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Storied Coin Nears Payday

On March 9, 1962, a head-on car crash caused a quarter-million dollars worth of coins to scatter across a North Carolina highway and the life of solitary coin collection George O. Walton came to an end.

That night saw the development of one of the most storied coins in American history: the 1913 Liberty head nickel, a coin which was never supposed to have been minted and is one of America’s greatest rarities.

Walton had been working to prove that his coin was genuine, though a year after his death his heirs were told by experts in New York that the nickel was a worthless fake. Walton’s sister then place the coin in a closet in the family’s house, where it would remain for forty years.

Now, through the diligence of Walton’s four surviving heirs, who banded together and safeguarded the coin until it was officially recognized as authentic, the 1913 Liberty head nickel collected from the side of a North Carolina highway in 1962 is expected to fetch between $2 million and $5 million at an auction in Chicago on April 25.

It is said that Walton, described as bluntly forthright Southerner, had an odd knack for coin collecting. Beginning with his grandfather encouraging him to collect the nickels he earned tending horses, Walton began a life of collecting rare coins by trading goods and services. When he swapped a collector $3,750 worth of collectible good for the 1913 Liberty head nickel in the 1940’s, it was already a legendary coin.

Though Walton was never a rich man, he worked as an estate appraiser, which often allowed him the first opportunity at collectibles, which extended to stamps, books, jewelry, Civil War memorabilia, and even firearms.

On the night Walton died, he was on his way to a coin collector event in Wilson, North Carolina, to show the legendary nickel, continuing a life of living in hotels and traveling about in his 1956 Ford station wagon.

In 1912, the United States five-cent pieces portraying a woman’s head, representing Liberty, went out of production and in early 1913 the coin was supplanted with a new design depicting an American Indian head on the obverse and a buffalo on the reverse.

In 1920, coin dealer Samuel Brown advertised the anomaly: five nickels of the old Liberty head design yet with the mint dating of 1913 clearly marked on each coin.

The nickels were sold to Col. Edward H.R. Green. Upon his death in 1940, the coins were sold to young collector Eric P. Newman. Newman’s research showed that Brown had been a Mint employee in 1913, possibly producing the illicit rarity himself as official Mint records show no such coin was ever made.

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