1913 Liberty Nickel brings $3.73 million at Heritage Auctions January FUN U.S. Coin auction

January 14th, 2010 by

coinPart of Heritage Auctions’ $53 million numismatic auctions week; Strength seen holding in U.S. Rare Coin market

DALLAS, TX — An awed hush fell over the Platinum Night bidding floor of Heritage Auctions’ Orlando FL FUN U.S. Coin Auction on Thursday, Jan. 7, as “The Olsen Specimen” 1913 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.

With the 1913 nickel, Heritage sold three $1 million+ U.S. coins in the auction, only the third time this has ever been done in a single event, all by Heritage, and this auction is the first time that all three coins hammered above the $1,000,000 mark.

The most famous of the five known Liberty Nickels was the principal highlight in Heritage’s $36.5 million+ 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+ over the first weekend of the new year. All prices include 15% Buyer’s Premium.

“We’re still continuing to see solid results in the U.S. Coin market,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions, “despite the fluctuations of the overall economy in the last year. We expected a drop off of some kind from the record prices of two years ago, but were still surprised to see just how well everything performed. In fact, the auction exceeded our estimates by 20%. Combine that with more than 6,300 bidders and more than 93% of lots sold and you have a satisfying outcome and a strong statement on the market.”

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,” said Rohan. “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.”

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.

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,” said Rohan. 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 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, as they’re known,” said Rohan, “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.”

Further highlights include, but are not limited to:

Barber-Designed 1879 $4 Flowing Hair Stella, Judd-1635, PR67 Cameo NGC, tied for Finest Certified: Many numismatists have commented over the years on how outlandish a conception were the 1879 stellas, metric dollars, and metric goloid dollars. It is plausible to believe that all of the 1879 Flowing Hair coins were struck at one time and the mintage was incorrectly given as 15, with mentions of later restrikes intended to divert the curious from the intended motive: profit on the part of Mint officials and the well-connected. Neither of the major services has certified a Flowing Hair stella in finer condition. Realized: $299,000.

Key 1927-S Saint-Gaudens $20, MS66 PCGS. CAC. Ex: Brahin: One of only 3,750 examples released. Like all of the mintmarked issues from the late 1920s, the 1927-S Saint-Gaudens double eagle is a key date in the series. The large mintage of 3.1 million pieces was almost totally destroyed after the Gold Recall of 1933, and only a small number of examples surfaced in European holdings in the 1950s. Realized: $276,000.

Gem 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel MS65 PCGS: The years 1917 and 1918 saw an unprecedented production of small change at all of the U.S. Mints. The overdate feature on this important coin went unnoticed by numismatists of the early 20th century and the coins circulated extensively for a long period before it was discovered. The exact mintage of 1918/7-D Buffalo nickels is unknown, but Bowers estimates an original production figure of about 100,000 pieces, and of those surviving, obviously very few, maybe 35-40, survive in good condition. The present example is obviously special in the census of these coins due to its incredible condition. The high technical grade, intense aesthetic appeal, and fascinating history of this coin combine to make this offering one of the most desirable examples of 20th century coinage. Realized: $264, 500.

1905 Gold Indian Cent, struck on a Quarter Eagle Planchet, MS64 PCGS: Exactly five Indian cents are known on gold planchets, according to available information. Among them are three dated 1900, this piece dated 1905, and an example dated 1906. This stunning gold Indian cent is one of the truly amazing error coins Heritage has ever handled. Realized: $253,000.

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