Bids on US coinage's 'greatest mystery' reach $2m

None other than the most famous American coin in existence, the "Olsen" specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel, is the anchor lot in Heritage Auctions' Florida United Numismatics (or FUN) auction on January 6-10.

Live bids for the coin on Heritage's website already stand at an incredible $2m.

This is less of a surprise when it is considered that the 1913 Liberty nickel PR64 NGC, CAC is regarded as one of the greatest mysteries of American coinage.

James Earle Fraser's famous 'Buffalo nickel' design should have appeared on every coin dated 1913. Yet there are five 1913 nickels in existence today that have the old Liberty design.

Of the five Liberty nickels, two are in museum collections, leaving just three available to collectors. In the past decade, auction appearances of 1913 Liberty nickels have been rarer than the coins themselves.

Like the other 1913 Liberty nickels, the example offered by Heritage has become individually famous.

It is known as the "Olsen specimen" after an early owner, but his is hardly the only notable name in its provenance.

Colonel EHR Green, son of Hetty Green ("The Witch of Wall Street"), owned all five 1913 Liberty nickels, as did the numismatist-scholar Eric P. Newman.

 The 1913 Liberty nicked, currently
worth $2m

King Farouk of Egypt held the Olsen specimen for several years in the 1940s, and from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, it belonged to Dr. Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers.

A coin such as the Olsen specimen is often in the limelight, and this was never truer than in 1972 and 1973, when it sold for a record-setting price and became part of TV history.

"In 1972, World Wide Coin Investments paid $100,000 for this 1913 Liberty nickel, the first time a collectible US coin was bought for a six-figure sum," said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auction Galleries.

"The newsmaking nickel went on-location to film scenes for an episode of the famous police drama Hawaii Five-O." (We've included the above video as a reminder.)

Millions of viewers were watching on December 11, 1973, as a thief and the police sought the precious coin. In the space of an hour, the Olsen specimen became the single most famous coin in the world.

"The title of that episode was 'The $100,000 Nickel,'" said Rohan. "Times have changed. Today, the Olsen specimen is valued in the millions of dollars."

The FUN auction takes place at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, Florida, US. As always with Heritage, live online bidding will also be available. Collectors who can't wait until January may be interested in these coins which are currently available.


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