Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mona Lisa of Rare Coins: 1913 Liberty Head nickel

A rare 1913 American nickel five-cent piece also known as The Liberty Head nickel, sometimes referred to as the V nickel due to its reverse design, Recently dubbed "The Mona Lisa of Rare Coins," was sold for more than $3.7 million (2.3 million pounds) in Heritage Auctions Platinum Night. The so-called Liberty Head nickel, one of only five known of that specific date and design, was sold "in spirited bidding" to a private East Coast coin collector in Orlando late on Thursday, said Greg Rohan, president of Dallas, Texas-based Heritage Auctions. The buyer wished to remain anonymous.

Mona Lisa CoinPhoto by Heritage Auctions Gallery

Photo by wikipedia: Reverse design of Liberty Head nickel

Officially, Liberty Head nickel was minted from 1883 to 1912; a few patterns were struck in 1881 and 1882, and five pieces were surreptitiously struck in 1913, which today number among America's most fabled numismatic rarities. The Liberty Head nickel's composition was the same as that of other U.S. five-cent nickels: 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel.

"It is probably the most famous United States rare coin," Rohan said in a statement.

"The 1913-dated Liberty nickels are among the greatest mysteries of American coinage," said Rohan. "James Earle Fraser's famous 'Buffalo nickel' design should have appeared on every coin dated 1913. Yet there are five 1913 nickels that have the old Liberty design instead."

Of the five Liberty nickels, two are in museum collections, leaving just three available to collectors. In the past decade auction appearances of 1913 Liberty nickels have been rarer than the coins themselves. Like the other 1913 Liberty nickels, the example offered by Heritage has become individually famous. It is known as the "Olsen specimen" after an early owner, but his is hardly the only notable name in its provenance.

Colonel E.H.R. Green, son of Hetty Green ("The Witch of Wall Street"), owned all five 1913 Liberty nickels, as did the numismatist-scholar Eric P. Newman. King Farouk of Egypt held the Olsen specimen for several years in the 1940s, and from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, it belonged to Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.

A coin such as the Olsen specimen is often in the limelight, and this was never truer than in 1972 and 1973, when it sold for a record-setting price and became part of TV history.

"In 1972, World Wide Coin Investments paid $100,000 for this 1913 Liberty nickel, the first time a collectible U.S. coin was bought for a six-figure sum," said Rohan. "The news making nickel went on-location to film scenes for an episode of the famous police drama Hawaii Five-O."

Millions of viewers were watching on Dec. 11, 1973, as a thief and the police sought the precious coin. In the space of an hour, the Olsen specimen became the single most famous coin in the world.

"The title of that episode was 'The $100,000 Nickel,'" said Rohan. "Times have changed. Today, the Olsen specimen is valued in the millions of dollars."

The $3,737,500 price for the five-cent coin included a 15 percent buyer's premium. The value of the rare coin, which was made at the Philadelphia Mint with the Miss Liberty design, crossed the million dollar mark in 2003.

Source: Heritage Auctions Gallery, Wikipedia.