholars believe Samuel W Brown, who worked at the Philadelphia Mint and was a numismatist was involved. Years later in 1919, Brown became the first Numismatist to offer to buy one or more of these 1913 Liberty Head nickels via an advertisement in The Numismatist. Brown living in North Tonawanda, New York made known that he had acquired five 1913 Liberty Head nickels but did not reveal how he obtained them. The presumption is that he acquired them at the Mint while he worked there, quite possibly via engraver George T Morgan, who produced rarities upon occasion for sale to dealers (in particular, Henry Chapman) and collectors (Cleveland industrialist Ambrose Swasey is an example). The five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were first displayed at the 1920 ANA convention.

In early January 1913, it was perfectly legal to make a 1913 Liberty Head nickel at the Mint. As Lee E Hewitt, founder of the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine and no-nonsense observer of the numismatic scene, said many times, under practices then in effect at the Mint, all one had to do was to exchange another date of the five-cent piece for a 1913 Liberty Head. For someone in the Medal Department of the Mint to have struck a few 1913 Liberty Head nickels for cabinet purposes early in January 1913 would have been neither unusual nor illegal. The Liberty Head design was the official design until it was replaced with the Indian-Buffalo design and this did not happen until well into 1913.

The last 1913 to reach auction sold for $5 million.

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