US Coins

Eliasberg 1913 5-cent coin brings $4.56 million

The finest-known 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin sold at its opening bid of $3.8 million at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ Aug. 14 Rarities Sale in Philadelphia. The final price with buyer’s fee added was $4.56 million.

Original images courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

The sale of the finest-known example of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin proved anti-climactic Aug. 15 when it sold at its opening bid of $3.8 million. When the buyer’s fee was added, the former Eliasberg Collection coin realized $4.56 million.

The Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction room at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money was packed and a local television camera was in place when the coin was opened at $3.8 million. Auctioneer Melissa Karstedt called for bids and when none were proffered, offered a cut bid that would have put the bid at $3.9 million rather than at $4 million (bids at the level are accepted in $200,000 increments). When no one stepped up at the cut bid, the coin was hammered at the opening bid.

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The coin is graded Proof 66 by Professional Coin Grading Service, making it the finest known of the five pieces, all of which were struck without authorization at the Philadelphia Mint. They surfaced in 1920 in the hands of a former employee of that facility.

It was consigned to the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction by the family of Dr. William Morton-Smith. The firm stated that the doctor’s collecting was inspired by an antique Colonial desk that he inherited. “As he was combing through the desk discovering its many features, he came across a compartment that housed a coin collection consisting of colonial coins, half cents, large cents, a complete set of Proof Liberty Head nickels and much more. These had once belonged to his great grandfather. Bill was amazed that the coins had been in the desk all this time,” according to Stack’s Bowers, and he spent decades adding legendary rarities to the family collection that started generations ago.

The coin was once owned by famed collector Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., who built the most complete collection of U.S. coins ever assembled. 

At Bowers and Merena’s May 1996 offering of the Eliasberg Collection, the coin brought $1,485,000, and it was traded at public auction and privately in a series of transactions afterward. It lasted traded in April 2007 for $5 million to a private Southern California collector — identified now as Dr. Morton-Smith — then described as a dedicated collector of historic U.S. coins. 

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