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The Enigma Of The 1913 Liberty Nickel

The Liberty Nickel, typically known as the “V” nickel for the Roman Numeral "V" on the reverse was officially produced from 1883 to 1912. We use the word officially because one of the most famous coins of all is the 1913 Liberty Nickel which was brought forth under suspicious circumstances.

Sometime well after normal production ended for the Liberty Nickel series, a few 1913 Liberty Nickels showed up. In December 1919, Samuel W. Brown put an advertisement in The Numismatist offering to pay $500 for 1913 Liberty Nickels. It is an acknowledged fact that he was the first individual to advertise for this date. It turns out; Brown was employed by the mint at the time of the suspected minting of the 1913 coins. He worked in the coining department. Although no one now knows for sure how the 1913 coins were produced, there are a couple possibilities:

It is theorized that the coins were produced in late 1912 when dies for the next years coinage were being made, and before it was determined that 1913 would be the introduction of the Buffalo Nickel.

The coins could have been produced early January 1913. The first “experimental” Buffalo Nickels were struck on January 7th, 1913 but production did not come about until February 15, due to several design problems. It would not have been unusual for someone in the Medal Department of the Mint to strike a few examples for cabinet/display purposes. Because the Buffalo Nickel was not yet formally approved, striking a few Liberty Nickels would not have been illegal.

Although no one knows for sure how Brown came into possession of the nickels, it is conceivable that he obtained them from engraver George T. Morgan, who produced rarities upon occasion for sale to dealers. Considering the effort involved to produce them, such as making the dies, preparing the machinery and then at last striking the coins, it is astonishing that no-one stepped up to claim participation or to profit from the coins.

After running the ad, Brown exhibited the nickels in 1920 at an ANA convention. Now the word was out, 1913 Liberty Nickels really existed. A few years later, a prominent coin dealer of the time, B. Max Mehl or Fort Worth, TX, advertised to pay $50 a piece for a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel. He knew he would never get one though. He was a marketing genius and as a result of his advertisements, coin collecting became all the craze and his publication, Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia sold very well. People began checking their change in hopes of finding the coin. To this day though, only 5 have ever turned up and it is believed that the five known, are the only ones in existence.

In January 1924, August Wagner, a Philadelphia coin dealer advertised for sale the five nickels presumably on behalf of Samuel Brown. From there, they have had a host of owners. Until recently, one of the 5 pieces (the Walton Coin) had been missing for 40 years. Mr. Walton-a dealer, would bring his coin to shows along with a duplicate. On his way to a show he was killed in a car wreck and his coins were scattered on the roadside. His heirs did get his coins back, but were never sure if the 1913 Liberty Nickel coin they had was the fake or the original. A major dealership once called the real coin a fake. In 2003 at the ANA Show, the coin was authenticated by various experts and the enigma of the missing coin ended. It was also at this convention that all 5 1913 Liberty Nickels were displayed together for the first time since 1920.

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