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Mona Lisa of Coin World Sets Sales Record

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 Five-O"

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 history.

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 bullion.

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 collection.

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 world.

All say that the coin is amazingly beautiful and in immaculate condition.

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 seen them.

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 charge.

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The foundation of our philosophy can be summed up in one word: diversification. Tangible assets like rare U.S. coins and precious metals are very useful in the control of risk in portfolios because, on average, they tend to move in the opposite direction of traditional paper investments. And while diversification of your overall investment portfolio is obviously very important, it is also just as important to properly diversify your tangible asset portfolio.