A $4.5 million dollar nickel

I began collecting coins when I was eight years old. Most coin collectors will be aware of the 1913 Liberty Head or ‘V’ nickel. This is a fascinating story with a local connection so stay with me.

 

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1913 Liberty Head Nickel obverse. Photo provided.

The Liberty Head or ‘V’ nickel was introduced in 1883. It is referred to as the ‘V’ nickel for the Roman numeral V for five on the reverse. When the mint introduced the coin in 1883 it was released without the word ‘CENTS’ under the V. Unscrupulous con artists gold plated the nickel and passed them off as five dollar gold pieces. As a result a revised nickel was issued June 26, 1883 with ‘CENTS’ added under the V.

 

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1913 Liberty Head Nickel reverse. Photo provided.

The V nickel was minted until 1912. It was to be replaced in 1913 with the Buffalo nickel which it was. However, someone at the mint had five 1913 V nickels struck. It is unclear who at the mint was responsible. These five nickels changed hands several times until Colonel Edward (Ned) Howland Robinson Green purchased them. Here’s the local connection. Ned was Hetty Green’s son.

Much has been written about Hetty Green of Bellows Falls. It is not my intent to repeat what has been written but to introduce information not widely known. I must mention though that when young Ned broke his leg, his miserly mother took him to a free clinic but when recognized she was turned away. Ned had to have his leg amputated as a result.

When Hetty Green died in 1916 Ned and his sister Harriet Sylvia inherited Hetty’s estate worth $150 million at the time. Unlike his mother Edward freely spent his money.

Now back to the V nickels. Ned purchased all five V nickels. Two of the 1913 nickels were proofs, the other three were high grade uncirculated coins. Today three of the nickels are in museums with the remaining two in private collections. Earlier in August of this year a 1913 V nickel was sold at auction in Philadelphia for $4.5 million to an anonymous buyer.

 

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1918 24 cent Inverted Jenny postage stamp. Photo provided.

Ned also bought a full sheet of the ‘Inverted Jenny’ postage stamps for $20,000. Ned then split the sheet up into blocks. One stamp he put into a locket and gave it to his wife. In 2016 a single ‘Jenny’ sold for $1.3 million. Imagine what the entire sheet would be worth if it hadn’t been broken up.

Ned married his prostitute girlfriend, Mabel Harlow, a month after his mother died. Hetty referred to her as ‘Miss Harlot.’ To celebrate his marriage Ned wanted to own the world’s largest yacht. With WW1 waging no civilian ships could be purchased. So he bought the Great Lakes excursion boat, ‘United States’ and had her refitted. No expense was spared. In 1917, the yacht was considered the largest and most expensive yacht in the world. Of its many stately rooms there was a gun chamber for firearms Ned purchased from Colt and Winchester. These firearms were plated in gold and nickel to prevent corrosion.

On the receiver of each Winchester was engraved, ‘United States’. There were three Winchester model 1890 pump-action .22 rifles, two takedown 30-30 Winchester Model 1894 lever action rifles and one takedown Model 1895 Winchester in 30-06 caliber. All of the Winchesters had factory birds-eye maple stocks.

The four Colt .22 semi-automatic pistols had checkered walnut grips. One was stolen but resurfaced many years later with mother-of-pearl grips.

In 1919, his yacht, “United States’ sank at its mooring. No lives were lost. The firearms and other furnishings were salvaged. After Ned’s death the firearms passed through several hands.

A friend and customer of mine, Eldon Owens, of Claremont, was a lifelong collector of rare firearms. Eldon had deep pockets and was known throughout the country as a buyer of rare firearms. Eldon was offered the entire collection of Ned’s ‘United States’ firearms and bought them. When Eldon died in 2004 his wife Edie, donated the collection of ‘United States’ firearms to the National Firearms Museum. In 2006 the missing Colt .22 semi-automatic pistol surfaced at auction and was purchased by the NRA for the museum.

Because Eldon was a friend of mine I was able to handle these rare and beautiful firearms.

The Chester Historical Society needs donations of antiques for our sale this Sept. 15 and 16. Give me a call at 802-374-0119 and I’ll come pick them up. Please check your barns, attic or basements.

This week’s old saying is from my friend Fitsie. “A nap is never wasted.”

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