If you’re looking for a wild story, you could do worse than the one a 1913 Liberty Head nickel has to its credit– which is one of the reasons it just sold for $4.2 million.
First off, the nickel is one of only five known to exist. But beyond rarity, the coin has a juicy backstory. It was secretly and illegally cast, discovered in a car wreck that killed its owner, declared a fake, forgotten in a closet for decades and then – lo and behold – found to be real and worth millions.
That’s a big story for five cents.
“The 1913 Nickel is one of the few coins that transcends into the non-numismatic world,” said Ian Russell, president of GreatCollections, the official auction house of the American Numismatic Association. Russell just paid $4.2 to a Florida family for the rare nickel with the compelling history.
Hailed as “the most famous coin in the world,” the 1913 Liberty Head nickel started life as a cheat. 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 Buffalo Head nickel was introduced to replace it. Mint worker Samuel W. Brown is suspected of producing the coin and altering the die to add the bogus date.
Unafraid of being prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed, Brown offered his altered coins for sale at the American Numismatic Association Convention in Chicago in 1920. The five illegitimate coins remained together under various owners until the set was broken up in 1942.
George O. Walton, a North Carolina collector, 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 in 1962. It was found among hundreds of coins scattered at the accident site.
Walton’s sister, Melva Givens of Salem, Virginia, was given the 1913 Liberty nickel after experts declared the coin a fake. She put the coin in an envelope and stuck it in a closet in her home, where it stayed for the next thirty years until her death in 1992.
Finally in 2003, curiosity got the best of Givens’ surviving family. After hearing that four of the surviving five 1913 Liberty Head nickels were on display at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore, family members took the nickel to the event for a second opinion. A team of rare coin experts concluded it was the long-missing fifth coin.
The authenticated nickel was sold for $3.1 million in 2013, and again in 2018 for an undisclosed price to the Firman family in Florida, who in turn displayed it at the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado before recently selling it to Russell.