"Olsen" 1913 liberty nickel sold for $3.7 million "Olsen" 1913 liberty nickel sold for $3.7 million at Heritage Auctions Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Auction, at the Orange County Convention Center Thursday.
Dallas, Texas - January 8, 2009 - The "Olsen" 1913 liberty nickel sold for $3.7 million "in spirited bidding" to a private East Coast coin collector in Orlando late on Thursday.
Recently dubbed "The Mona Lisa of Rare Coins," The "Olsen" specimen is the second finest of just five known examples and is currently graded PR64 NGC. It was the first 1913 Liberty Head nickel offered for sale in a public auction, and the only specimen that professional numismatist B. Max Mehl ever handled, despite his extensive advertising campaign that promoted the famously rare coin. It also holds the record as the first coin to break the $100,000 price barrier in 1972, while another 1913 nickel, the Eliasberg specimen, became the first coin to break the $1,000,000 price barrier some 24 years later. It is certainly possible that a 1913 Liberty nickel, perhaps the Olsen specimen, will someday become the first coin to break the $10,000,000 price barrier.
Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth, authors of The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, noted in the 2009 third edition that the Olsen specimen "has been viewed ... by more people than any other." In A Guide Book of Shield and Liberty Head Nickels, Q. David Bowers describes the Olsen specimen as the most famous of all 1913 Liberty Head nickels. "This particular coin is probably the most highly publicized of the five specimens," writes Bowers.
John Dannreuther considers it to be the second of five 1913 Liberty nickels struck. His detailed analysis, discussed later, indicates that the Smithsonian specimen was the first coin struck, followed by the Olsen specimen, and then the other three. Of those three coins (another specimen is in the ANA) in private hands today, the Olsen specimen was struck before the other two. A professional numismatist from Memphis, Tennessee, Dannreuther is well respected among his peers for his critical eye and careful reasoning. He was one of six numismatists chosen for the authentication team when the Walton specimen of the 1913 nickel reappeared in 2003, after a 40-year absence.
Describing it in his 1961 catalog of the Edwin Hydeman Collection, Abe Kosoff stated that it "is a superb coin, sharply struck, as choice a specimen as could possibly be attained. It has been handled with utmost care, a statement which, unfortunately, cannot be made of two of the pieces." In 1985 the Superior cataloger wrote that the coin has "a needle-sharp strike with partial wire rims and slightly prooflike surfaces; all overlaid with a uniform matte-like gray finish and completely free from nicks and scratches." Eight years later, Stack's offered the Olsen specimen as part of the Reed Hawn Collection, paraphrasing the earlier Superior description: "Pleasing and uniform matte gray surfaces free from disfiguring marks. Partially reflective prooflike surfaces and a needle-sharp strike with raised wire rims in places."
Bowers, himself once an owner of the Olsen specimen, calls it "a very nice coin in a lower Mint State classification." However,