In early 1883, the Liberty Head nickel was first struck for circulation. The first 5.4 million pieces struck contained the Roman numeral V on the reverse, but did not contain the word "CENTS". Con artists quickly noted this, as well as the fact that the coin was roughly the same size as a five-dollar gold coin, and began gold-plating the new nickels and attempting to pass them as gold pieces. According to numismatic legend, one of the perpetrators of this fraud was a deaf-mute named Josh Tatum, whose name is allegedly the origin of the verb "joshing". Supposedly, Tatum was not convicted because, being unable to speak, he did not actually make any fraudulent verbal claims regarding the coins, but merely accepted the change handed to him by the storekeeper This tale, however, may be apocryphal Whatever the truth of the case, what is known is that the Mint decided to add the word "CENTS" to the reverse design of the Liberty Head nickel in the middle of the 1883 striking , and this change remained until the coin was discontinued.
The Indian Head design was introduced in February 1913. Prior to this, no production of Liberty Head nickels had been ordered, and none appear in the U.S. Mint's official striking records. Despite this, five such coins were struck All five were initially in the possession of Samuel Brown, who was a Mint employee at the time, and it is commonly assumed by numismatic historians that Brown surreptitiously produced the coins and then secreted them out of the Mint. Clandestine strikings of this nature had been very common during the 18th and 19th centuries, but had become less common by 1913. The coins first came to the attention of the numismatic community in January of 1924. August Wagner, a Philadelphia stamp dealer, advertised the five for sale. At that time, the five 1913 Liberty Head Nickels were sold to Stephen K. Nagy, who then sold them to Wayte Raymond, who in turn sold them to Col. E.H.R. Green, the famous Fort Worth, Texas area collector. After Green's death on June 8, 1936, his coins were appraised by F.C.C. Boyd of New York and sold in 1942 to Eric P. Newman and B.G. Johnson (St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.). The 5 known examples reside in various locations.
1. PCGS Proof-66 The Eliasberg Specimen...graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as Proof 66. In holder #999999-001. Said to be one of only two with Proof finish. Purchased by Louis Eliasberg from Abe Kosoff in 1948 by way of Eric P. Newman. Ex - Samuel W. Brown - August Wagner - Stephen K. Nagy - Wayte Raymond - Col. E.H.R. Green - Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman - Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg (Numismatic Gallery) - Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. - Jay Parrino (The Mint) - Superior Galleries "The ANA 2001 National Money Show Auction", March 8-9, 2001, Lot 728, "NGC Proof-66", sold for $1,840,000 (the lot opened at $1.4 million, received a bid of $1.5 million from Legend Numismatics, then a final bid of $1.6 million) - Martin Paul of The Rarities Group as agent for Dwight Manley. Subsequently, this coin was graded Proof-66 by PCGS and was sold in or around August 2003 for a reported $3 million to Ed Lee.
2. NGC Proof-64 Previously graded PCGS Proof-64. The Olsen Specimen. This is probably the most publicized of all 1913 Liberty Head Nickels. It is the only example ever handled by B. Max Mehl, for whom the 1913 nickel was central to his lifelong advertising campaign. The Olsen Specimen has been widely featured in print and on television, including being the subject of an episode on the program Hawaii Five-O in 1974. A few years ago, subsequent owner Reed Hawn exhibited it several times alongside his other world-class rarity, the 1804 silver dollar. Ex - Samuel W. Brown - August Wagner - Stephen K. Nagy - Wayte Raymond - Col. E.H.R. Green - Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman - James Kelly - Fred Olsen - sold at auction in 1944 to King Farouk of Egypt who "...soon tired of his purchase and he sent it to the Hammer Galleries of New York to be sold. They could not find a buyer at the price asked..."- consigned to B. Max Mehl's sale of the Will W. Neil, sold for $3,750.00 - Edwin M. Hydeman - Abe Kosoff - WorldWide Coin Investments - Bowers and Ruddy Galleries, Inc. - Continental Coin Co. - Superior Galleries - Dr. Jerry Buss - Superior Galleries - Reed Hawn - Stack's - Spectrum Numismatics - sold for $3 million in a transaction brokered by Blanchard & Co. on May 20, 2004. The King Farouk citation (cited by Breen) was called into question by Superior in their 2001 offering of the Eliasberg coin, but the citation appears to be correct.
3. The Walton Specimen. Ex - Samuel W. Brown - August Wagner - Stephen K. Nagy - Wayte Raymond - Col. E.H.R. Green - Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman - George O. Walton - George O. Walton heirs. Walton died as a result of a car accident on March 9, 1962. His 1913 Liberty was declared a fake by Stack's of New York when his collection was consigned to them for sale. Walton's heirs kept the coin, still in its custom-made holder, for many years, bringing it out again in 2003 in response to a reward offered by Bowers and Merena Galleries. The coin was examined by numismatic experts, pronounced genuine, and presented with much fanfare at the August 2003 American Numismatic Association convention where it was reunited with the four other specimens.
4. The Norweb Specimen. The Norweb 1913 Liberty Head Nickel is now a showpiece in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. Earlier, it belonged to the colorful King Farouk of Egypt. In the sale of the Farouk collection, it was included as part of a date collection of nickels, without any particular notice being made of it! On the 1970s, the Norweb family made several important gifts to numismatic institutions, including a 1787 Brasher Doubloon and many other coins to the American Numismatic Society of New York, and this 1913 Liberty Head Nickel to the Smithsonian. This coin almost went to the American Numismatic Association, but in the end, Mrs. Norweb selected the Smithsonian. Ex - Samuel W. Brown - August Wagner - Stephen K. Nagy - Wayte Raymond - Col. E.H.R. Green - Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman - F.C.C. Boyd - Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg (Numismatic Gallery), 1949 - King Farouk - partnership of Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan - Norweb family - Smithsonian Institution
5. NGC Proof-55. The McDermott Specimen somewhat circulated. McDermott, a disabled veteran, was for many years the leading advertiser in the Numismatic Scrapbook magazine. "He was fond of mixing it with change in his pocket, then taking it out and showing it to a bartender - often in a hotel where a coin convention was being held - telling the barkeep and anyone else within earshot that it was one of just five known and was very valuable." After McDermott died in 1966, his widow Betts consigned it to James Kelly of Paramount International Coin Corporation. Ex - Samuel W. Brown - August Wagner - Stephen K. Nagy - Wayte Raymond - Col. E.H.R. Green - Burdette G. Johnson and Eric P. Newman - James Kelly - J.V. McDermott - Aubrey and Adeline Bebee - American Numismatic Association Money Museum.