Skip to comments.Rare 1913 Liberty Head nickel expected to fetch millions at auction
Posted on 01/29/2013 6:38:25 AM PST by Red Badger
RICHMOND, Va. A humble 5-cent coin with a storied past is headed to auction and bidding is expected to top $2 million a century after it was mysteriously minted.
The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is one of only five known to exist, but it's the coin's back story that adds to its cachet: It was surreptitiously and illegally cast, discovered in a car wreck that killed its owner, declared a fake, forgotten in a closet for decades and then found to be the real deal.
It all adds up to an expected sale of $2.5 million or more when it goes on the auction block this spring in suburban Chicago.
"Basically, a coin with a story and a rarity will trump everything else," said Douglas Mudd, curator of the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo., which has held the coin for most of the past 10 years. He expects it could fetch more than Heritage Auction's estimate, perhaps $4 million and even up to $5 million.
"A lot of this is ego," he said of collectors who could bid for it. "'I have one of these and nobody else does."'
The sellers who will split the money equally are four Virginia siblings who never let the coin slip from their hands, even when it was deemed a fake.
The nickel made its debut in a most unusual way. It was struck at the Philadelphia mint in late 1912, the final year of its issue, but with the year 1913 cast on its face the same year the beloved Buffalo Head nickel was introduced.
Mudd said a mint worker named Samuel W. Brown is suspected of producing the coin and altering the die to add the bogus date.
The coins' existence weren't known until Brown offered them for sale at the American Numismatic Association Convention in Chicago in 1920, beyond the statute of limitations. The five remained together under various owners until the set was broken up in 1942.
A North Carolina collector, George O. Walton, purchased one of the coins in the mid-1940s for a reported $3,750. The coin was with him when he was killed in a car crash on March 9, 1962, and it was found among hundreds of coins scattered at the crash site.
One of Walton's heirs, his sister, Melva Givens, of Salem, Va., was given the 1913 Liberty nickel after experts declared the coin a fake because of suspicions the date had been altered. The flaw probably happened because of Brown's imprecise work casting the planchet -- the copper and nickel blank disc used to create the coin.
"For whatever reason, she ended up with the coin," her daughter, Cheryl Myers, said.
Melva Givens put the coin in an envelope and stuck it in a closet, where it stayed for the next 30 years, until her death in 1992.
The coin caught the curiosity of Cheryl Myers' brother, Ryan, the executor of his mother's estate. "He'd take it out and look at it for long periods of time," she said.
Ryan Myers said a family attorney had heard of the famous 1913 Liberty nickels and asked if he could see the Walton. "He looked at it and he told me he'd give me $5,000 for it right there," he said, declining an offer he could not accept without his siblings' approval.
Finally, they brought the coin to the 2003 American Numismatic Association World's Fair of Money in Baltimore, where the four surviving 1913 Liberty nickels were being exhibited. A team of rare coin experts concluded it was the long-missing fifth coin. Each shared a small imperfection under the date.
"The sad part is my mother had it for 30 years and she didn't know it," Cheryl Myers said. "Knowing our mother, she probably would have invested it for us. She always put her children first."
Since its authentication, the Walton nickel has been on loan to the Colorado Springs museum and has been publicly exhibited nationwide.
The coin will be up for grabs April 25 at a rare coin and currency auction.
Todd Imhof, executive vice president of Heritage, said the nickel is likely to attract lofty bids that only a handful of coins have achieved at auction. A 1933 double eagle, a $20 gold coin, holds the U.S. record: $8 million.
Imhof expects the Walton nickel to generate some buzz.
"This is a trophy item that sort of transcends the hobby," he said. "It's an interesting part of American history and there are collectors who look for something like this."
Ryan Myers said he's not keen on selling the nickel.
"First of all, it had been in the family for so long," he said. "It's not like something you found in a flea market or something you just found."
Cheryl Myers said they're often asked why they held on to the coin for a decade after they learned it was authentic instead of immediately cashing it in.
"It was righting a 40-year-old wrong," she wrote in an email. By allowing the American Numismatic Museum to display it for the past decade, it was honoring Walton's wishes.
"It has been quite a ride," she said.
This image provided by Heritage Auctions shows an authentic 1913 Liberty Head nickel that was hidden in a Virginia closet for 41 years after its owners were mistakenly told it was a fake. The nickel is one of only five known and expected to sell for $2.5 million or more in an auction conducted by Heritage Auctions in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Ill., on April 25, 2013. (AP Photo/courtesy of Heritage Auctions.)
What a great guy, that attorney. Really looking out for the best interests of his clients. The coin was worth $3,750 fifty years earlier, and he offered $5,000.
|I once got Liberty Head||nickles in my change.|
|It was AWESOME||to see a coin of such antiquity.|
|It felt GREAT||to holda piece of history in your hand.|
Should keep it. It’s just like gold, without the paper vs bullion or titanium issues.
I took one of those for payment once, but it was made of wood.
I have been warning people against that ever since.
You raise good points but there are four siblings that own it. Simpler to sell and split the money up. One might quibble over whether now the best time.
I have about a dozen of these nickels at home.
“The sad part is my mother had it for 30 years and she didn’t know it,” Cheryl Myers said. “Knowing our mother, she probably would have invested it for us. She always put her children first.”
She did invest it for you, dummy. How much would she have made on that $4-5000 she would have gotten back then? Millions? Nope.
Yep, sometimes I don’t even have to glance at the by-line.
When I was in high school, in 1962, I received an unusual coin in my change as I paid for a school lunch.
It was a Jefferson head nickel that had somehow never gotten a date. I’ve taken it to two or three coin shows and all I ever got from the “experts” was “It’s not worth anything, but I’ll give you 10 bucks for it.”
I still have it 51 years later.
"Penny for your thoughts..."
Are you sure the date hasn’t been rubbed off? What is the overall condition of the coin?
When she died in 1992, her son view it as worthless, so they lost the estate tax exemption/credit at that time...
Now the heirs will have to state their cost basis as ZERO, and pay capital gains ( at Obama's new higher rate) on 100% of what they get..
If this is the case, then all five of them are fakes.
And by the way, coins aren't "cast", they are stamped.
Condition of Coin is mint. Date area has a small folded over piece of excess metal from the coining operation that extends into the date area. The coin blank probably had a torn piece of attached excess metal from the blanking that was obviously defective and prevented the dating operating from happening.
Take it to a Numismatic Society representative for honest appraisal..........
Actual die errors are generally found and documented as in the “Red Book” - these often dramatically increase the value of the coin as a collectible depending on how many instances are thought to exist.
What you have sounds more like something that slipped through QC. Interesting, and probably worth at least ten bucks as an oddity.
Don’t shop a coin around a coin show unless you know as much about that coin as they do, because some of those guys are thieves and will steal the ignorant blind. I once helped an elderly couple by selling a coin they had inherited long before. The local coin shop offered them practically nothing and even they knew better. I took it to a very large coin show where hundreds of dealers were set up. It was a very rare 1883 Hawaiian silver dollar in XF condition; did you ever see one? I showed it to dealers that had smaller denominations of the Hawaiian series in their display cases, so they knew exactly what I had. They all offered only a fraction of its value, citing a lower grade than it truly was. I finally sold it for fair value, but not at that show.
Collecting mint errors is a specialty of some collectors, so I think your coin should be worth more than $10, but I don’t know how much.