One of the most valuable coins in the entire world is the 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel. There are only five known confirmed coins in existence.
Of the five existing 1913 Liberty Head nickels, the finest specimen is valued at a minimum of $5 million.
Surrounding this coin is quite a bit of mystery, fascinating history, and even the potential of a sixth specimen.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about one of the world’s most coveted coins.
1913 Liberty Head V Nickel – History
The Liberty Head nickel was a five-cent piece that was struck for circulation between 1883 and 1912. However, at least five coins were struck in 1913 that the United States Mint has no official record of. These surreptitiously struck coins are of unknown origin, though there are some theories.
In February of 1913, the Indian Head (Buffalo) nickel was introduced to replace the Liberty Head design. The Liberty Head nickel is also known as the V nickel because of the Roman number “V” on its reverse side.
The Buffalo nickels were the first official nickel strikings in the year 1913. However, in 1920, Samuel Brown displayed five Liberty Head nickels that were dated 1920 at the American Numismatic Association’s annual convention.
It was known that Brown had been an employee of the U.S. Mint during the year 1913. Therefore, some theorize that he either had them struck or struck them himself. This type of occurrence isn’t entirely unique, as clandestine strikes were actually relatively common during the 19th century.
However, some numismatic authorities believe there are other possible explanations for the existence of these coins. For example, they could have been struck as trial pieces to test the new coinage dies for the following year in late 1912. Another theory is that the Mint’s Medal Department might have lawfully issued them “for cabinet purposes.”
1913 Liberty Head V Nickel – Value and Specimen
All five of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels were sold by Samuel Brown in 1924 as an intact lot. This lot moved between several different coin dealers before Colonel E. H. R. Green purchased them. When he died in 1936, the coins were auctioned along with his estate.
Two dealers, B. G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman, purchased the coins. Breaking up the set for the first time, they sold the coins to others.
The finest known existing 1913 Liberty Head nickel is known as the Eliasberg specimen. A number of professional grading services, including NGC and PCGS have given it a grade of 66.
The coin passed from Newman and Johnson to the Numismatic Gallery, who then sold it to Louis Eliasberg. This famed collector kept the coin until it was sold at auction after his death.
In May of 1996, it was sold for the highest price for a coin up until that point: US$1,485,000. In March of 2001, it was auctioned for US$1,840,000.
Sold again in 2005, Legend Numismatics bought it for US$4,150,000. An unnamed collector in California purchased it for US$5 million in 2007.
The Olsen specimen changed hands a number of times before it was famously featured on an episode of Hawaii Five-O. King Farouk of Egypt also briefly owned this coin.
It sold for US$100,000 in 1972 and for US$200,000 in 1978. In June of 2004, the coin sold for US$3 million in a private treaty sale.
The Olsen specimen was most recently sold for US$3,737,500 in January of 2010 to an undisclosed buyer.
A few of the 1913 Liberty Head V nickels are in the collection of museums, one of which is the Norweb specimen.
This coin changed hands a number of times over the years, including being owned by King Farouk of Egypt up until he was deposed by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952.
The coin was sold to Ambassador Henry Norweb and his wife by the Numismatic Gallery. The couple donated the coin in 1978 to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The Walton specimen was believed to be lost for more than forty years. This specimen was named for George O. Walton who had purchased it in 1945 for US$3,750.
In 1962, Walton was on his way to a coin show when he died in a car crash. His Liberty Head nickel specimen was located at the crash scene along with many other valuable coins. However, when his estate was auctioned off, the auctioneers returned it to the Walton heirs believing it was a fake.
The coin then sat in a strongbox in a close for decades. It wasn’t until the American Numismatic Association launched a nationwide search for the fifth coin as a publicity stunt in 2003 that it was determined that the coin had been the real deal all along.
The heirs sold the coin at auction for US$3,172,500 in April of 2013. It exchanged hands a few times before ending up at the ANA museum where it is on display.
This specimen is the only one of the 1913 Liberty Head V nickels that has circulation marks on it. J.V. McDermott owned the coin for many decades until it was auctioned off after his death. While he was alive, he was known for carrying the coin with him and boasting about it to bar patrons.
Eventually, McDermott put the coin in a protective holder as it had lost some of its original mint luster over the years.
When it was auctioned off in 1967, it sold for $46,000. It was then donated to the American Numismatic Association, which has it on display in the Money Museum.
1913 Liberty Head V Nickel – Is There a Sixth Coin?
There is not a very high likelihood you will ever come across a 1913 Liberty Head V nickel in the wild considering that there are five known to exist and they are all accounted for. This incredibly rare coin is the stuff of numismatists’ dreams.
However, there is a theory out there that a sixth coin exists. According to an issue of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine from December 1953, one of the early owners had a special case made for them which had six coin holes. Some have speculated that this means there were six known coins at one time. Others, however, interpret the sixth hole in the case as meaningless.
If you’re looking for a nickel with investment potential that is slightly more within reach, check out the 1928 Buffalo nickel.