Blanchard and Company, Inc., the nation's leading retail dealer of
rare coins and precious metals, announced that it has negotiated the
sale of one of the most sought-after coins in the world, a 1913 Liberty
Head "V" nickel, for a record price of $3 million.
Donald W. Doyle Jr., chairman and CEO of Blanchard, said although two
coins have sold for higher prices in the bidding-war atmosphere of an
auction, the $3 million sale of the 1913 Liberty Head "V" nickel is the
largest transaction ever by a retail brokerage firm to a buyer.
"Only five 1913 Liberty Head nickels are known to exist, and of them,
only three are in private hands and potentially available for
acquisition," Doyle said. "For Blanchard to have had a part in its sale
is an exceptional honor."
The other two 1913 Liberty Head nickels are in museum collections.
One is in the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian's Museum
of American History, while the other is in the American Numismatic
Association's National Money Museum in Colorado Springs, CO.
"This coin is to numismatists what the Mona Lisa is to the art
world," said the Blanchard representative who negotiated the nickel's sale.
One side of the coin features the Liberty Head and the 1913 date,
while the reverse has the "V." The only nickels with this design and
date, they are believed to have been struck surreptitiously by a U.S.
Mint employee in 1913. They did not surface publicly until 1919 and were
in the possession of a former Mint official. However, the intrigue
surrounding the nickel has been fueled by a storied past.
Rich History: King Farouk, Traffic Jams, Basketball and "Hawaii
The $3 million nickel sold by Blanchard - named the Olsen Specimen
for a previous owner - has the richest history of the five coins. Coin
collecting is known as the Hobby of Kings, and this nickel was actually
once owned by a royal, King Farouk of Egypt, an avid collector of coins
and other fineries.
The Liberty Head nickel captured the attention of Texas millionaire
B. Max Mehl, who more than anyone else is responsible for making the
nickel famous. Mehl launched a million-dollar advertising campaign
during the Depression, stirring the general public's interest by
offering top dollar to anyone who found one of the prized nickels.
People envisioned becoming rich and began combing through their change
to find the nickel.
Streetcar conductors caused traffic jams as they stopped to examine
the coins used for fare by riders in hopes of finding a sought-after
1913 Liberty Head nickel. While Mehl never owned one, he popularized
coin collecting as a hobby and stimulated sales of his coin-collecting
book, which went through 30 printings.
Mehl was not alone in his passionate pursuit. The nickel's lure spans
generations. Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers
professional basketball team, was another previous owner.
The Olsen Specimen grabbed Hollywood's attention as well. It starred
in a 1974 episode of the television crime drama "Hawaii Five-O." The
episode, titled "The $100,000 Nickel," was the story of a thief who
teamed up with a con artist to steal the famous coin. They used a
slight-of-hand trick to swap the original coin for a carefully crafted
fake at a coin convention. The crime duo couldn't elude Steve McGarrett,
the head of an elite crime investigation unit. He was able to recover
the nickel, arrest the thieves and put the Olsen Specimen back into the
owner's hands and the public's conscious.
Obviously, the nickel surpassed the $100,000 price tag used in the
television series. Since 1974, the Olsen Specimen's value has increased
3,000%, making it a lucrative investment and treasured piece of American
Sale of "Amazingly Beautiful" Coin Took Three Years
A 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $1 million in 1993, another sold
for $1.5 million in 1996, and a third sold for $1.85 million in 2001.
Blanchard and Company experts say it
is entirely possible that this nickel will reach the $5 million mark as
the popularity of rare coins continues to grow.
In fact, investments in rare coins have outpaced the growth in gold
Under terms of the sale, neither the new owner nor the previous owner
of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel can be identified because of privacy and
security concerns, Blanchard officials said.
Blanchard and Company experts worked for three years to bring the deal to fruition and two
years to place the coin.
According to them, "Anyone involved with the industry is aware of the coin, and I had
been following its story for some time. About three years ago, a client
expressed some interest in seeing whether the Liberty Head might be
available to purchase so we began to watch the nickel closely."
Eventually, two investor clients asked for information on the
coin, and one ultimately was the purchaser.
The new owner is described as a collector and astute investor who
owns a number of other significant coins. The new owner sold
"a handful of other coins" at attractive prices to raise the funds to
acquire the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, which is now the star of his
The experts at Blanchard and Company have had a thrill that most coin collectors only dream of:
They may not own this rare coin, but they have held one of the most famous coins in the
All say that the coin is amazingly beautiful and in
Interestingly, when the quiet watch on the 1913 Liberty
Head nickels first began, it was believed that only four of the five coins were
still in existence. It was thought that the fifth coin had been lost in
a 1962 automobile accident that killed its owner, a coin dealer.
But last year, when the American Numismatic Association (ANA) was
planning a display of the four nickels that could be located, a
million-dollar reward was offered to anyone who could produce the fifth
nickel, regardless of its condition. The deceased dealer's family
responded, bringing a coin that an expert previously had determined was
a fake. Much to the family's surprise, six experts at the ANA conference
examined the coin and found it to be the real thing.
As a result, all five of the 1913 Liberty Head coins were shown
together at the 2003 ANA Convention in Baltimore, MD, for the first time
since their debut at the 1920 ANA Convention and probably the last.
Origin Shrouded in Mystery
The coin is so valuable not only because five exist, but also because
its origins are surrounded in mystery.
The five nickels are believed to have been produced at the
Philadelphia Mint in early 1913 just before the nickel design was about
to change from the Liberty Head, produced from 1883 to 1912, to the
Indian Head that was minted from 1913 to 1938.
Because these coins were struck before the official adoption of the
Indian Head design, producing the five Liberty Head coins with a 1913
date was not illegal even though no other Liberty nickels with that date
were ever produced.
Speculation is that an employee of the Philadelphia Mint struck the
five 1913 Liberty Head nickels in January or February of that year.
Although not illegal, the production was probably unscrupulous. Samuel
W. Brown, a numismatist and an assistant curator of one of the
collections in the Philadelphia Mint, definitely was involved, and he
eventually produced the nickels.
The collector world first learned of the nickels existence in 1919
when Brown advertised in the Numismatist, the coin association's
magazine, offering to buy the rare Liberty Head nickels. By then, he was
no longer a Mint employee.
Later, Brown made it known that he had five of the coins and took
them to the 1920 ANA convention, which was the first time anyone had
Some historians speculate that Brown may have waited until 1919 to
disclose the coins' existence because he wanted to make sure the person
who actually struck the coins had died. Others observe that 1920 was the
year that the seven-year statute of limitations would have expired for
prosecution of anyone removing government property from the Mint. As is
the case with so much of the nickel's history, the real story will
probably never be known.
Blanchard and Company, Inc.
Blanchard and Company, Inc. is one of the largest retailers of rare coins in the United States.
The company has provided more than 450,000 consumers with expert
consultation and assistance in gold, platinum, silver and other coin and
bullion related investments.
Headquartered in New Orleans, Blanchard is a leading advocate of
consumer protection and publishes the booklet A Consumer's Guide to Coin
Investing and Collecting in cooperation with the United States Postal
Service. The company has distributed more than 230,000 copies free of
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