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From unusual pennies to the coin from Hawaii Five-O: the collections of Jerry Buss

The owner of the Los Angeles Lakers built up his hoard from age 10 to become a great collector

Jerry Buss is best known as the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team - but to numismatists he is better known as an enthusiastic coin collector.

Buss was born in Utah, and had achieved an MS and PhD in physical chemistry by the age of 24, despite nearly dropping out of school to earn a living.

He worked for the Bureau of Mines and aerospace industry, but was on the faculty of USC's chemistry department when he made a partial move into real estate which made some significant returns.

He moved into real estate full time and made his millions and from there on bought both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. The $67.5m deal was the most sizeable in sports history at that time (1979). Buss later sold the Kings, but the Lakers have had great success in his hands.

Buss is also a talented high stakes poker player and achieved second place in the 2003 World Poker Tour Freeroll invitational.

A less risky way in which he spends his money is on his coin collection - though Buss describes himself as a 'pure collector' and doesn't buy coins as investments. He started collecting aged 10, selecting coins worth 5c, 10c or 20c.

1913 Olsen Liberty Head Nickel coin
One of Buss's prize possessions: a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel coin

Attracted by the idea of discovering rare pennies in circulation, he went on to assemble three original sets of Lincoln Cents, Buffalo Nickels and Mercury Dimes, perfectly completed except for the 1909-S VDB.

In the mid-1970s Buss suffered a loss of $150,000-200,000 worth of gold coins in a burglary, which he notes was far more painful than purely financial losses - even when he had lost $5m in the markets. It didn't slow him down though.

There were two famous rarities that Buss wanted to track down: a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel and the 1804 silver dollar.

Suitably it was whilst at a basketball game that Ira Goldberg of Superior Stamp and Coin Gallery offered him the chance to own the Olsen specimen (one of five extant) of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, for which he paid $200,000.

The coin had by then been the subject of a Hawaii Five-O plotline, was once owned by King Farouk and most recently sold for $3.7m in 2010. Soon after the purchase, the Goldberg's also helped him to acquire the Idler specimen 1804 silver dollar for a similar figure.

Buss is the only modern coin collector to own an example of each at the same time, and that made his name amongst collectors and is a source of pride. But he still owns his original penny board, and first worn out Red Book and original collections - and that too is a source of great satisfaction.

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Images: Heritage, flipchip /

Last updated: 4 May 2011