[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Gloria Peters & Cynthia Mohon. This information was originally published in 1995 in The Complete Guide to Shield and Liberty Head Nickels
* * *
The 1913 Nickel
The first public clue to the existence of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels was revealed in December 1919 when Samuel W. Brown advertised in The Numismatist. The Buffalo nickel was introduced in early 1913 with the first coins being struck on Feb. 21, 1913. The Mint officials consistently report that no 1913 Liberty Head nickels were authorized and the mint has no records of any having been struck. Officially the entire mintage of nickels in 1913 consisted of more than 73 million of Fraser’s Indian and Buffalo design. So the numismatic community must have responded with disbelief when Brown, a former mint employee, advertised seven years after the Liberty Head series had ended in 1912 that he wanted to buy 1913 Liberty Head nickels (Figure A).
The first documented public showing of a 1913 Liberty nickel took place at the ANA Annual Convention in August, 1920 in Chicago. This was reported a few months later in The Numismatist (Vol 33, No. 10) under “Items of Interest” (Figure B). After the convention Brown left one 1913 nickel with Alden Scott Boyer, president of the Chicago Coin Club. It is probable that an account in the Numismatic Scrapbook of a Chicago Coin Club meeting in 1935 is the source of reports apparently inaccurate, that more than one coin was displayed:
“The 1913 Liberty Head Nicked [sic] was the sensation of the American Numismatic Association Convention held in Chicago in 1920. Some gentlemen [sic] from New York State exhibited either six or eight specimens of this famous rarity. He left one with Mr. Alden Boyer for several months; in requesting its return the owner asked that it be expressed and insured at $ 6 0 0 . 0 0 . ”
(Numismatic Scrapbook, May 1935)
The above report contributed greatly to the mass of misinformation that has misled researchers for years. A more direct source is the following letter from Brown to Boyer printed in The Numismatist, January 1921, titled “The Rare 1913 Nickel”:
“Dear Mr. Boyer,
I would appreciate it very much if you would return the 1913 Liberty head nickel you have with your coins in the Masonic Temple vault in your city. I have a deal pending for the sale of this coin, and it is necessary that I have it within the next ten days. If you will, kindly send it to me express, charges collect, and estimate the value at $750. Thanking you for your courtesy in this matter.” [Samuel Brown]
Just for the record, there is mention of a coin club meeting — possibly in December 1919 — at which Vernon Sheldon, Ira S. Reed and Boyer were present where Brown displayed all five of the 1913 nickels.
It is an interesting footnote that B. Max Mehl, who also attended the August 1920 ANA Convention, for years afterwards advertised in newspapers and his own literature that he would pay $50 each for 1913 Liberty nickels. During the same period Mehl boasted that he had spent over one million dollars promoting the coins. How much he actually spent is unknown. Since he was more than reasonably sure there were none in general circulation, he was perfectly safe from being bankrupted by a flood of them. Meantime, conductors were searching the change from their fares in hopes of finding a nickel they could cash in for half a C-note. The publicity fueled the public’s Proof Mintage: 4 Business Strike Mintage: 1 futile search for the 1913 Liberty nickel in circulation and, as a by product, netted the hobby many new collectors. Walter Breen described three results from the Mehl’s salesmanship. It made Mehl a rich man through the sales of his Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia; it made the 1913 nickels famous and it incited the “ungodly” to produce tens of hundreds of altered dates (mostly from 1903, 1910 or 1912 nickels).
Nothing further was heard of the 1913 nickels until August Wagner, a Philadelphia stamp and coin dealer, placed ads to sell the coins in the December 1923, January and February 1924 Numismatist (Figure C).
There were five Liberty Head nickels offered for sale—and possibly three 1913 Buffalo nickels: one a 1913 copper pattern, later listed as Judd 1790. The other two were a Type I and Type II. The five Liberty head coins were displayed in an eight coin holder made of soft leather and hard paper board with flaps lined with high quality fabric, all in black. The price was $2000 for the set—and whether the Buffalo pieces were in the holder at the time of this sale is unknown; however, it is considered highly likely. It is not known how Wagner got the coins; in fact, there is remarkably little information about Mr. Wagner.
In a letter to Don Taxay, author of a The U.S. Mint and Coinage, Jack W. Ogilvie, another historian, writes regarding Wagner:
“…About August Wagner of Phil. He may have been the missing man in the whole deal. You mention that he was a dealer. this, I do not know — BUT — he was NEVER an A.N.A. member that is — unless after 1932 or 33. Would like to know more about him … if he ever was in the mint employ.” (Personal correspondence to Don Taxay from Jack W. Ogilvie dated Oct. 14, 1963, Courtesy of Eric P. Newman)
The most logical hypothesis is that Brown either sold or consigned the coins to Wagner. It is not known why Brown did not sell the coins himself even though he had obviously been manipulating the market.
It is also an interesting point that Wagner advertised the coins as the only ones in existence. How could he possibly have known this unless he had been told so by Brown? There was no official record of the mintage. To be so sure that there were only 5 coins in existence speaks clearly to inside information from the person responsible for their coming on the market— Samuel W. Brown.
Both Walter Breen and other references sometimes note that there were other purchasers before or after Wagner. Breen, who was a protege of Wayte Raymond, states that the set and case with the nickels went from Wagner to Stephen Nagy to Wayte Raymond to Colonel Edward Green. And Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine published an article called “Liberty 1913 Nickel Story Footnotes” in which this letter from Edwin Marshall is published:
“In the early 1930’s…I went to Henry Chapman’s shop in Philadelphia. Chapman told me of purchasing these nickels [1913 Liberty heads] from a former Mint employee and as I recall, he sold them to, or they ended up, in Colonel Green’s possession.” The article goes on to state that “A genealogy owners’ chart in the December 1971 Scrapbook showed the nickel [sic] passing from Samuel Brown to August Wagner to Colonel Green, without mention of Chapman. Henry Chapman died on January 4, 1935.” (Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, 1972)
James Kelly added two other possible players when he stated in his 1967 catalog,
“The entire set was subsequently obtained by the late Colonel Green through dealers B.G. Johnson and J. B. Macallister.” (Auction Catalog, Annual ANA Convention, Miami, Florida, August 11, 1967)
Clyde D. Mervis also indicates in his article (Numismatic Scrapbook, July 1968, “World’s Most Valuable Coin”) that B. G. Johnson was involved in the brokering of this set to Colonel Green. Thus even the identity of the brokers and dealers involved early in the provenance of the 1913 nickels is clouded by mixed reports and obfuscation.
Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green (who received a formal written appointment as lieutenant colonel from Texas Governor O.B. Colquitt in 1910) stepped forward to purchase for an undisclosed amount the whole set of five Liberty head nickels and the holder, and presumably the three 1913 Buffalos. The set remained with him from 1924 until his death in 1936. Col. Green enjoyed extravagance in all things—probably as a result of having endured peculiar forms of parenting from his mother which involved a mixture of excess (he was given Texas Midland Railroad at an early age as a play toy) and deprivation (he was denied proper medical care causing the amputation of his leg in early adulthood). His mother was Henrietta Howland Robinson Green (Hetty Green, the Witch of Wall Street) who was a shrewd and competent investor and businesswoman. She amassed a great fortune during her life. Within nine days after his mother’s death, Green married Mabel Harlow, a “belle dame” from the Chicago red light district; and entered into a lifetime of profligacy with purchases estimated to be in excess of $3,000,000 a year.
Upon Col. Green’s death, F.C.C. Boyd appraised the numismatic portion of the Green estate. Most researchers report that Burdette G. Johnson, owner of the St. Louis Stamp and Coin Company purchased the cased set and offered it for sale as a lot for $3500. When it failed to sell, it is reported that he broke up the set in 1942 and sold the coins separately. A different account is revealed in David Ganz’ report of a lecture by Eric P. Newman at the 1993 ANA Summer Seminar:
“…as a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, he met the famous Col. E.H.R. Green, whose collection of coins ultimately had most of the major rarities of the 20th century. And how, after Green’s death, he simply wrote to those handling the Green estate and asked whether he could buy a couple of bank notes from his native St. Louis. When he showed them to Burdette Johnson, a dealer in St. Louis (who [sic] Newman eulogized as the brightest numismatic mind he had ever met), he learned that no one had ever before been able to tap into this huge property.
He did, however, with Johnson providing the economic stake. Their deal: Newman could have his pick of the collection, and for each coin that he took, Johnson would take another of comparable value.
And that is how Eric P. Newman obtained all five of the legendary 1913 Liberty 5-cent coins. He disposed of every one of them, too, when he concluded that the coin was a phony Mint product, manufactured primarily to appeal to collectors.
…Newman probably sold them for less than $500 apiece through Johnson.” (COIN WORLD, David Ganz, August 2, 1993, page 41)
Whoever was the “owner” of the set there is no doubt that Mr. Newman (numismatic scholar, educator, co-author with Ken Bressett of The Fantastic 1804 Dollar and collector) was a friend of Mr. Johnson’s and they were partners in the negotiation for the set. Mr. Newman examined all five of the 1913 nickels as well as the case with its three 1913 Buffalo 5-cent pieces. Mr. Newman’s descriptions of the five 1913 Liberty nickels may be the only existing description of the five coins compared to each other (Figure D).
In 1942 the coins were together as a set for the last time. Mr. Newman took his choice of the coins for his own (possibly Coin #1), the leather case, and the three Buffalo 5-cent pieces.
Another of the coins went to F.C.C. Boyd (possibly coin #2). The remaining three were sold to James Kelly of Dayton, Ohio. Kelly sold one (possibly #3) of the proof specimens for $1,000 to Dr. Conway A. Bolt, a resident of Marshville, North Carolina. He sold the second of his three coins (possibly #4) for $900 to Fred E. Olsen of Alton, Illinois. The last coin (almost certainly #5) was sold for $900 to J. V. McDermott. There after, the coins went their separate ways. The following is a summary of their pedigrees.
COIN #1 (Brilliant proof. Dent on obverse edge next to the second “1” in date. Dent on edge next to first “T” of “STATES” on reverse).
This coin according to Eric P. Newman’s description of the five coins was the “best of the lot.” Newman sold the coin to Abe Kosoff and Abner Kreisberg. It is Newman’s belief that this coin is the one which was eventually sold to the Norweb’s and resides currently in the Smithsonian; however, Kosoff wrote a letter which was published in Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine on August 1953 which states:
“An interesting note on the 1913 nickels comes to me from a source close to B.G. Johnson. This party selected the best of the 5 coins for his own collection, and this specimen is now in the Eliasberg collection.”
COIN #2 (Proof. Several slight lines in field opposite the twelfth star. High wire edge on reverse.)
The second coin described by Newman is believed to have been s o l d t o F.C.C. Boyd i n 1942; s u b – sequently purchased by Abe Kosoff who sold the coin to King Farouk for approximately $2750. This was less than the monarch had paid for the Olsen coin he purchased at B. Max Mehl’s auction in 1944. King Farouk is believed to have kept the Kosoff coin, returning the Olsen coin to be sold again at auction in 1947. After King Farouk was deposed, the Republic of Egypt assumed ownership of the 1913 nickel. Although listed in a group lot of nickels(!) in the Sotheby’s Palace Collections Sale (Spring of 1954) it was sold separately to Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan for 1,300 Egyptian pounds. The coin was returned to the U.S. and sold privately to Ambassador and Mrs. Henry Norweb. In honor of their 60th wedding anniversary they donated the 1913 nickel to the Smithsonian Institution in 1977 (Figure E). A diagnostics review by the Smithsonian Curator confirms this as Coin #2 from Mr. Newman’s list. Figure F is the text of the press release from the Smithsonian dated 8-31-78.
COIN # 3 (Dull proof. Two slight lines in the field opposite the thirteenth star. Dot on neck opposite end of hanging curl.) One of the mysteries affiliated with the 1913 nickels is connected with this coin. Its whereabouts are currently unknown. James Kelly purchased it from B.G. Johnson and sold it to Dr. Conway Bolt of Marshville, North Carolina. Dr. Bolt died in 1974. Bolt was an eclectic collector but had a preference for sets of proof coins. The larger portion of his collection was sold at auction by Stack’s in 1966; and more of his coins were sold at auction by Pine Tree in 1975. None of the lots included the 1913 nickel. There are two theories about the missing 1913 nickel. One is that either Dr. Bolt or George O. Walton sold the coin to R.J. Reynolds and that it remains in the Reynolds Collection. However, the Reynolds family has no record of the purchase and cannot find the coin. Recently in COINage, Paul M. Green reported that he received a note from Noah Reynolds, grandson of R.J. Reynolds, requesting more information about any link between his grandfather and the coin. “When I [Paul M. Green] called, I figured his inquiry was motivated simply by a desire to learn more about his family’s coin. …Was I in for a surprise! When I reached Noah Reynolds by phone, he explained that he never had heard anything about his family’s owning a 1913 nickel. …Reynolds offered to check with his father and do some investigating for me to see whether he could learn the whereabouts of this fifth 1913 nickel. A couple of weeks later, I called back—only to be greeted by news that the Reynolds family could not find the nickel. In fact, while not wanting to go on record, Noah explained to me that family members doubted they ever had owned the nickel. If they had, it was gone.
The two likeliest scenarios—assuming R.J. Reynolds had owned it at one time—were that one of his ex-wives had taken it or that he had placed it in one of his many model ships. And the family was unwilling to destroy any of those ships in a search for a mere nickel.”
So, is the missing 1913 nickel sailing the eternal seas as cargo in a finely crafted model ship? It would be a fitting chapter in a progression of enigmas.
The other theory is that Walton traded a batch of Double Eagles to Dr. Bolt for the coin. If he did he either re-sold it or it disappeared in 1962 when he died in an auto accident while traveling with his coin collection (see Figure G). However, though Walton was said to have a 1913 Liberty nickel many who knew him believe that he never owned or brokered a genuine one. He was known to have carried Liberty head nickels—up to five at a time—that were altered to appear to be 1913’s. He had these encased in plastic holders with an inscription and handed them out as an amusement. He would present these altered coins as the genuine article. He also represented himself as having a considerable amount of research material related to the 1913 nickels.
When Eric Newman requested the opportunity to review the alleged research material from Walton’s heirs, the family knew nothing about it (Figure H). Newman’s reply is shown in Figure I. At the time of Walton’s death, he had a great collection of coins, currency, guns and other items. His collection of coins and currency was sold by Stack’s in 1963 for a total of $874,836. The genuine 1913 Liberty head nickel was not in the sale.
COIN # 4 (Dull proof. Surface of reverse much brighter than obverse. Dot on neck above chin level next to hair.)
Mr. Olsen’s coin was the first of the set to be put in public auction. Mehl offered the coin in November 1944, The Fred E. Olsen Collection. King Farouk entered a winning bid of $3750. Later, King Farouk apparently obtained the F.C.C. Boyd 1913 nickel through a private sale brokered by Abe Kosoff. He then wished to sell the Olsen coin and commissioned Mehl to resell it for him. Mehl offered the coin in a second public auction in his Will W. Neil Collection June 17, 1947. It sold to Edwin C. Hydeman for approximately $3750, the same amount that King Farouk had paid for it in 1944. It was noted that when the coin was next auctioned, it was only with extreme persuasion from Mr. Kosoff because Mr. Hydeman had a great deal of affection for the coin. It was auctioned in Los Angeles in March 1961 in Abe Kosoff’s Edwin M. Hydeman Collection of United States Coins, and the following description is catalogued for the coin:
“This is a superb coin, sharply struck, as choice a specimen as could possibly be attained. It has been handled with the utmost care, a statement which, unfortunately, cannot be made of two of the pieces. This may be called the Olsen-Hydeman Nickel.”
This Olsen/Farouk/Hydeman nickel proceeded through a series of sales and brokerages between dealers as follows:
• Hydeman to Abe Kosoff (Auction March 1961 The Edwin
SMITHSONIAN RECEIVES RARE 1913 NICKEL
“A 1913 Liberty head nickel, one of the best known of rare American coins, has been added to the numismatic collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of History and Technology. The Philadelphia Mint had planned to switch over to the Buffalo nickel at the beginning of 1913 after minting the Liberty head nickel since 1883. However, five Liberty head nickels dated 1913 were minted and over the years numerous stories have evolved as to why the coin was struck for that year. A copyrighted article in Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine in December 1971, recently described by Coin World as the best researched article on the coin, noted that the new design for the Buffalo-Indian Head nickel was slow in arriving at the mint. A schedule had to be kept, the article added, and it is assumed that the diemaker prepared dies for the 1913 Liberty head. Apparently, these dies were used to strike no more than five coins. One of these coins has now been added to the Smithsonian’s priceless collection. Vladimir and Elvira Clain-Stefanelli, curators of the Smithsonian’s Division of Numismatics, said that without the piece, the Smithsonian’s 20th-century collection of United States coins would not be complete. The coin was donated by the Honorable and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb who presented it to the Smithsonian in commemoration of their 60th wedding anniversary… The coin will go on exhibit in conjunction with a ceremony scheduled for October 6, 1978, at which the Norwebs will be among those awarded the James Smithson Society’s Gold Medal for the effective ways they have helped the Smithsonian Institution in fulfilling its mandate.”
GEORGE WALTON, COLLECTOR OF COINS, KILLED IN CRASH MIDDLESEX, N.C., March 10 (AP)—A nationally-known coin collector carrying his collection he valued at $250,000 was killed near here last night in a traffic accident. Middlesex Police Chief. E. Gilliam said that George Walton of Charlotte was killed in the head-on crash on U.S. 264. He said that Walton’s collection of valuable coins was placed in the custody of authorities. Walton was headed for Wilson, where he was to exhibit his collection, which included a 1913 Liberty head V nickel Walton valued at more than $50,000. It is one of five such coins held by collectors. Figure G. George Walton’s death reported by Associated Press, published in a Missouri newspaper, March 10, 1962
Hydeman Collection) Offered in 1972 by Kosoff in The Numismatist for $100,000.
• Abe Kosoff to World Wide Coins (John B. Hamrick, Jr. and Warren Tucker) October 3, 1972 $100, 000. This sale was publicized widely because the Idler Class III specimen of the 1804 dollar sold with the 1913 as a pair for $180,000 which made newspaper headlines and was entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. World Wide Coins displayed the 1913 nickel on tour at major conventions. In 1974 “Hawaii Five-O” starred the nickel in one of its episodes.
• World Wide Coins to Bowers and Ruddy. 1/2 interest for $100,000 in late 1974. (Q. David Bowers in Spring of 1975 wrote seven full pages in the Rare Coin Review No. 22 with an excellent history of the 1913 nickels. Coin was priced at $300,000.)
• WWC and Bowers and Ruddy to A-Mark. A-Mark to R.L. Hughes who offered the coin at $225,000 in the June 1977 issue of The Numismatist.
• R.L. Hughes to Superior Rare Coin Galleries. • Superior to Dr. Jerry Buss to Reed Hawn. Dr. Jerry Buss’ coin was auctioned by Superior in January 1985. (Hammer bid was $380,000—$80,000 more than the 1804 Dollar in the same auction.) It was purchased by Reed Hawn.
• Reed Hawn to Spectrum. Reed Hawn’s coin was auctioned by Stack’s in 1993 and bought by Spectrum. The bid was $875,000 ( $962,500 with the 10% buyer’s fee.) Spectrum Numismatics International, a coin company in Santa Ana, CA, had earlier made headlines by purchasing the King of Siam proof set (with the 1804 Dollar) for $1,815,000. The selling price of the 1913 Liberty head nickel was only slightly less than the all-time American auction record for an individual coin — the Dexter specimen of the 1804 dollar which sold for $990,000 including the buyer’s fee. Interestingly, it was the first time Stack’s auctioned a 1913 Liberty Head nickel.
COIN # 5. (Uncirculated. Dot in left center of neck at chin level.) This is perhaps the most popular of the 1913 nickels because it was exhibited and “handled” more than any of the other five coins. James Kelly sold this coin to J.V. McDermott, one-time steeple-jack and professional coin dealer. Scores of collectors and bystanders with no particular interest in coins have similar tales tell of a 1913 Liberty head nickel being handed to them casually in a plastic case to hold. J.V. McDermott, carried his “Miss Liberty” in his pocket and would willingly hand it down the bar for anyone who wished to have a close look. He was generous in his loan of the coin to produce a “drawing card” for club and coin shows.
A man of self-admitted problems with liquor, McDermott was never faulted as a contributor to the hobby. He was offered considerable sums for his “Miss Liberty” which he frequently discussed in his coin ads; however, the offers were never high enough and the coin remained in his care until his death. His widow, Betts McDermott, auctioned the coin at the ANA Convention on August 11, 1967. The auctioneer was the same man who had sold the coin to McDermott for $900 in 1942, James Kelly. He described the coin as follows: “This coin is in Uncirculated condition but does have a slight rough surface which existed at the time it was purchased and no doubt occurred in the striking.”
James Kelly started the bidding on Lot number 2214 by stating to the excited crowd, “Ladies and Gentlemen: We are now going to start bidding on the 1931 nickel…” At the crowd’s startled response, he corrected himself, “You know that would be more rare than the 1913 because they didn’t make a ’31. We’re starting the bidding tonight on the 1913 nickel… I have $38,000… can I hear $40,000?” After a bid for $40,000 from Aubrey Bebee, James Kelly continued, “I have $40,000; can I get $42,000?” A bid of $45,000 was forthcoming from Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan, but the final bid went to Bebee who purchased the coin for $46,000. An excited crowd took photos and had their catalogs autographed by Mr. and Mrs. Bebee, James Kelly and Betts McDermott. Mrs. McDermott died in Lubbock, Texas on December 18, 1967 at the age of 64. The coin remained with the Bebees from 1967 until 1989 when they first loaned, then made a permanent donation of it, to the American Numismatic Association’s Money Museum.
And there you have the pedigrees of the five 1913 Liberty head nickels. At the writing of this book, two are permanently ensconced in public institutional collections, one is in a private family collection, one is owned by a coin company, and the location of the fifth is a mystery (although notable numismatic dealers like to shake their heads knowingly and radiate an air of sophisticated secrecy when the topic of the “missing” coin is discussed.)
Samuel W. Brown, the man who unveiled the first 1913 Liberty head nickel at the 1920 ANA Convention, and advertised in January 1920 that he wanted to buy 1913 Liberty Head nickels could have had several motives, not the least would be to test the waters for the Treasury Department’s reactions while he could still conceal the existence of the coins.
Although many theories have been proposed as to Brown’s accomplices including engraver Charles Barber, nothing definite has been proven about their identities or their roles in this numismatic scandal. Charles E. Barber died on February, 17, 1917 and Ed Reiter in a 1994 COINage article states another interesting premise:
“It is intriguing — and possibly instructive — to note that 1920, the year when Brown announced his “discovery,” marked the expiration of the seven-year statue of limitations for prosecuting anyone who might have removed the coins from the Mint in 1913.” (“Flirting with a Million” COINage, Vol. 29. Page 109).
Brown joined the staff at the Philadelphia Mint on December 18, 1903. His job description was initially that of assistant curator of the Mint Cabinet from hire date to 1907 and clerk/storekeeper into 1913.
He was proposed for membership to the ANA in April 1906 by Dr. George F. Heath and Stephen Nagy. Dr. Heath was the founder of the A.N.A. in 1891. However, it is probable that Dr. Heath never met Mr. Brown. Mr. Stephen Nagy, however, is another matter altogether; and his name pops up fairly frequently, if mysteriously, in the saga of the 1913 nickels. Mr. Nagy lived in Philadelphia. He was believed to have close connections at the Mint and was involved in private purchases of restrikes from those connections. Mr. Nagy had joined the ANA only six months earlier than Mr. Brown. In a letter to Don Taxay dated October 14, 1963, Mr. Jack W. Ogilvie, states:
“Regarding Samuel Brown’s [sic] tenure at the mint. My “morgue” card reveals that he was ANA member number 808 and got the NUMIS at The Mint, Philadelphia. During 1912 and 1913 he was storekeeper. What this covered was not revealed. In Feb. 1914, his address was changed from the Mint to North Tonawanda, N.Y. where he became quite a civic minded citizen, and I think, left a family. There are NO RECORDS in the ANA publications as to WHY he left the mint…” (Personal correspondence received by Mr. Don Taxay from Mr. Jack W. Ogilvie dated Oct. 14, 1963, Courtesy of Eric P. Newman)
On November 14, 1913 Mr. Brown’s employment at the Philadelphia Mint was terminated; whether voluntarily or not is unknown. He moved to North Tonawanda, N.Y. in 1913 and was employed with the Frontier Chocolate Company later associated with Pierce-Brown Company. He was not noted by any references to have been a known and active coin collector or dealer. He retained his ANA membership. The next numismatically confirmed sighting of Mr. Brown occurs when he registered for the October 1919 Philadelphia Convention. Subsequently he placed the advertisement in the December 1919 Numismatist. Where and how Mr. Brown acquired the coins, whether he had a hand in their manufacture is not proven to date. The “coincidence” of his mint employment, his sponsorship by a Stephen Nagy, who had a reputation of cultivating mint employees and officers for his own gain, and the amazing ease that he managed to “locate” these five extraordinarily improbable coins would speak to his unethical involvement at the very least in the brokerage of the coins — and implies a great deal more collaboration in the removal and sale of illegally produced mint products.
Samuel W. Brown was noted in his obituary from the Tonawanda Evening News as having retired in 1924. He had served as Mayor of North Tonawanda in 1932 and 1933. He was a Republican.
“He was a member of Sutherland Lodge No. 826, F. & A.M., of which he was past master. He served as district deputy grandmaster of the Niagra Oleans district and was a member of the Buffalo consistory, the Ismailia temple and the Shrine club of the Tonawanda.” “He died at the age of 64 at his home at 303 Goundry Street at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, 1944… His widow, Carry B. Brown and a daughter, Mrs. George Brillinger, Cleveland, Ohio, survived… Burial took place in Brownstown.” (NSM. “Nickel Story Footnotes,” Page 372)
Mr. Newman contacted the daughter by telephone on July 30, 1962 and spoke with her about her father. He inquired if she knew the source of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels. “She knew nothing. She had 20 coins (of her father’s collection?). Her stepmother took the balance.”
Newman, in his letter to Coin World dated October 25, 1963, concluded the following: (see upper right)
The role of the Mint and the Mint employees in the manufacture of the most famous of American numismatic items is perhaps the greatest mystery of all. As 1912 was drawing to a close, it may have appeared to the chief engraver, the chief coiner and other mint staff that the 1913 Buffalo would not be approved and functional as working coinage. In any case, R.W. Julian reports:
“In the fall of 1912 the engraver’s department made the usual preparations for the 1913 coinage by beginning the process by which the dies of 1913 were made and distributed to the Mints. A set of Proof dies for the 1913 coinage was made (probably in mid-November) and stored in the engraver’s department for use during the coming January. Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber supervised his workmen as they executed an order for 10 sets of 1913 Liberty Head dies for the Mint at San Francisco. The date of the order is not presently known, but the dies were duly shipped from Philadelphia on Nov. 25, 1912 and received in California early in December long before they would need to be used for actual striking of 1913 5-cent coins.” (Coin World)
The Denver die shipment went out in December but it did not include any Liberty 5-cent dies.
On December 13, 1912, George E. Roberts, Director of the Mint, instructed the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint, John H. Landis, to, “do nothing about five cent coinage for 1913 until the new designs are ready for use.” Landis received those exact orders on Monday December 16, 1912, and in the normal course of events would have relayed the instructions to the appropriate persons in his staff. Steps were taken to recall the Liberty Head dies from San Francisco and the 10 pairs were returned “as early as Dec. 23.” There are no known coins from the San Francisco dies and it is believed they were defaced immediately; or at the latest, they would have been destroyed in the first week of January 1913, at the annual die destruction.
It was procedure that the Proof dies were in the safekeeping of the chief engraver until the proof coinage would be required. R.W. Julian reports “In actual practice… the responsibility for Proof coinage was shared jointly between the engraving and the coining departments.”
Since the annual destruction of the dies was scheduled to occur in the first week of January and the highest probability was that any dies remaining would be defaced at the latest by that date, the most likely hypotheses is that Samuel W. Brown, possibly with the assistance of one person from engraving or coining departments, perhaps both, would have had to mint the coins sometime between mid-November and the first week in January.
The often expressed theory that the five coins were trial dies and that they were legitimately produced for that purpose was thoroughly examined by Don Taxay, and his documentation would discount that theory.
On January 18, 1913, the Director again instructed the Superintendent at Philadelphia Mint about the five cent pieces: “Do nothing about any coinage at Philadelphia until you receive formal instructions to that effect.”
Formal authority for the commencement of the Fraser Buffalo/Indian nickel coinage in calendar year 1913 was sent to the Superintendent of the Mint on February 19, 1913 and production began on February 21st in Philadelphia.
There is no doubt from any of the researchers and numismatists that the 1913 Liberty nickels were struck at the Mint and that the dies were prepared by Mint employees; however the Mint provides no legal justification or explanation for the minting of these five nickels and they must be called unauthorized strikings. Eva Adams, Director of the Mint, states in correspondence dated July 3, 1962. “Our official coinage register reflects no production of Liberty Head nickels in 1913 and it is obvious… that none was authorized.” (Courtesy of Eric P. Newman)
And so the 1913 Liberty Head nickels with a face value of 5 cents, of common metal, not even the royalty of gold or silver, journeyed within the boundaries of one single century from a value of $500 in 1919 to one having been auctioned in 1994 for $962,500. Tracing the source of these coins has been a journey of fact, intrigue and supposition. They have become one of the most loved and admired of American numismatic pieces; and they have formally been accepted as legitimate items of American history on display for public admiration in the Smithsonian and in the American Numismatic Association Money Museum.
Our thanks to Eric P. Newman for interviews, documentation and personal photos for this article. And to Elvira Clain-Stefanelli and the Smithsonian Institution for the Norweb letters.