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The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel - Is There a Sixth Specimen?

Why There Might be Another 1913 Liberty Nickel Somewhere


1913 Liberty Head Nickel Obverse

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel (obverse) - this Eliasberg Specimen is the finest known, and was sold for $5 million in May, 2007 to an anonymous buyer.

Photo courtesy of Stack's Rare Coins, New York City

Is There a Sixth Specimen of the 1913 Liberty Nickel?

According to the December 1953 issue of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, an early owner of the entire set of 1913 Liberty Head specimens had a special plush leatherbound case made for them -- with six coin holes in it! At the time the coins were shown (after this owner's death, and while still in the special case,) one of the coin slots had been filled by a bronze cast of the 1913 Buffalo Nickel. Coupled with the fact of this 6-hole case, we have early attempts by various interested parties to give a provenance for each specimen, and six specimens show up on these lists.

Of course, while many people explain away the 6-hole coin case as meaningless, and those who compiled early provenance lists for the 1913 Liberty Nickel got lots of facts wrong and sometimes listed owners (or coins) twice, there is one more intriguing bit of lore that points to the very real possibility of a sixth specimen.

A Legitimate 1913 Liberty Nickel is Condemned as a Fake

One coin collector who was lucky enough to own a 1913 Liberty Nickel specimen for awhile was George O. Walton. On March 9, 1962, Walton was on his way to a coin show in his automobile. He had told the coin show promoters that he was bringing his 1913 Liberty Head Nickel with him so they could display it at the show. Unfortunately, Walton never made it, having lost his life in a car crash while en route. Although authorities found thousands of dollars worth of coins at the scene of the wreck, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel was missing.

There was much speculation about the whereabouts of the coin. Some people were certain that someone had stolen it, while others felt it had been lost at the scene. Apparently Walton's heirs never clarified matters. They had found a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel in Walton's effects at home following his death, and taken it to a leading numismatic firm for authentication. The experts at this firm condemned the coin as a fake (stating that it was a genuine coin which had been altered.) Following this news, the Walton heirs kept quiet about things and for forty years, nobody knew what had ever happened to the Walton specimen. It was presumed lost.

The Reward For the Missing 1913 Liberty Nickel

In July of 2003, the American Numismatic Association (ANA) organized a reunion of sorts for the four remaining known specimens of the 1913 Liberty Nickel. In conjunction with their annual World's Fair of Money, they made arrangements to exhibit all four 1913 Nickels. To add interest to the event, they offered a cash reward of thousands of dollars to anybody who could lead them to the lost fifth specimen. Bowers and Merena joined the fun, guaranteeing a $1 million sale price if whoever had the coin would put it up for auction.

By this time, the Walton heirs had seen many photos of the other genuine 1913 Liberty Nickels, thanks to the Internet. Careful comparisons had been made, and they became convinced that their coin was worth another look, perhaps by a different expert. Imagine the stunned surprise when a Walton family member showed up at that 2003 World's Fair of Money to have their specimen examined! At least six different world-class experts examined the Walton coin, and they unanimously agreed that the coin was genuine! The lost 1913 Liberty Nickel had been found! Or had it....?

Did Walton Have the Sixth Specimen With Him in 1962?

Although the Walton heirs declined the $1 million offer, electing to retain the coin (which they still have to this day, as far as anybody knows,) the question still remains unanswered: Why would George Walton tell the coin show organizers in 1962 that he was bringing his specimen with him, only to leave it behind at home? Is there a sixth coin, lost on a roadside somewhere, flung from the vehicle upon impact? Or did someone at the scene of the accident take possession of the coin (and perhaps a few others) only to learn that the thing was so famous, they had no real hope of disposing of it profitably, and so there it sits, in some shoebox or jar somewhere, awaiting a future destiny?

The Five Known Specimens of the 1913 Liberty Nickel

The five known specimens of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel are as follows:

  • The Eliasberg Specimen, PCGS and NGC PR-66, once owned by Louis Eliasberg and now on the auction block, to be sold Jan. 2, 2007 by Stack's.

  • The Olsen Specimen, PCGS and NGC PR-64, named for early owner Fred Olsen, sold in Aug. 2003 for $3 million to an anonymous buyer.

  • The Walton Specimen, officially ungraded but authenticated in 2003 by several experts, held by George O. Walton's heirs.

  • The Norweb Specimen, named for previous owner Henry Norweb, is officially ungraded and in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

  • The McDermott Specimen, NGC PR-55, named for former owner (and vest-pocket coin dealer) J.V. McDermott, is currently in the ANA World of Money Collection.

The Eliasberg Specimen of the 1913 Liberty Nickel

The Eliasberg Specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel has been graded Proof-66 by both PCGS and NGC. (It currently resides in PCGS capsule number 999999-001.) Legendary coin collector Louis Eliasberg bought his specimen in 1948. It remained in his collection until 1996, when it sold for $1,485,000. Within 5 years, it sold again at public auction for $1.8 million. Then, just over 2 years later, it sold once more for $3 million in a private transaction. It is worth noting that the second-best specimen of the 1913 Liberty Nickel, the Olsen coin, (graded Proof-64 by PCGS and NGC) also sold privately for $3 million on May 20, 2004. How much will the Eliasberg specimen sell for this time?

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