Dr. Sol Taylor

The Fabulous Five — 1913 'V' Nickels

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, February 23, 2008

saw and actually handled a 1913 Liberty Head nickel in 1964 at the Numismatic Association of Southern California convention in Los Angeles.
    I was visiting with Maurice M. Gould at the cafeteria in the Statler Hotel when a tall gentleman approached and greeted Gould. He introduced himself as J. McDermott. He handed me a nickel in a three-piece plastic holder and asked if I knew what it was. Since I connected the coin with the name, I knew it was the real thing. I said it was a genuine 1913 "V" nickel. He was impressed, since it wasn't even a very nice specimen.
    The story of the five known coins — and there are believed only five — dates back to 1913 when a Mint employee named Sam Brown acquired them. Author Q. David Bowers speculates that these five coins were made in the fall of 1912 in anticipation of a general production run in 1913. But that never occurred, as the new Buffalo nickel was issued that year.
    In those days, it was not unlikely that as a special favor, a Mint employee or other VIP could have a special coin made in exchange for another common coin of the same denomination. Bowers cites several examples of such modern rarities.
    Brown was a numismatist and attended the 1908 ANA convention in Philadelphia. He worked in the coining department and with the Mint collection. He may have received the coins directly from engraver George T. Morgan, who was known to produce special coins for collectors.
    In 1920, Brown first offered the coins for sale and openly advertised them. In 1924 he sold all five to dealer Stephen K. Nagy, who sold them to Wayte Raymond, who in turn sold them to Col. E.H.R. Green, son of the eccentric Wall Street empress Hattie Green. When Green died in 1936, the coins were sold to Eric Newman and B.. Johnson of St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.
    At the ANA convention in San Diego in 1968, Aubrey Bebee paid the then-astounding sum of $46,000 for one of these nickels. It was the McDermott specimen, which is now in the ANA Money Museum (along with Bebee's original $46,000 check).
    At the ANA summer convention in Baltimore in 2003, all five pieces were on display — the first modern public showing of all five at the same time. In the interim, all five had been sold several times, and each time new records were set. It is believed that if sold today, each piece could bring more than $5 million.
    The 2003 exhibit was originally set up to show the four specimens then known to exist; the location of the fifth coin was a mystery. It was the Walton specimen, which was sent to Stack's in New York following a fatal auto accident involving Mr. George O. Walton in 1963. The coin had been previously described in the 2001 Superior sale (which featured another 1913 nickel) as the Reynolds specimen. Once it was properly attributed, it went on display with its four kinsmen at the ANA show in Baltimore a few days before the show opened and the exhibit was modified to accommodate all five coins.
    The long list of distinguished owners reads like the "Who's Who" in numismatics: Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg, Louis Eliasberg. James Kelly, Egyptian King Farouk, Bowers and Ruddy, Jay Parrino, Reed Hawn, Sol Kaplan, Aubrey Bebee, the Henry Norweb family, the Smithsonian Institution and the American Numismatic Association Money Museum.
    In the 2001 Superior sale, the Eliasberg specimen was offered and described as the finest of the five pieces, graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. as Proof-66. It is one of two with a proof surface.
    This coin had spurred romance, stories and a rash of altered 1910 coins, as well as cast counterfeits. Dealer Max Mehl of Ft. Worth, Texas, offered $50,000 for one these coins some 65 to 75 years ago. He never got one from his ads, but his mail order business made up more than 50 percent of all incoming mail to Ft. Worth for several years. His coin catalogues were nationally distributed through advertising in comic books, newspapers and magazines. He literally made a career out of a coin he eventually acquired, but not from his broad ad campaigns.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.