5 Cents, United States, 1913

Some rarities are accidental, like the 1927 Denver double eagle. Others are contrived, beginning their lives as scams. The 1913 Liberty head five-cent piece, or nickel, falls into this category. Were it not for that date, even an advanced collector would hardly give it a second thought. But the date is different, and a very clever set of circumstances ensured that the coins bearing it became memorable, twentieth-century legends.
The first Liberty head nickels were struck in 1883, their designer the prolific if uninspired Charles E. Barber. Millions were made over the next three decades. The design was to be retired at the end of 1912, and that is when things began to become interesting. Despite orders to the contrary, five new Liberty head nickels were struck clandestinely, presumably at the beginning of 1913.
Spirited out of the Mint, they came into the possession of one Samuel W. Brown, of North Tonawanda, New York. He eventually became the town's mayor, but earlier had served as Storekeeper of the Mint. At the end of 1919, he placed an advertisement in the Numismatist, offering to pay $500 each for 1913 Liberty head nickels. Later he raised the offer to $600.
He already had all the coins, so what was he up to? He was making a legend, preparatory to making a profit! He displayed the coins at the following ANA convention (August 1920), finally selling the pieces to a Philadelphia dealer a few years later.
At this point, San Antonio coin dealer B. Max Mehl entered the picture, also making offers to buy any 1913 Liberty nickels. That did it: everyone from ten-year-old boys to sophisticated collectors began checking their change, hoping to come across another 1913. No one ever did, but the coin's legendary status was assured.
Object Name
date made
U.S. Mint. Philadelphia
Physical Description
copper-nickel (overall material)
overall: .2 cm x 2.2 cm; 3/32 in x 7/8 in
place made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
United States: Pennsylvania
United States
political area
United States
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Coins, Currency and Medals
Legendary Coins
See more items in
Armed Forces History: National Numismatic Collection
Legendary Coins
The Value of Money
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Norweb, R. Harvey
Publication title
Glossary of Coins and Currency Terms
Publication URL
Additional Media

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