Recently dubbed "The Mona Lisa of Rare Coins," the Olsen specimen is the second finest of just five known examples and is currently graded PR64 NGC. It was the first 1913 Liberty Head nickel offered for sale in a public auction, and the only specimen that professional numismatist B. Max Mehl ever handled, despite his extensive advertising campaign that promoted the famously rare coin. It also holds the record as the first coin to break the $100,000 price barrier in 1972, while another 1913 nickel, the Eliasberg specimen, became the first coin to break the $1,000,000 price barrier some 24 years later. It is certainly possible that a 1913 Liberty nickel, perhaps the Olsen specimen, will someday become the first coin to break the $10,000,000 price barrier.
Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, authors of The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, noted in the 2009 third edition that the Olsen specimen "has been viewed ... by more people than any other." In A Guide Book of Shield and Liberty Head Nickels, Q. David Bowers describes the Olsen specimen as the most famous of all 1913 Liberty Head nickels. "This particular coin is probably the most highly publicized of the five specimens," writes Bowers.
John Dannreuther considers it to be the second of five 1913 Liberty nickels struck. His detailed analysis, discussed later, indicates that the Smithsonian specimen was the first coin struck, followed by the Olsen specimen, and then the other three. Of those three coins (another specimen is in the ANA) in private hands today, the Olsen specimen was struck before the other two. A professional numismatist from Memphis, Tennessee, Dannreuther is well respected among his peers for his critical eye and careful reasoning. He was one of six numismatists chosen for the authentication team when the Walton specimen of the 1913 nickel reappeared in 2003, after a 40-year absence.
Describing it in his 1961 catalog of the Edwin Hydeman Collection, Abe Kosoff stated that it "is a superb coin, sharply struck, as choice a specimen as could possibly be attained. It has been handled with utmost care, a statement which, unfortunately, cannot be made of two of the pieces." In 1985 the Superior cataloger wrote that the coin has "a needle-sharp strike with partial wire rims and slightly prooflike surfaces; all overlaid with a uniform matte-like gray finish and completely free from nicks and scratches." Eight years later, Stack's offered the Olsen specimen as part of the Reed Hawn Collection, paraphrasing the earlier Superior description: "Pleasing and uniform matte gray surfaces free from disfiguring marks. Partially reflective prooflike surfaces and a needle-sharp strike with raised wire rims in places." Bowers, himself once an owner of the Olsen specimen, calls it "a very nice coin in a lower Mint State classification." However, NGC and PCGS have both graded the coin PR64. While there is a difference of opinion among some about terminology, the difference between a Mint State designation and a proof designation for an issue with just five pieces known is moot.
Past owners of the Olsen specimen, beginning with Fred Olsen, include Egyptian King Farouk, department store owner Edwin Hydeman, Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, Texas oilman and numismatist Reed Hawn, and Dwight Manley, distributor of theS.S. Central America treasure. The current owner desires anonymity, but would certainly hold his own with those before him. The provenance is impressive, and the next collector who owns this coin will be in good company. In Million Dollar Nickels, Ray Knight observes: "Owning one of these treasures automatically elevates the holder upon a pedestal of honor in the numismatic community."
The Olsen specimen is sharp and complete in its design definition. Every star on the obverse is fully defined, Liberty's hair detail is crisp, and the individual agricultural elements are sharp. Similarly, every element of the wreath on the reverse is bold, down to the individual kernels in each ear of corn. The surfaces are fully pleasing and attractive, with uniform surfaces that show exceptional mirrored reflectivity. The surfaces are pristine, without any marks. Only a slight matte appearance separates this piece from a full PR65 grade.
The current offering is only the 12th time that any 1913 Liberty Head nickel has been offered at public auction since their first auction appearance in November 1944.
A Starring Role
After the Olsen nickel broke the $100,000 price barrier, it became the "central character" of a Hawaii Five-O episode appropriately titled "The $100,000 Nickel." The genuine Olsen specimen was only used for the close-up shots during filming. For all other scenes the nickel had its own "stunt double." Hawaii Five-O was a popular television police series starring Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett, the head of the elite state police unit in Hawaii. His partner and second in command was Danny "Danno" Williams, played by James MacArthur. Nearly every episode ended with McGarrett saying to Williams, "Book 'em, Danno." The series was broadcast on CBS from September 1968 to April 1980 and was filmed almost exclusively in Hawaii, one of the big draws for its fans.
The plot of "The $100,000 Nickel," originally aired on December 11, 1973, involved a coin convention and auction held at the Ilikai Hotel in Honolulu. A 1903 Liberty nickel was carefully altered to 1913 and used in a sleight-of-hand trick to steal the real 1913 nickel. Victor Buono played Eric Damien, a thief who orchestrates the robbery. With the switch detected before Damien can leave the hotel, he drops the coin into a vending machine, expecting to recover it later. Meanwhile, money from the vending machine was already collected, and a struggle ensued for the coin. That struggle resulted in coins being scattered over the ground, whereupon a young boy picked up the nickel and later spent it. Finally, after passing through many hands, the nickel was returned to its owner, apparently unharmed during its ordeal.
The publicity shot that is reprinted here shows Victor Buono inspecting the 1913 Liberty nickel. However, Buono is holding the magnifying glass between the nickel and the camera while he is inspecting the reverse of the coin.
Victor Charles Buono was born in San Diego, California, on February 3, 1938, and died in San Bernardino, California, on January 1, 1982. He was raised in San Diego and graduated from St. Augustine High School. His introduction to the performing arts came at the hand of his maternal grandmother, Myrtle Glied, a vaudeville performer. He first appeared on network TV in 1959. He also appeared in a number of movies, including Who's Minding the Mint?.
The King of 20th Century Coins
While the 1804 silver dollar rightfully holds the title The King of Coins, there is no doubt that the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is the King of 20th Century Coins. The 1913 nickel holds the number one position in the third edition of 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.Garrett and Guth comment: "Twenty years ago, if you asked any collector or dealer to name the three most valuable American coins, the response would most likely have been the following: 1804 Silver Dollar, 1894-S Dime, and 1913 Liberty Head Nickel. Today the 1913 Liberty Head nickel has taken the lead, gaining the top position in the 100 greatest U.S. coins." The dynamics of the rare coin market have changed in recent years. According to Garrett and Guth, the 1913 Liberty head nickel's "recent surge in popularity may be due in part to the publicity that has attended its last few appearances."
Each time a 1913 Liberty Head nickel breaks a previous price barrier, and it has happened twice with prices entering six figures and later seven figures, the fame of this rarity becomes even greater. A starring role in television increases its fame, as does each story, article, auction appearance, or book about the coin. It has even appeared in comic books and children's publications, such as Weekly Reader. Sprinkle in a little mystery, and the 1913 Liberty Head nickel makes its case as the most famous rarity in numismatics.
Sam Brown and His Nickels
Samuel W. Brown is considered the mastermind behind the 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Brown was employed at the Philadelphia Mint from December 1903 through November 1913, putting him at the right place and time. He was also the first person to make any reference to the possible existence of such coins, in the form of a small advertisement in the December 1919 issue of The Numismatistto purchase examples. Further, Brown was the first person to publicly share any of the coins in the form of a coin convention exhibit, just a few months later. Although circumstantial, the evidence points a finger directly at Sam Brown, likely with the assistance of one or more accomplices.
Brown worked as a clerk or storekeeper, according to his employment transcript, resigning to enter business for his own account. He was born in Brownstown, Pennsylvania, circa 1879, and died in North Tonawanda, New York, in June 1944. It seems that Brown was always well liked and respected. After resigning from the Mint, he relocated to North Tonawanda late in 1913, where he was associated with Wayne Fahnestock in the Frontier Chocolate Company. He was later associated with the Pierce-Brown Company and retired in 1924 at the age of 45. He was a Mason and a past master of Sutherland Lodge No. 826. Brown also served as district deputy grandmaster of the Niagara Orleans district and as a member of the Shrine club and the Ismailia temple. Serving several terms on the Board of Education, he was mayor of North Tonawanda in 1932 and 1933.
Ray Knight comments: "The mysterious Mr. Brown confounds understanding. Just when you think you have him pegged as a crafty, scheming thief, he conducts the rest of his life in what appears to be a completely exemplary manner."
The Hobbs Episode
The authors of Million Dollar Nickels observe: "The whole affair of the 1913 Liberty nickels would possibly never have come up--and the coins may never have been created--had it not been for The Hobbs Episode."
Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh had an opportunity to make a permanent mark on the U.S. coinage before his term expired in 1913. The nickel was the only coin whose design could be changed under the 25-year law that states coin designs must remain in production for 25 years before they can be changed. MacVeagh served as Secretary of the Treasury from March 8, 1909, to March 5, 1913. After seeing James Earle Fraser's designs for the Buffalo nickel, he awarded Fraser the commission. In his annual report, Mint Director George Roberts stated about the Buffalo design: "The coin is distinctively characteristic of America, and in its execution promises to take high artistic rank among the coinages of the world." Everything was coming along smoothly, and the Buffalo nickel was about to become a reality--until the Hobbs episode began.
Hobbs Manufacturing Company began business as a manufacturer of paper box machinery, originally in Lynn and Boston, relocating to Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1891. In 1910 the firm began production of vending machines for postage stamps, railroad ticket sales, and change-making.
Officials from Hobbs Manufacturing found the new Indian/Buffalo nickel entirely unsatisfactory, demanding change after change to the Fraser design. Fraser sent a set of Hobbs-approved models to Charles Barber, who received them on December 26, 1912. He went to work reducing them and preparing dies, with test strikes minted on January 7, 1913. Hobbs was still unsatisfied and demanded more changes. Another six weeks of meetings and changes took place until MacVeagh had had enough. He certainly wanted the Buffalo nickel released before his term expired, and a meeting with Hobbs representatives on February 15, 1913, put an end to the episode. MacVeagh advised Roberts to proceed with production of the new nickels, and production finally commenced on February 21. All of the delays provided an opportunity for a special coinage.
Production Fact and Fiction
Much of what we know or think we know about the 1913 Liberty Head nickel remains undocumented. It seems that factual accuracy has never been a concern of numismatists in the past. John Dannreuther sums up the problem: "Once a rumor is repeated and put into print, it becomes fact. When one person repeats it and the next guy repeats it and the next guy repeats it, it becomes absolute fact. Then it becomes part of numismatic lore." Fortunately, the approach of 21st century numismatic research is a fresh look at past lore and legends. Instead of assuming that a story is correct, current research is verifying the source material and eliminating the speculation.
There has been considerable discussion about how and when the 1913 Liberty nickels were made. The coins made their first public appearance in 1920, in the possession of Samuel W. Brown. Circumstantial evidence points to Brown, although it is unlikely that he actually struck the five coins himself. He was a clerk or storekeeper at the Mint, rather than a coiner or someone with knowledge of coin production. Brown almost certainly had one or more accomplices, but who were they?
In Million Dollar Nickels, the authors devote an entire chapter, "Covert Origins," to the mystery of their production. The truth may never be known, as the facts are most likely buried with those responsible. Some have speculated that the coins were made late in 1912, while others suggest early 1913, and some have even said that they could have been made as late as 1919, although the latter is highly improbable.
Lee Hewitt made several suggestions in the March 1958 issue ofNumismatic Scrapbook Magazine:
1. They were struck to exchange for coins needed for the Mint cabinet.
2. The coiner and engraver were merely amusing themselves when they struck the coins.
3. They were struck exclusively for a wealthy collector.
Five years later in September 1963, Hewitt suggested they were die trials. Don Taxay responded that they were made expressly for Brown, and that they are fantasy pieces. In 1968, Clyde Mervis reported that the coins were die trials, and that a worker carelessly tossed the coins in a desk drawer where they remained for an unspecified period of time. David Bowers and Walter Breen have both mentioned possible accomplices. In the Eliasberg catalog, Bowers went so far as to suggest it may have been George Morgan.
There have been a number of individuals identified as possible accomplices, from engraver Charles Barber to assistant engraver George T. Morgan, numismatist Stephen Nagy who supposedly had ties to the Mint, to an unidentified security guard who was reportedly fired in 1918. In Million Dollar Nickels, the authors suggest that Brown may have been an accomplice for someone else. "A different angle must consider that Brown was not the mastermind of the deed that someone else put in motion and he was only a cog in the plan. He may only have assisted in the plot. He may not have even been present when the coins were struck but received them at a later time, perhaps much later."
The 1910 Federal Census provides us with names of two others who might have been accomplices, although we are now introducing further speculation. In 1910 Brown was a workman at the U.S. Mint, residing at the boarding house of Carrie Corn, at 1611 South Oxford St. Two other boarders at the same residence, Henry B. Shuman and a Mr. Wenger, were both machinists at the Mint. In 1920 Shuman was listed as a "counter of money" at the Mint, while Wenger is not further identified.
The most likely time of production was the last two weeks of 1912 or the first week of 1913. Before the December 13 order to do nothing about the 1913 nickels came from Mint Director Roberts, Mint employees would have no reason to think that 1913 Liberty Head nickels would be out of the ordinary. Within a week after the first of January, the dies would most likely have been destroyed. The actual dies were probably a pair intended for proof coin production, already given the special polishing necessary for proofs. The striking was rushed, as indicated by the reverse die that was loose in the press. Each of the five coins has a slightly different amount of detail on the reverse, and the difference is attributed to a reverse die that was not firmly seated in the coning press.
For nearly 90 years, everything that has been discussed about the origins of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels is pure speculation, or educated guess at the best. There are only a few facts to aid in a solution to the mystery:
1. Dies for 1913 Liberty nickels were made in the last two months of 1912. We know this as records show 10 sets of 1913 Liberty nickel dies were shipped to San Francisco on November 25, 1912. Philadelphia Mint proof dies would have been made about the same time.
2. Mint Director George Roberts told his staff on December 13, 1912, to do nothing about the five cent coinage until new designs are ready.
3. The first Buffalo nickels were coined on February 21, 1913.
4. Five different 1913 Liberty Head nickels exist, and each shows some degree of reflectivity or mirrored surface.
5. Samuel W. Brown first exhibited the coins in 1920, after advertising to purchase them in December 1919.
6. Brown worked at the Mint from 1903 until 1913, when he resigned in November.
Because the reverse die was not fully seated in the coin press and each coin has slightly diminished reverse detail, it is actually possible to determine with a high degree of accuracy the order that each coin was struck. That is exactly what John Dannreuther did on the night of July 30, 2003.
As part of the six-person authentication team studying all five 1913 Liberty nickels, Dannreuther compared the existing reverse detail on each coin. The key location is the bottom of the wreath, including the ribbon bow and the two ears of corn. The photographic evidence is more difficult to place in order than the actual coins, but clearly the Smithsonian, Olsen, and Eliasberg coins were struck before the Walton and McDermott coins. Dannreuther concluded that the Smithsonian coin was first, followed in order by the Olsen, Eliasberg, Walton, and McDermott specimens.
Early Provenance Period
Samuel Brown; August Wagner; Stephen K. Nagy (circa 1924); Wayte Raymond (circa 1924); Col. E.H.R. Green; Col. Green Estate (12/1941); Eric P. Newman and Burdette G. Johnson.
All five 1913 Liberty Head nickels remained together from the day they were made until 1943 when Eric Newman became the last collector to own the five coins. Different numismatic observers have varied opinions regarding the early provenance of the five coins. According to Knight: "It hasn't always been easy to figure who the owners really are. Constructing a reliable pedigree for the 1913 Liberty Head nickels becomes an article of faith for certain periods in the provenance records."
The name Samuel W. Brown appears at the beginning of every provenance record constructed for each of the five known 1913 nickels. Circumstantial evidence clearly points to Brown as the first owner of these nickels, although others were likely involved in their production. We do know that all five coins remained together for many years, from the day they were struck until Eric Newman dispersed them individually in the 1940s.
In his Guide Book to the series, Dave Bowers suggests that Stephen K. Nagy may have been involved as a Brown accomplice, and that Nagy retained ownership of the coins until 1924. Aside from mentioning personal conversations with Nagy, Bowers provides no other documentation.
August Wagner advertised the five coins for sale late in 1923 and early in 1924. It is unclear whether Wagner actually owned the coins at that time, or if he had them on consignment from the true owner.
Wayte Raymond handled the coins circa 1924, placing them with his most important client, Col. E.H.R. Green. Raymond was most likely a dealer intermediary in the transaction rather than an actual owner of the coins. Various sources give different dates for the transaction, normally between 1924 and 1926.
Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green was the son of Hetty Green, the famous "Witch of Wall Street" who at one time was considered the richest woman in the world. Col. Green was an avid collector of many things. At one time, for example, he owned the entire sheet of "Inverted Jenny" airmail stamps, a philatelic rarity of noted fame. The coins passed into his estate in 1936 and remained there for several years.
Working with his mentor, Burdette G. Johnson, St. Louis collector Eric P. Newman acquired the five coins in December 1941 for $2,000. The total purchase price was less than Samuel Brown offered to pay for the coins in 1919.
Newman made the initial contact with executors of the Col. Green estate through his desire to acquire a rare U.S. demand note from St. Louis. The response was that he would have to buy all of the Missouri currency, which he did. He and B.G. Johnson formed a partnership to acquire additional portions of the Green Collection, eventually including all five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Two of the coins were purchased on December 16, 1941, for $500 each, and the other three were purchased on December 29, 1941, for $333 each. The dates represent receipt of payment by the Green estate executors.
Newman retained the finest piece (the Eliasberg specimen) for his own collection and sold the other four through Johnson. Two pieces were sold to James Kelly on March 11, 1943, for $750 each, another was sold to Kelly on March 17, 1943, for $750, and one piece was sold to F.C.C. Boyd on April 22, 1943, for $1,000. Transaction dates are from copies of Johnson's original invoices in Newman's possession.
Modern Provenance Period
From 1943 to the present day, each of the five nickels has traveled a different road. Here is a record of the provenance for each nickel, along with a photo of each coin. They are presented in the assumed order that each coin was actually struck.
The Norweb-Smithsonian Specimen PR60.
Eric P. Newman; B.G. Johnson (4/22/1943); F.C.C. Boyd (1944); Numismatic Gallery (1944); King Farouk (1952); Government of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 1695; Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan (1954); Emery May Holden Norweb (1978); Smithsonian Institution.
The authors of Million Dollar Nickels comment: "Owned by a Middle Eastern poten-tate, a rebellious North African government, an American Ambassador's wife, and the prestigious Smithsonian Institution, this specimen can easily lay claim to having the most stately masters."
The Olsen-Hawn Specimen PR64 NGC. The Present Specimen.
Eric P. Newman; B.G. Johnson (3/1943); James F. Kelly (1943); Fred E. Olsen; B. Max Mehl (11/1944), lot 1551; King Farouk; Numismatic Fine Arts (5/1946), lot 1058, unsold; King Farouk; B. Max Mehl (6/1947), lot 2798; Edwin Hydeman (Abe Kosoff, 3/1961), lot 280, unsold; Edwin Hydeman (1972); World Wide Coin Investments; World Wide Coin Investments and Bowers and Ruddy Galleries; World Wide Coin Investments; Robert L. Hughes Enterprises (1977); Superior Galleries (1977); Dr. Jerry Buss (Superior Galleries, 1/1985), lot 366; Reed Hawn (Stack's, 10/1993), lot 245; Spectrum Numismatics; Nevada Investor (7/2002); Bruce Morelan and Legend Numismatics (2004); John Albanese and Blanchard & Co., Inc.; private collection.
Circa 1975, Bowers and Ruddy Galleries purchased a half interest in the Olsen specimen, but then had second thoughts and sold their share back to World Wide. Continental Coin Corporation is sometimes mentioned in the provenance of this coin following World Wide Coin Investments. However, Warren Tucker states that his firm sold the coin directly to Robert Hughes.
The Eliasberg Specimen PR66 PCGS
Eric P. Newman (11/2/1948); Numismatic Gallery (12/16/1948); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1976); Eliasberg Estate (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 807; Jay Parrino; Superior (3/2001), lot 728; Dwight Manley (2003); Edward C. Lee (2005); Legend Numismatics (2005); Legend Collection (Bruce Morelan); Stack's (1/2007), lot 1599; anonymous California collector.
This is the finest of five 1913 Liberty Head nickels, which Eric Newman originally chose for his own collection. Abe Kosoff convinced Newman to sell the coin so that he could place it with Louis Eliasberg.
The Walton Specimen PR62
Eric P. Newman; B.G. Johnson (3/1943); James F. Kelly (1943); Dr. Conway Anderson Bolt (1945); George O. Walton (1962); Melva W. Givens (1992); Givens Estate.
From March 9, 1962 until July 30, 2003, the Walton specimen was believed lost to numismatics. The complete and remarkable story is told in Million Dollar Nickels.
The McDermott-ANA Specimen PR55 NGC
Eric P. Newman; B.G. Johnson (3/1943); James F. Kelly (1943); J.V. McDermott (1966); Elizabeth McDermott; Paramount (8/1967), lot 2241; Aubrey and Adeline Bebee (1989); American Numismatic Association.
McDermott was fond of carrying this piece in his pocket, so that he could show it to anyone on request, thus explaining its lower state of preservation today.
Many important individuals have owned a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, from King Farouk to Emery May Holden Norweb. A brief biographical sketch of each individual is presented
The Early Period
Samuel Brown is discussed above.
Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green was born in London, England, on August 22, 1868, and died at Lake Placid, New York, on June 8, 1936. He was the son of Hetty Green, the "Witch of Wall Street," and her husband, Edward Henry Green. He was educated at Fordham College, studied law in Chicago, and married Mabel E. Harlow on July 10, 1917. Green was a director of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and president of the Texas Midland Railroad. His home of record was Terrell, Texas, where he moved in 1892 to represent his mother in pending railroad transactions. Green was active in politics as a Republican, attended several Republican National Conventions, and served as a director of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair (or International Exposition). In 1910 Green was appointed an honorary colonel by Texas Democratic Governor Oscar Colquitt. He was an avid coin and stamp collector whose total estate was estimated in excess of $40 million.
Burdette G. Johnson was born in DeSoto, Missouri, on January 2, 1885, and died in St. Louis on February 24, 1947. He was the son of William A. Johnson and Luella (Conway) Johnson. In 1910 he resided at 2844 LaFayette Avenue in St. Louis, living there with his parents, grandmother, two uncles, and a cousin. Eight years later, he resided with his father at 2108 South Spring Street, and operated his business at 1155 North 11th Street. He was the proprietor of St. Louis Stamp and Coin Company, operating the business from 1907 until his death 40 years later. Johnson was a mentor of Eric Newman beginning in the 1920s, and the two eventually handled considerable portions of the Colonel Green coin collection, including all five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Johnson also handled material from the Virgil Brand estate through his brother Armin Brand. He died on a St. Louis streetcar while commuting to work.
Stephen Kenneth Nagy, Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey, on January 15, 1884, and died in Philadelphia on August 29, 1958. Nagy owned an antique business in Philadelphia, handling a variety of objects including rare coins. In 1942 he resided at 1536 N. Willington Street in Philadelphia, and operated his business at 8 South 18th Street. He was married to Gertrude Devers, the daughter of Minnie Devers who resided with them for many years. They were married between 1910 and 1920. It is often stated that Nagy was the son-in-law of famous 19th century coin dealer and Civil War hero Captain John W. Haseltine. No such connection has been located in any historical records.
Eric Pfeiffer Newman was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 25, 1911. He graduated from MIT in 1932, and from the Washington University (Missouri) School of Law in 1935. While a student at MIT, he met Col. Green, clearly unaware that he would eventually handle material from Green's estate. He began his law practice in 1935 and married Evelyn Edison in 1939. His grandfather gave him an 1859 Indian cent in 1920, starting his interest in numismatics. He soon became acquainted with B.G. Johnson, who encouraged him to learn about the coins he wanted to buy. He has written many books and articles about numismatics and remains an active numismatist today at age 98.
Wayte Raymond was born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, on November 9, 1886, and died in New York City on September 23, 1956. He joined the ANA in 1902 and issued fixed price lists from 1908 to 1911. Raymond then entered in partnership with Elmer Sears to form the United States Coin Company, conducting 43 auction sales from 1912 to 1918. He later operated the numismatic division of J.C. Morgenthau with James G. Macallister, conducting over 50 auctions. He also conducted 69 sales under his own name. Raymond was publisher of the Coin Collector's Journal from 1934 until 1954, the Standard Catalog of United States Coins, and others. Among his many clients was Colonel Green. Raymond's paternal ancestry dates to the 1630s in Massachusetts.
August Wagner advertised the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels for sale in late 1923 and early 1924 from his business in Philadelphia. His advertisement appeared in The Numismatist,suggesting that he was an ANA member, although former ANA historian Jack Ogilvie stated in a letter to Eric Newman that Wagner was not an ANA member.
Wagner was a real estate broker in Philadelphia, according to the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Federal Census records. His World War I draft registration card gives his residence as "NE cor. 65th and Camac" in the community of Oak Lane, and his business address as "NW cor 31st and York." He was born in Pennsylvania on April 26, 1881, and was the father of five children with his wife, Alice. He was living in 1942, having registered for the World War II draft, and was apparently deceased before 1950, as his wife is listed alone in a 1950 Philadelphia city directory. Past articles have described Wagner variously as a coin dealer or a stamp dealer, and it is certainly possible that he did both, but real estate seems to have been his primary profession.
The Modern Period--Individuals
Aubrey and Adeline Bebee [ANA] were collectors and dealers in Omaha, Nebraska. Aubrey was born in Arkansas on July 9, 1906, and died in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 5, 1992. He married Adeline Dorsey in 1930. He was employed as a real estate salesman, bookkeeper, and hotel manager. The couple opened a coin shop in Chicago in 1941 and relocated to Omaha in 1952. They conducted the 1955 ANA auction. Aubrey Bebee was charter member number one of the Professional Numismatists Guild. They paid $46,000 for the McDermott 1913 Liberty Head nickel in 1967, representing a new price record for any coin at that time. In 1985 they purchased the Jerry Buss specimen of the 1804 silver dollar and eventually donated both coins to the ANA.
Dr. Conway Anderson Bolt [Walton] was born in South Carolina on September 14, 1900, and died in Monroe, North Carolina, on November 23, 1973. He was the son of William Franklin Bolt and Mary Eulalia Pitts. He married Martha Eloise Seabrook in 1928, and they had at least one son, Conway Anderson Bolt, Jr. Most of his collection was sold by Stack's in April 1966, with remainders sold by Pine Tree Auctions in 1975. A family history notation found on the internet states that Dr. Bolt was the presiding physician at the birth of country singer Randy Travis in 1959.
Frederick C.C. Boyd [Norweb] was a collector and dealer who was born in New York City on April 10, 1886, and died in East Orange, New Jersey, on September 7, 1958. He was the son of James Boyd and Arabella Sherwood. Boyd was apprenticed to a printer at age 13 and employed as a traveling salesman at 17. He was eventually associated with the Union News Company and retired as the company's vice president in 1946. Boyd served on the board of the National Recovery Administration in the 1930s, and on the board of the Office of Price Administration during World War II. He held life member number 5 in the ANA and conducted the 1922 ANA auction. He was also a Life Fellow of the American Numismatic Society, a member of the Bronx Coin Club, Chicago Coin Club, and New York Numismatic Club, holding every office in the latter except Vice President. He was the owner of the "World's Greatest Collection," sold in a series of six auctions held by Numismatic Gallery in 1945 and 1946.
Dr. Jerry Buss [Olsen] was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 27, 1933, and graduated from the University of Wyoming. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Southern California in 1957 and was employed in the aerospace industry. He began a real estate business in 1959, eventually growing to a multimillion-dollar business. Buss is well known as the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball franchise. He is also well known as a poker player, finishing third in a seven-card stud event at the 1991 World Series of Poker and recently appeared on the High Stakes Poker television show.
Louis Edward Eliasberg, Sr. [Eliasberg] was born in Selma, Alabama on February 12, 1896, and died in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 20, 1976. He was the son of Adolph and Hortense (Schwartz) Eliasberg. In 1927 he married Hortense Miller Kahn, and they had two sons, Louis, Jr., and Richard. Eliasberg was a Baltimore financier and the president of Finance Company of America. Eliasberg formed the only complete collection of U.S. regular issue coins, following Green's Mint Record and Type Table. He often publicly displayed the coins, and in April 1953 Lifemagazine did a feature story about the Eliasberg Collection.
King Farouk I [Norweb, Olsen] of Egypt was the son of King Fuad I, born on February 11, 1920. Farouk assumed the throne at age 16. He married Queen Farida in 1938, and they had two daughters. He then divorced her and married Narrima Sadak in 1951. The couple had a son, Ahmed Fuad II. However, his reign was considered one of incompetence, and he was deposed by the Egyptian army in 1952. He lived in exile in Monaco and later Rome and died on March 18, 1965. Farouk was a renowned gourmand and an avid collector in many different fields.
Melva Walton Givens [Walton] was George Walton's sister. She was born in Virginia on August 19, 1913, and died in Salem, Virginia, on March 25, 1992. At the time of her death, she had owned the Walton specimen for 30 years, although she never knew it. In 1962 the nickel was called an altered date, although the observation was incorrect. She has the special distinction as the only 1913 Liberty nickel owner who was born in 1913.
Reed Hawn [Olsen] was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on August 20, 1949, and currently lives in Austin, Texas. He attended the University of Texas in Austin and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He is married with three children. His business ventures include oil and gas, as well as Arabian horses. Hawn's collection was built primarily through Stack's, with additional assistance of the late Jerry Cohen.
Edwin McMasters Hydeman [Olsen] was born in Morristown, Pennsylvania, on March 2, 1904, and died in Miami, Florida, on December 3, 1989. He was the son of Leon Hydeman and Helen Lederman. He was a resident of York, Pennsylvania, and the owner of a department store in that city.
John Vere McDermott [ANA] was born in Wisconsin on November 10, 1897, and died in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on September 29, 1966. He was employed as a steeplejack and later operated a vending machine business and a coin business. Mac, as he was known to all, was described as a person as memorable as his nickel, which he often carried loose in his pocket. His wife, Elizabeth ("Betts") consigned the coin to James Kelly and Paramount after his death, and she died in Lubbock, Texas, later that same year on December 18, 1967.
Bruce Morelan is a Pacific Northwest businessman and a partner in Legend Numismatics. He began collecting coins at the age of six when his grandmother gave him three coins that she saved in her teapot for many decades--a Trade dollar, a half dime and a three cent nickel. Morelan began his collection by forming the finest set of Trade dollars in memory of this event. After buying and selling ultra rarities such as the Eliasberg 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars, the Olsen and Eliasberg 1913 Liberty nickels, Morelan went on to form the finest set of seated dollars ever completed and remains active in numismatics today.
Will W. Neil [Olsen] never actually owned a 1913 Liberty nickel, but the Olsen specimen was included in the June 1947 catalog of his collection.
Emery May (Holden) Norweb [Norweb] was born on November 30, 1895 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and died on March 27, 1984, in Cleveland, Ohio. She was the granddaughter of Liberty Emery Holden, who was the founder of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, still published today. She was the daughter of Albert Fairchild Holden, who gave her an interest in numismatics. She married Raymond Henry Norweb, Sr., in Paris in 1917, where she drove an ambulance and worked in French hospitals. The couple's first child, R. Henry Norweb, Jr., was born in August 1918 in a cellar during an air raid. Mrs. Norweb was president of the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1962 to 1971. She was a member of the American Numismatic Association for almost 70 years, joining in 1914. Much of the Norweb Collection was sold in the late 1980s by Bowers and Merena, but Ambassador and Mrs. Norweb made several donations, including their 1913 Liberty nickel that was presented to the Smithsonian in 1978. Although billed as the Norweb Collection and usually considered the coin collection of Ambassador Norweb, the true collector was Mrs. Norweb, whose interest was encouraged by her father. She holds an ANA membership record of 70 years.
Fred E. Olsen [Olsen] was born in England in 1891 and finished his technical training at the University of Toronto. He later lived in Alton, Illinois, where he was employed as technical director at the Western Cartridge Company. Known as an explosives authority, Olsen developed a new method of making smokeless gunpowder, gaining him national fame. Olsen died in 1986 at his home in Guilford, Connecticut.
George Owen Walton [Walton] was born on May 15, 1907, in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and died on March 9, 1962, in an auto accident outside of Wilson, North Carolina. He was described as a quiet and secretive man. He divided his time between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia. Those who knew Walton understood that he was an estate appraiser for banks. It had also been reported that he worked as a government intelligence agent during World War II. Walton was known as a coin collector who also collected guns and ammunition, rare books and documents, stamps, watches, and ivory.
The Modern Period--Companies and Organizations
American Numismatic Association [ANA] is the national coin collector's organization in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The ANA was founded by Dr. George Heath of Monroe, Michigan, in October 1891. Heath was the publisher of a magazine called The Numismatistthat has since become the association's journal. It has been published continuously since 1888. The ANA currently has more than 30,000 members.
The ANA Mission Statement from their website, www.money.org, states that "The American Numismatic Association is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to educating and encouraging people to study and collect money and related items. With nearly 33,000 members, the Association serves the academic community, collectors and the general public with an interest in numismatics." The ANA helps all people discover and explore the world of money through its vast array of programs including its education and outreach, museum, library, publications, conventions and seminars.
John Albanese has nearly 30 years of numismatic experience, and was one of the original founders of PCGS before he left that firm and began his own grading service, NGC. He is a leading professional numismatist who is a noted authority on coin grading. He serves as a consulting associate to Blanchard & Co., Inc.
Blanchard & Co., Inc. [Olsen] is a numismatic investment firm founded by Donald Doyle in New Orleans, Louisiana. The firm describes its operation as "the largest and most respected retail dealer in rare coins and precious metals in the United States," according to the company website.
Bowers and Ruddy Galleries [Olsen] was a partnership of Q. David Bowers and James Ruddy, operating in Los Angeles, California, from 1972 to 1983. For much of that time they were a subsidiary of General Mills. The firm conducted more than 60 auctions, including the famous Garrett Collection and the gold portion of the Louis Eliasberg Collection. They also had a sales department, and published the Rare Coin Review. Earlier, Dave Bowers and James Ruddy operated Empire Coin Company in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Bowers and Merena Galleries [Eliasberg] was a partnership of Q. David Bowers and Raymond N. Merena, operating in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, from 1983 to 2003. In 2000, the firm was sold to Collector's Universe, a public company from California. Bowers remained as president until January 2003. Paul Montgomery became president, and six months later moved the company to Mandeville, Louisiana. About a year after that, Spectrum Numismatics purchased Bowers and Merena Galleries, and moved the company to Irvine, California.
Q. David Bowers [Eliasberg, Olsen] was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, on October 21, 1938. Bowers began his coin business in 1953 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and soon entered into partnership with James Ruddy, operating Empire Coins in Johnson City, New York. Empire Coins sold to Paramount International Coin Corporation in 1966. Later, Bowers operated Hathaway and Bowers Galleries with Terry Hathaway, and again with Ruddy in Bowers and Ruddy Galleries. Both firms were in the Los Angeles area. In 1983 Bowers entered a partnership with Raymond N. Merena in Bowers and Merena Galleries. They sold the business to Collectors Universe in 2000, and Merena retired. Bowers left the firm in January 2003 and was soon associated with American Numismatic Rarities. He is currently chairman of Stack's.
Robert L. Hughes [Olsen] is a California professional numismatist who has been active for several decades and is one of the nation's leading experts in pattern coins.
Bruce Smith is the founder of Integrity Asset Management, LLC, based in Covington,
Louisiana, a firm that handles "top tier assets from many platforms." The company is "based on the belief that our customers' needs are of the utmost importance," according to their website. Smith serves as the agent for the current consigner of the Olsen 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
Sol Kaplan [Norweb] was born in Odessa, Russia, on December 24, 1899, and died in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 31, 1974. He was the son of Morris Kaplan and emigrated with his family about 1910. He was the proprietor of Cincinnati Stamp and Coin Co. His obituary in The Numismatist described him as "a colorful, dedicated, and legendary professional numismatist." He was an active member of the Professional Numismatists Guild, serving several offices including president. Today, the PNG presents the Sol Kaplan award to those who work toward combating fraud and theft in the numismatic marketplace.
James F. Kelly [Walton, Olsen, ANA] bought three of the five nickels from Eric Newman and Burdette G. Johnson, the only individual to handle more than two different 1913 nickels after they were split up. Kelly was born on April 20, 1907, and died on December 27, 1968. He was a coin dealer in Dayton, Ohio, and eventually became a founder of Paramount International Coin Company. He worked closely with Johnson in the 1940s.
Edward C. Lee [Eliasberg] of Merrimack, New Hampshire, has been a professional numismatist since 1958. He purchased the Eliasberg specimen in 2003 with the comment that he "planned to retire on a nickel."
Dwight Manley [Eliasberg] was born in Whittier, California, in 1966 and raised in Brea, California. He formerly served as president of United Sports Agency, and as a managing partner of the California Gold Marketing Group. His sports clients have included Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman. His California Gold Marketing Group purchased the $100 million treasure of the S.S. Central America, the single largest numismatic purchase ever recorded. His accomplishments also include 18 months as the national manager for the Jockeys' Guild, a position he held without compensation while keeping the organization out of bankruptcy. Manley, who began collecting coins at age 6, is a major supporter of the American Numismatic Association. He is a managing partner in a real estate holding company, Manley Fanticola.
B. Max Mehl [Olsen] was born in Russia in 1884. He was a shoe salesman who became a coin dealer at the age of 16 and conducted his first auction in December 1903. That auction was a 33-lot mail bid sale that appeared in The Numismatist. John Adams writes in United States Numismatic Literature, Volume Two, that Mehl's career should never have happened. According to Adams, Mehl was "an immigrant Jew in a then-gentile hobby ... he was located in Fort Worth, Texas, at a time when 95 percent of the business was done on the East Coast; and ... Lilliputian in stature and colorless in terms of personality, he adopted a business plan that relied on creativity and promotion."
Mehl did more to promote coin collecting than any other individual in the 20th century, or perhaps ever. He spent millions of dollars advertising to buy and sell rare coins. The 1913 Liberty nickel was a favorite subject of his advertising. The advertisement reproduced here appeared in the January 6, 1935 issue of the San Antonio (Texas) Light and is typical of his advertising style. Throughout his campaign, Mehl knew the whereabouts of all five 1913 nickels.
Numismatic Fine Arts [Olsen] was operated by Edward Gans and Henry Grunthal, who also operated as independent coin dealers in New York. Their second mail bid sale, offering the Olsen specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel was held on May 21, 1946. The partnership conducted 13 sales from November 1945 to March 1953. Afterward, Edward Gans conducted three additional sales in 1954, 1955, and 1960. The firm is unrelated to a later firm of the same name operated in California.
Edward Gans [Olsen] was born in Hamburg, Germany, on August 27, 1887, and died in Berkeley, California, on February 13, 1991, age 103. He was a banker in Germany, relocating to Berlin in 1909, to New York City in 1938, and to Berkeley in 1953. He conducted an independent coin business, and also conducted auctions with Henry Grunthal under the name Numismatic Fine Arts.
Henry Grunthal [Olsen] was born in Germany on August 11, 1905, and died in Bronx, New York, on September 8, 2001. He was the son of German numismatist Hugo Grunthal. An ANA member since 1929, Grunthal emigrated to the United States in 1938. He was educated at the University of Berlin and at the Sorbonne in Paris, studying archaeology and art history. He conducted an independent coin business in New York City and also conducted auctions with Edward Gans as Numismatic Fine Arts. In 1953, Grunthal joined the curatorial staff at the American Numismatic Society.
Numismatic Galleries [Eliasberg] was a partnership of Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg. Although they handled many rarities privately, such as the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, they are primarily known for their many important auction events. Best known is the F.C.C. Boyd Collection that they handled in a series of six auctions in 1945 and 1946, billed as the "World's Greatest Collection."
Abe Kosoff [Norweb, Eliasberg] was born in New York on December 31, 1912, and died in Palm Springs, California, on March 19, 1983. He has been called The Dean of American Numismatics and was a founder of the Professional Numismatists Guild.
Abner Kreisberg [Eliasberg] was born on May 28, 1904, and lived in Beverly Hills, California. He died on July 10, 1997. He was a partner with Abe Kosoff in Numismatic Galleries until July 1954 and later conducted auction sales with Hans Schulman. He held additional auctions with Jerry Cohen, who became his partner after he and Kosoff parted.
Paramount International Coin Corporation [ANA] was founded in 1964 by Q. David Bowers, Michael DiSalle, Max Humbert, James Kelly, and James Ruddy. The firm conducted more than 75 auctions from 1965 to 1986 and was a participant in the annual "Apostrophe Auctions."
Jay Parrino [Eliasberg] is the proprietor of The Mint in Kansas City, Missouri. He was the successful buyer of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel at the Eliasberg sale in May 1996, becoming the first person in history to pay more than $1 million for a single coin.
Smithsonian Institution [Norweb] was established in 1846 for the purpose of the "increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" through the bequest of James Smithson, a British scientist who himself had never visited the United States. It soon became a depository for government collections. Today the organization operates 19 museums, nine research centers, and the National Zoo. In 2008 the museums had more than 25 million visitors, with another 3 million visitors to the zoo.
Spectrum Numismatics [Olsen] is a rare coin firm in Irvine, California, and the parent company of Bowers and Merena Galleries.
Stack's [Olsen, Eliasberg] of New York City began as a business of the Stack family, conducting several hundred coin auctions beginning with their first sale in October 1935. They are the parent company of Coin Galleries, holding additional regular auction sales. Today there is no member of the Stack family associated with the firm.
Superior Galleries [Olsen] of Los Angeles, California, began as a business of the Goldberg family. Their first auction sale was held in September 1970. They held a number of important sales, especially in the field of early copper coins. Today there is no member of the Goldberg family associated with the firm.
World Wide Coin Investments [Olsen] was a partnership in Atlanta, Georgia, operated by John Hamrick and Warren Tucker. The firm handled three major rarities: the 1913 nickel, an 1804 silver dollar, and an 1894-S Barber dime. They frequently displayed all three coins at conventions in the early to mid-1970s.
John Hamrick [Olsen] was a partner with Warren Tucker in World Wide Coin during the 1970s, at the time they handled the Olsen specimen of the 1913 nickel, along with an 1894-S dime and an 1804 silver dollar. Hamrick began collecting coins in 1953 and opened his first coin shop 10 years later, while he was a student at George Institute of Technology.
Warren Tucker [Olsen] was a partner with John Hamrick in World Wide Coin during the 1970s, at the time that they handled the Olsen specimen of the 1913 nickel, along with an 1894-S dime and an 1804 silver dollar. They often displayed the trio at coin shows and conventions, where the present cataloger (Mark Borckardt) first saw the three coins. Today, Tucker is director of world coin auctions for Heritage.
B. Max Mehl, November 1944, lot 1551, $3,750 [Olsen]
The Olsen sale included several important rarities in addition to the 1913 nickel. Among the offerings were an excellent selection of pattern coins that included a quintuple stella in gold, a complete set of four dollar gold pieces, 1884 and 1885 Trade dollars, a Mint State 1797 half dollar, and a Massachusetts NE sixpence.
Numismatic Fine Arts, May 1946, lot 1058, $2,450 (unsold)[Olsen]
The second mail bid sale of Edward Gans and Henry Grunthal was originally scheduled to close on May 7, 1946, but the date was changed to May 21. The sale included 1,140 lots of American and world coins.
B. Max Mehl, June 1947, lot 2798, $3,750 [Olsen]
Although the 1913 nickel was consigned by Mehl and never owned by Will W. Neil, the Neil sale had an impressive offering of numismatic delicacies, including a Mint State 1794 dollar, 1804 silver dollar, 1870-S silver dollar, 1838-O half dollar, 1894-S dime, 1843 proof set, a set of stellas, and numerous other properties.
Sotheby's, February 1954, lot 1695, $3,747 [Norweb]
Sotheby's was selected to handle the King Farouk Collection on behalf of the Government of Egypt. The collection was billed as "The Palace Collections of Egypt," since Farouk had been deposed. The catalog was poorly prepared, grouping together extremely important coins into large lots by denomination. The 1913 Liberty Head nickel, for example, was part of a collection of 149 nickels from 1866 to 1948 that was offered in a single lot. Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan successfully requested that the 1913 nickel be taken out of the lot and sold separately, and they purchased it for 1,300 pounds (about $3,747).
Abe Kosoff, March 1961, lot 280, $50,000 (unsold)[Olsen]
Two full pages in the catalog were devoted to the 1913 nickel. The sale was remarkable for its offering of the 1913 nickel, an 1804 silver dollar, an 1894-S dime, an 1876-CC twenty-cent piece, and the 1866 No Motto half dollar and dollar. Following Abe Kosoff's tradition, the first lot was an 1856 Flying Eagle cent.
Paramount, August 1967, lot 2241, $46,000 [McDermott]
Paramount International Coin Corporation was selected to handle the American Numismatic Association auction in 1967.
Superior, January 1985, lot 366, $385,000 [Olsen]
Dr. Jerry Buss sold his collection in 1985 due to changing interests and a concern that he was neglecting his coins. Buss said: "I guess I just decided that I would rather sell it than neglect it." In his biography, Superior continued: "Since he is unable to give the proper attention or time to his hobby, Dr. Buss has decided to dispose of his coin collection." Consisting of nearly 2,300 lots, the sale ranged from Colonial and U.S. coins to foreign and ancients. The big three of U.S. coin rarities, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, the 1894-S Barber dime, and the 1804 silver dollar, were offered.
Stack's, October 1993, lot 245, $962,500 [Olsen]
The Reed Hawn Collection included the Olsen specimen of the 1913 nickel alongside the Mickley Class I 1804 silver dollar. The sale included many other important coins, such as proof examples of the 1864-L Indian cent, 1864 Small Motto two cent, 1867 Rays nickel, and seven Gobrecht dollars.
Bowers and Merena, May 1996, lot 807, $1,485,000[Eliasberg]
The Eliasberg Collection was the only complete collection of U.S. coins ever formed, and it will likely always hold that distinction. The collection was sold in three different auction events. First were the gold coins that Bowers and Ruddy sold in October 1982. They were followed by Colonials through dimes in May 1996, and twenty cent pieces through silver dollars in April 1997.
Superior, March 2001, lot 728, $1,840,000 [Eliasberg]
The Eliasberg specimen was offered on behalf of Jay Parrino, who purchased the coin at the Eliasberg sale. Superior held the auction in conjunction with the Spring 2001 ANA Convention held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Stack's, January 2007, lot 1599, unsold [Eliasberg]
Stack's offered the Eliasberg specimen on behalf of Bruce Morelan and Laura Sperber. The coin failed to meet its reserve.
Adams, John W. United States Numismatic Literature, Volume II. Crestline, California: George Frederick Kolbe Publications, 1990.
Bowers, Q. David. A Guide Book of Shield and Liberty Head Nickels. Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2006.
Garrett, Jeff and Ron Guth. The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.Atlanta: Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2009.
Gengerke, Martin. American Numismatic Auctions. 8th Edition.Woodside, NY: the author, 1990.
Montgomery, Paul, Mark Borckardt, and Ray Knight. Million Dollar Nickels: Mysteries of the Illicit 1913 Liberty Head Nickels Revealed. Irvine, CA: Zyrus Press, 2005.
Smith, Pete. American Numismatic Biographies. Rocky River, OH: Gold Leaf Press, 1992.
www.ancestry.com accessed on multiple occasions for biography details of various individuals
(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 278P, PCGS# 3912)
(C) 2013 Heritage Auction Galleries. All rights reserved. Used with permission.