An Expensive Nickel

A rare 1913 coin could be worth up to $5 million

Jan 30, 2013 | By Erica Ho for TIME
AP

This 1913 Liberty Head nickel is only one of five known of its kind.

Normally, a nickel is worth five cents. But in one extremely rare case, a nickel could  earn millions of dollars for its owners. The 1913 Liberty Head nickel is only one of five known of its kind. Scholars believe that it was created when a U.S. mint worker illegally cast the coin in 1912.

According to the Associated Press, the coin’s value is due to its unique history. A mint worker named Samuel W. Brown is suspected of secretly producing a set of five Liberty Head coins dated 1913. That year, the Buffalo Nickel was due to go into circulation, and no official Liberty Head coins were minted. Brown sold the set in 1920 at the American Numismatic Association Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The coins then passed through various owners until the collection was split up.

All in the Family

This is where things get interesting. A collector named George O. Walton purchased the coin in the mid-1940s. When Walton died in a car crash in 1962, he happened to have the nickel with him at the time. That coin, along with hundreds of others, was given to his sister Melva Givens.

At the time, the coin was believed to be a fake. Givens stuck the 1913 nickel in an envelope and put it in a closet. It stayed there until she died in 1992. It wasn’t until Givens’ death that her four children wanted to find out what it was worth. They took it to an appraiser at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in 2003. The missing coin was determined to be the real thing. It was then reunited with the four others of its kind.

An Exciting Auction

The coin will be sold on April 25 at an auction at Heritage Auction house in Chicago. It is expected to sell for several million dollars. “Basically a coin with a story and a rarity will trump everything else,” Douglas Mudd, curator of the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado, told the Associated Press.

Very few coins reportedly fetch this kind of bid. A $20 gold coin, the 1933 double eagle, currently holds the record for $8 million.

“This is a trophy item that sort of transcends the hobby,” said Todd Imhof, the director of the auction house. “It’s an interesting part of American history and there are collectors who look for something like this.”