Skip to content

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel: A Numismatic Icon


The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is a true icon in the world of numismatics. With only five known examples in existence, this rare coin has captivated collectors and enthusiasts for over a century. Its mysterious origin story, combined with its scarcity and historical significance, has driven its value to extraordinary heights, making it one of the most coveted and expensive coins in U.S. history.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the fascinating history of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, explore its unique design elements, and analyze the factors that contribute to its incredible value. We will also discuss the role of third-party grading services in authenticating and assessing the condition of these coins, and provide insights into the future of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel market.

The Enigmatic Origin of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel

The story of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is shrouded in mystery. In 1913, the U.S. Mint had officially discontinued the Liberty Head design in favor of the new Buffalo Nickel. However, five examples of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel somehow came into existence, and their origin remains a topic of debate among numismatic experts.

The most widely accepted theory is that the coins were secretly struck by Samuel Brown, a former U.S. Mint employee. Brown was the first person to publicly reveal the existence of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels, displaying them at the American Numismatic Association convention in 1920. He claimed to have acquired the coins from a Philadelphia Mint employee who struck them before the official switch to the Buffalo Nickel design.

However, some experts question Brown‘s involvement, arguing that he may have simply been the first owner of the coins rather than their creator. They suggest that another Mint employee, such as a die maker or engraver, could have produced the coins without authorization.

Despite decades of research and speculation, the true origin of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels remains a mystery, adding to their allure and intrigue.

Design Elements and Specifications

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel features the iconic design by Charles E. Barber, which was used on the coin from 1883 to 1912. The obverse depicts a profile portrait of Lady Liberty, facing left and wearing a coronet inscribed with the word "LIBERTY." The date "1913" appears below the portrait, and 13 stars representing the original colonies encircle the edge.

The reverse features a Roman numeral "V" in the center, indicating the coin‘s value of five cents. The words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and "E PLURIBUS UNUM" surround the "V," with the denomination "CENTS" appearing at the bottom.

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel has a composition of 75% copper and 25% nickel, with a diameter of 21.2 mm and a weight of 5 grams. The coin‘s unique combination of design elements and specifications contributes to its overall rarity and value.

The Five Known Specimens

The five known examples of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel are:

  1. The Eliasberg Specimen – Considered the finest of the five coins, the Eliasberg Specimen features proof surfaces and has been graded Proof-66 by PCGS. It was sold in 2007 for $5 million to an anonymous collector.

  2. The Olsen Specimen – With an intriguing history that includes being featured on an episode of "Hawaii Five-O," the Olsen Specimen is the most famous of the five coins. It was sold in 2010 for $3.7 million.

  3. The Walton Specimen – The Walton Specimen was thought to be lost for over 40 years before resurfacing in 2003. It was last sold in 2018 for a price between $4 million and $5 million.

  4. The McDermott Specimen – Currently housed in the American Numismatic Association‘s Money Museum in Colorado Springs, the McDermott Specimen is the only 1913 Liberty Head Nickel with circulation marks, indicating it may have been spent before its rarity was recognized.

  5. The Norweb Specimen – This specimen is part of the Smithsonian Institution‘s National Numismatic Collection in Washington, D.C., where it is on display for the public to admire.

Ownership History and Notable Auctions

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel has a fascinating ownership history, with the five known specimens passing through the hands of some of the most prominent collectors and dealers in numismatic history. Here is a brief timeline of notable events:

  • 1920: Samuel Brown first displays the five 1913 Liberty Head Nickels at the ANA convention.
  • 1924: Brown sells all five coins to Colonel E.H.R. Green for a reported $500 each.
  • 1936: Colonel Green passes away, and his estate sells the coins to various collectors.
  • 1941: The Norweb Specimen is sold to the Norweb family for $3,750.
  • 1972: The Eliasberg Specimen is sold to Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. for $100,000.
  • 1996: The Eliasberg Specimen is auctioned for $1,485,000, setting a new record for a coin at the time.
  • 2001: The Walton Specimen, thought to be lost, is rediscovered and authenticated.
  • 2007: The Eliasberg Specimen is sold for $5 million, setting another record.
  • 2010: The Olsen Specimen is sold for $3.7 million.
  • 2018: The Walton Specimen is sold for a price between $4 million and $5 million.

These notable auctions and ownership changes demonstrate the enduring value and allure of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel among top collectors.

The Role of Third-Party Grading Services

Third-party grading services, such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), play a crucial role in authenticating and assessing the condition of rare coins like the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel. These services employ expert numismatists who carefully examine coins and assign them a grade based on standardized criteria.

For the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, PCGS and NGC have graded the five known specimens as follows:

Specimen PCGS Grade NGC Grade
Eliasberg Proof-66 Proof-66
Olsen Proof-64 Proof-64
Walton Proof-63 Proof-63
McDermott About Good-3 Not graded
Norweb Proof-64 Proof-64

The grades assigned by these services have a significant impact on the perceived value and desirability of each specimen. Coins with higher grades, indicating better condition and fewer imperfections, typically command higher prices in the market.

Market Trends and Future Value

The rare coin market, like any other collectible market, is subject to fluctuations based on various factors, including economic conditions, collector demand, and the availability of high-quality specimens. However, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel has demonstrated remarkable resilience and consistent growth in value over the years.

According to data from the PCGS CoinFacts website, the estimated market value for a Proof-65 1913 Liberty Head Nickel has increased from $4.15 million in 2013 to $5.75 million in 2023, representing an average annual growth rate of approximately 3.3%.

Experts believe that the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel‘s unique combination of rarity, historical significance, and collector demand will continue to drive its value in the future. As Mark Borckardt, Senior Numismatist at Heritage Auctions, states, "The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is a true icon in American numismatics, and its story continues to captivate collectors. Its value is likely to remain strong, as there will always be demand for this ultimate rarity."

Counterfeit Concerns and Buyer Tips

Due to the immense value of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, counterfeit examples have been created to deceive unsuspecting buyers. It is essential for collectors to be aware of these fraudulent coins and to take steps to ensure the authenticity of any potential purchase.

When considering the purchase of a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, experts recommend the following tips:

  1. Work with reputable dealers: Buy from established, trusted dealers with a proven track record in the numismatic community.

  2. Insist on third-party grading: Only consider coins that have been authenticated and graded by a respected third-party service like PCGS or NGC.

  3. Research the coin‘s provenance: Investigate the ownership history of the specific specimen you are considering to ensure its legitimacy.

  4. Be cautious of "too good to be true" deals: If a price seems significantly lower than market value, it may indicate a counterfeit or problematic coin.

  5. Consult with experts: Reach out to experienced numismatists or professional appraisers for guidance and advice before making a significant purchase.

By following these guidelines, collectors can minimize the risk of falling victim to counterfeit 1913 Liberty Head Nickels and ensure a sound investment in this numismatic icon.

Cultural Impact and Popularity

The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel has captured the imagination of the public and has become a symbol of the allure and excitement of rare coin collecting. Its story has been featured in numerous books, articles, and television programs, cementing its status as a cultural icon.

One notable example is the coin‘s appearance in a 1973 episode of the popular television series "Hawaii Five-O." In the episode, titled "The $100,000 Nickel," the Olsen Specimen is stolen, and the show‘s protagonists work to recover the valuable coin. This exposure helped introduce the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel to a wider audience and sparked further interest in its unique history.

The coin‘s enduring popularity has also inspired the creation of various replicas and commemorative pieces, allowing collectors to own a piece of numismatic history even if they cannot acquire one of the five original specimens. These replicas are clearly marked as such to avoid confusion with the genuine articles and serve as a testament to the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel‘s enduring appeal.


The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is a true numismatic icon, cherished by collectors for its rarity, historical significance, and enduring mystery. Its story encompasses the thrill of discovery, the allure of the unknown, and the excitement of owning a piece of American history.

As we have explored in this comprehensive guide, the value of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is driven by a combination of factors, including its scarcity, condition, and cultural impact. The role of third-party grading services in authenticating and assessing these coins has been crucial in establishing trust and transparency in the market.

Looking to the future, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is likely to remain a cornerstone of American numismatics, with its value and popularity enduring for generations to come. As collector demand continues to grow and new enthusiasts enter the hobby, the story of this remarkable coin will continue to be told and celebrated.

For those inspired to learn more about the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel and other rarities, the world of numismatics offers a wealth of opportunities for discovery, knowledge, and camaraderie. By engaging with reputable dealers, experts, and fellow collectors, enthusiasts can deepen their understanding and appreciation of these fascinating pieces of history and become part of the ongoing story of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel.


  1. Bowers, Q. David. "The 1913 Liberty Head Nickel: History, Mystery, and Value." Coin World, 22 June 2021,
  2. Garrett, Jeff, and Ron Guth. "Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933: Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues." Whitman Publishing, 2008.
  3. Heritage Auctions. "1913 Liberty Nickel Sells for $3.7 Million." Paul Fraser Collectibles, 30 April 2010,
  4. PCGS CoinFacts. "1913 Liberty Nickel, Proof." PCGS,
  5. Stack‘s Bowers Galleries. "The Eliasberg 1913 Liberty Head Nickel." Stack‘s Bowers,
  6. Sundman, David. "Fascinating Facts About the Five Known 1913 Liberty Nickels." Littleton Coin Company, 12 November 2020,