Pattern 1913 Indian Head 5-cent piece to auction at CSNS convention

Provides sense of artist’s original intention
By , Coin World
Published : 04/15/16
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Patterns are taking center stage at Heritage’s 2016 Central States Numismatic Society auctions, April 27 to May 1, in Schaumburg, Ill. 

Leading the auction are some magnificent pattern U.S. coins from 1792, but even rarer than most of these is a 1913 Indian Head 5-cent pattern, where collectors get a sense of James Fraser’s original vision for his famed “Buffalo nickel.” 

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The pattern, listed as Judd 1950 and Pollock 2025 in the references to patterns, is graded Proof 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service and is similar to the Bison on Mound 5-cent piece issued in 1913 but for two key differences. First, there is no designer’s “F” initial below the date. Second, the surfaces of the pattern have a rougher and more granular texture than seen on regular issue coins. It also has a wider obverse rim than seen on circulation or Proof Indian Head 5-cent pieces and the short feathers of the Indian’s headdress are slightly different. 

The March 1913 issue of the American Numismatic Association’s publication The Numismatist reported on the addition of the artist’s initial, writing, “the capital ‘F’ before the date has met with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, the Director of the Mint, and also the National Art Commission.” 

The story added, “Already, it is said, the presence of this tiny letter has aroused a certain amount of criticism, similar to that which greeted the appearance of the letters ‘V.D.B.’ on the Lincoln cent, which resulted in their removal, doing an injustice to Mr. Brenner, its designer, and violating all precedents.” 

The story’s author applauded the initial, but was less favorable about the rough texture, writing, “It is to be regretted that the new coin does not show much more finished die work, which could easily have been accomplished,” before warning, “We are inclined to think that the rough finish will encourage counterfeiters, whose handicraft need not now fear comparison which it has met in the past with the ordinarily delicate and finished mint issues.”

Just 17 patterns struck 

A March 3, 1913, letter from Philadelphia Mint Superintendent John Landis to Director George Robert records that just 17 of these patterns were struck on Jan. 13, 1913. These were distributed on Feb. 24 with two going to the Mint Cabinet collection, now housed in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. 

Landis received six, which were returned to the Mint on Feb. 28 and likely melted. One was placed in the cornerstone of All Souls Church in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of the Treasury Franklin MacVeagh received three. Fraser, Robert Clark, Charles Barber and Acting Mint Superintendent Albert Norris each received one, and one is unaccounted for. This leaves at most nine examples in private hands, presuming that all have survived, though given the wide distribution, this seems unlikely. 

The U.S. Patterns website writes that some of the nine “at large” examples may be masquerading as regular issues, observing, “It is important to note that it would likely be extremely difficult to differentiate these from the regular issue if any circulated heavily, as the date area on buffalo nickels is well known for wearing away.”

This example is also noteworthy for spending time in the collection of Egypt’s King Farouk, and it suffered from a cleaning in the past as did many of the king’s coins. Heritage writes, “Obviously cleaned at one time, the surfaces have since retoned in speckled rose and lime-green colors but much of the underlying brilliance is still evident.”

In its provenance, Heritage suggests that it may have once been housed in a custom case, alongside two other Indian Head 5-cent pieces (including one in copper) and five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces once owned by Col. E.H.R. Green and then Eric P. Newman. 

In recent memory the pattern was offered at auction in 1989 and again in 2001, where, graded Proof 62 by PCGS, it brought $25,875. It would sell at Heritage’s January 2003 Florida United Numismatists auction for $66,700. It sold most recently at auction for $99,875 at Legend’s Dec. 18, 2014, auction. 

The finest known example, graded Proof 65, sold for $195,500 at a July 2013 Legend auction. 

Heritage CSNS auctions have become major market events. 2014 saw its various CSNS auctions bring $53.6 million and 2015’s CSNS auctions realized more than $56 million.

About Fraser

Fraser was born in 1876 in Winona, Minn. 

Before his first birthday, Fraser moved to the Dakota Territory and was raised on the prairie outside Mitchell, S.D. In his youth he had contacts with Native Americans, and these interactions had a lifelong influence in his work, including the statue End of the Trail, which is perhaps Fraser’s best-known non-numismatic work. 

He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and would later enroll in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. His training proceeded under Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Fraser would eventually establish his own studio in Greenwich Village, New York. 

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