1913 Liberty Nickel Brings $3.73 Million in Heritage Auctions U.S. Coin Auction

The Olsen Specimen

"The Olsen Specimen" 1913 Liberty Nickel, PR 64 NGC

An awed hush fell over the Heritage Auction Galleries’ Platinum Night bidding floor at the Orlando FL FUN U.S. Coin Auction on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010, as The Olsen Specimen1913 Liberty Nickel, PR 64 NGC, lived up to its billing as the most famous American coin by bringing a jaw-dropping $3,737,500. This figure is tied for the third-largest sum ever paid at auction for a single U.S. coin.

The most famous of the five known Liberty Nickels was the principal highlight in Heritage’s $36.5-million-pkus U.S. Coin Auction, which itself is the principal component of Heritage’s $53-million January 2010 numismatic auctions, collectively composed of U.S. coins and currency at Orlando FUN and the NYINC World Coins Auction, which realized $11-million-plus over the first weekend of the new year. All prices include 15-percent buyer’s premiums.

The U.S. Coin market is continuing to see solid results despite the fluctuations of the overall economy in the last year. A drop off from the record prices of two years ago was expected, but the performances were surprising. In fact, the auction exceeded Heritage’s estimates by 20 percent. Combine that with more than 6,300 bidders and more than 93 percent of lots sold and HA has a satisfying outcome and a strong statement on the market.

Overall, three U.S. coins sold for $1 million-plus in this auction—only the third time this has ever been done in a single event, and all were in Heritage auctions.

There can be no doubt that the legendary 1913 Liberty Nickel is the king of 20th century coins and the “The Olsen Specimen,” whose provenance roster reads like a Who’s Who of the rich and famous—including a famous Egyptian king and the current owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, not to mention an appearance as the centerpiece of a 1973 episode of “Hawaii Five-O”
—is the most famous of the fine known.

The bidding on this coin was definitely competitive. The winner is an advanced East Coast collector who, needless to say, now has the ultimate centerpiece to his collection and has assured his place in numismatic history.

1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle MS66 PCGS

1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle MS66 PCGS

The first million-dollar coin of the auction was an exquisite 1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle MS66 PCGS, the standard for excellence in regular-issue 20th-Century coins. This example, one of only nine publicly available out of 13 known, soared to a final price of $1,495,000.

The 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle is easily the most elusive regular-issue U.S. coin of the 20th century. Examples of the 1927-D double eagles have been responsible for many record-shattering performances in the decades after they first appeared in the numismatic spotlight during the 1940s, in the process gaining recognition as legendary rarities and dethroning numerous other issues. Heritage has been privileged to offer three different examples at auction, including this one, over the past 15 years.

1874 Dana Bickford $10 Gold coins, this one Judd-1373, Pollock-1518, R.8, PR65 Deep Cameo PCGS

1874 Dana Bickford $10 Gold coins, this one Judd-1373, Pollock-1518, R.8, PR65 Deep Cameo PCGS

One of the FUN auction’s biggest surprises was the second million-dollar coin of Platinum Night, one of only two known 1874 Dana Bickford $10 Gold coins, this one Judd-1373, Pollock-1518, R.8, PR65 Deep Cameo PCGS. It far exceeded already lofty expectations to finally settle at $1,265,000.

The Bickford pattern $10 gold piece, known to pattern collectors as Judd-1373, is one of the most celebrated issues in the U.S. pattern series. Not only is this just simply a beautiful work of art, it comes with a rich and mysterious history, all of which gives it an irresistible appeal.

Dana Bickford’s proposal for an international coinage captured the attention of U.S. Mint officials and others in the mid-1870s, but the coin’s concept was too closely tied to international monetary values of the day, and their ever-shifting natures doomed the idea. Bickford’s dream would fail in its time, but yielded some of America’s greatest coin rarities and, oddly enough, is now seen to be well ahead of its time as more than a century would pass before his dream was at least partially realized by the euro.

Gold ingots are always a favorite feature of Heritage numismatic auctions, and never more so than when there’s a shipwreck aspect to them. A Justh & Hunter Gold Ingot, 185.21 Ounces, fit the bill perfectly for a determined collector. The massive piece, the largest of several gold ingots in the auction, was part of the extraordinary S.S. Central America treasure, and quickly found its place at FUN with a $322,000 price realized.

A beautiful Near-Gem 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 MS64 PCGS, second only to the 1933 in high-grade rarity, had discriminating collectors of Saint-Gaudens salivating over the prospect of adding this rarity to their collections, and as such the bidding quickly became heated before the $322,000 price was set, matching that of the 185.21 ounce Justh & Hunter Gold Ingot.

One of the most special moments of the evening came when a famous off-metal error rarity, a 1943 cent, struck on a bronze planchet, AU58 PCGS, proved its enduring mettle to the numismatic world when it brought home a $218,500 total, far exceeding the expectation that it could end up the night as a $100,000 coin.

The 1943 copper cents are among the misunderstood and mysterious error coins in all of American numismatics. To see the extent to which the price and stature of these coins have grown over the decades makes watching this particular highly-graded example surpass $200,000 very gratifying.

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