Liberty Head nickel sells for $3 million

Sunday, May 23, 2004

NEW ORLEANS -- A 1913 Liberty Head nickel that was minted under mysterious circumstances, owned by royalty and celebrated in an episode of TV's "Hawaii Five-O" was sold Thursday for $3 million.

"Many argue this is the most important coin in our history," said Bruce L. Smith of Blanchard and Co., which brokered the sale. "I think it's the most beautiful."

Neither the buyer, described as both a collector and investor, nor the seller was identified.

At least two other coins have sold for more, both at auction. In 1999, an 1804 silver dollar sold for $4.14 million. Two years ago, a 1933 $20 gold piece went for $7.59 million.

The $3 million coin is one of only five Liberty Head nickels minted in 1913. The design had been discontinued in 1912 and the mint was switching over to the Indian Head nickel.

The U.S. Mint sometimes ran off coins as tests, and the coins may have been struck that way, Smith said. They surfaced in 1920 in the possession of Samuel Brown, a former mint employee, and have soared in value ever since.

"The innocent view is that it was the test of a handful of coins," Smith said. "The less innocent view is that Samuel Brown knew he would have a valuable investment down the road."

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