Numismatic News

New Light Shed on Mysterious Past of 1913 Liberty Head Nickel PART II

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part feature on the earliest known showing of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel and the spread of the coin’s popularity. The first part explored the display of the nickel by former Mint employee Samuel W. Brown at a Chicago Coin Club meeting in early December 1919, prior to his first advertisements offering to buy examples of the coin for $500, and then $600, appeared in print.

So here is where two little-known but intriguing items impact this story of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. The first involves a small-town dealer and the second a famed collector.

1.) The small-town dealer: This one is a bit hard to believe, if not inconceivable. How did a 17-year-old sometimes coin dealer, sometimes The Numismatist advertiser, from a small town in Kansas come to be running buy ads for 1913 Liberty Head nickels at the same time as the suspected mastermind behind the rarity, Samuel W. Brown?

When Harry E. Kelso, of Arma, Kan., began advertising for the coins, in late January 1920, the ANA convention where Brown would leave his nickel on display was still seven months away; fewer than 20 people had viewed Samuel W. Brown’s nickel at the Dec. 3, 1919, Chicago Coin Club meeting (see Part I in the Sept. 29 issue); and just two of Brown’s now well-known “wanted” ads had made their way into The Numismatist. One of them, Brown’s January 1920 ad, where he upped the ante from $500 to $600, ran concurrently with most of Kelso’s ads.

The teenager placed the following in his local weekly newspaper, the Arma Record, on Jan. 22, 1920:

“I WILL PAY $5 to $25 for a 1913 Liberty Head U S Nickle [sic]; Thousands in circulation. Watch your change[.]

“Harry Kelso, Arma, Kansas”

He paid for the same insertion the following week, in the Jan. 29, 1920, issue, but included the admonition, “Buffalo heads not wanted.” He must have believed there were plenty of the 1913 Liberty Heads to be found, even in a small town, as Arma was really small. According to Wikipedia, there were just over 2,000 residents in 1920.

Shortly after his Jan. 22, 1920, ad in the , Kelso expanded his search to nearby Pittsburg, Pa., a, Pittsburg, Kan., was:

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