Legendary numismatic auction firm Stack’s Bowers Galleries (StacksBowers.com) realized another record breaking price when it sold the rarest and most valuable U.S. nickel at their official auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia.
In front of a standing-room only crowd with auctioneer Melissa Karstedt at the podium, the finest known 1913 Liberty Head nickel brought $4,560,000, becoming one of the five most valuable coins sold at auction.
In addition, it now ranks as the most valuable non-precious metal coin ever sold. The winning bid was placed by Laura Sperber, partner in Legend Numismatics.
"This is truly a momentous sale and one for the history books," said Brian Kendrella, president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries. "The new owner of the Eliasberg nickel now possesses one of the rarest, most valuable United States coins, and one of only three examples of this coveted coin in private hands."
The featured Dr. William Morton-Smith 1913 Liberty Head nickel is the finest graded of the five examples, having been certified MS-66 by PCGS, and also bearing a CAC sticker of approval. It traces its pedigree to the famous Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, the only complete cabinet of United States coins by date and mintmark. When the coin was sold as part of the Eliasberg Collection, it was the very first United States coin to sell for more than $1 million, realizing $1,485,000 in the May 1996 auction.
More recently, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel has belonged to the family of Dr. William Morton-Smith, an old-time collector whose numismatic interests were spurred by a remarkable discovery. Morton-Smith’s passion for collecting can be traced back over generations, passed on to him when he inherited a beautiful antique Colonial desk.
As he was discovering the many features of the desk, he came across a compartment that housed a collection consisting of colonial coins, half cents, large cents, a complete set of Proof Liberty Head nickels and much more.
These had once belonged to his grandfather, and Bill was amazed that the coins had been in the desk for all that time. He determined to learn all he could about them and continued to add to the collection. He spent decades finding important rarities, including completing his grandfather’s Proof Liberty Head nickel collection when he purchased the Eliasberg coin.
While the circumstances of their coinage at the United States Mint and how they eventually left that facility are unknown, five 1913 Liberty Head nickels are known to exist. Over the century since they were made, the five coins have traveled many different paths, as told in Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ special supplement to their August 2018 Rarities Night catalog. They have been owned by various private collectors, dealers and museums over the years.
Two have found permanent homes, one in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and one at the ANA Museum in Colorado Springs. Over time, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel has become one of the most famous, most desired United States coins ever struck. Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ record-breaking sale of the Dr. Morton-Smith specimen at their official auction of the 2018 ANA Convention, only adds to the status of this legendary rarity.