1913 Liberty Head Nickel, PR63 PCGS
1913 5C Liberty PR63 PCGS.
The George O. Walton Specimen
First Time Ever at Public Auction
One of America's Ultimate 'Story Coins'
1. Physical Description of the Walton Specimen
John Dale Beety
Only five 1913 Liberty nickels are known, the same five that have been known to exist since they were first displayed together at the 1920 Chicago ANA Convention, just a few months after the first public display of a single specimen in the same city in December 1919. Today, two of the five specimens are in museums, leaving just three examples available to collectors. Of those three, the George Walton specimen has the most remarkable story, recovered from the wreckage of a deadly auto accident and hidden away in a Virginia closet until its rediscovery a decade ago shocked the numismatic world. While the other two specimens have been offered for sale at public auction on multiple occasions, the Walton specimen has never before been offered, publicly or privately.
We know that all five 1913 Liberty nickels were struck with proof dies, polished to create the mirrored appearance commonly associated with brilliant proof coins. However, the planchets for all five pieces were normally produced rather than burnished as they would have been to create brilliant proof nickels. For that reason, the 1913 Liberty nickels have a distinctive appearance unlike any other circulation strike or proof in the series.
During the midnight authentication session for the current Walton specimen, Fred Weinberg conclusively demonstrated that all five coins were struck at the same time. The single press run created five coins of distinctly different sharpness. The strike of the Walton specimen is uneven on the obverse stars, weakest on numbers 2, 7, and 11, and the left ear of corn on the reverse wreath has little detail, a feature it shares with the McDermott-ANA specimen. The sharpness of the left ear of corn, or the lack thereof, is the feature that led past observers to describe three as proofs and two as circulation strikes.
The surfaces indicate a strike from proof dies. Natural strike reflectivity persists beneath faint hairlines, particularly in the protected areas immediately surrounding the devices. The prevailing light gray of the surfaces on both sides complements subtly iridescent overtones. Under a strong light, pink and blue shades blend in the broad areas of the fields and devices, while the transitions between the two tend toward pale green. A few trivial flecks are visible. The largest of those on the obverse, only visible with a glass, appears in the "corner" of Liberty's hair bun. The reverse has some dark patina within the protected areas of (O)F A(MERICA) and smaller flecks nearby.
The most obvious pedigree marker of the Walton specimen is an old scratch that starts near the center of Liberty's neck and rises to the jawline before curving right and down toward the curl at the back of the head. Two strike-throughs curl just above the scratch, while obverse planchet flaws are noted just under the finish of the pinscratch, in a pair just off star 13 and near the 3 in the date (the source of authentication confusion so long ago). These planchet flaws appear in Eric P. Newman's brief notes on the Walton specimen, third in his listing from when he owned all five 1913 Liberty nickels: "Dull Proof - Two slight lines in field opposite 13th star. Dot on neck opposite end of hanging curl."
Condition is less of a concern for the great rarities than on more readily available coins. The PR63 designation assigned to the Walton specimen by PCGS is more of a relative than an absolute assessment, placing the Walton coin as better-preserved than the Norweb-Smithsonian and (particularly) the McDermott-ANA examples, yet less well-preserved than the Eliasberg or Hawn examples.
More important than any technical ranking or physical description is to remember that all of the 1913 Liberty nickels are among the most desired and mysterious issues in U.S. numismatics, and the Walton specimen is among America's ultimate "story coins," as the reader will see in the sections to follow.
2. George Owen Walton Story
George Huber with Ryan Givens
George Walton was a "self-made man," according to his nephew Ryan Givens. The auction offering of his 1913 Liberty nickel is the ultimate vindication of his astute, self-taught skills as a trader and collector, his quest for the finest coins, his good character -- and the sheer "fun" he derived from his collections.
George Walton was in a cheery mood as he strode into the bank in Roanoke, Virginia, in early March 1962 to retrieve his coins. Walton was headed for the first-ever coin show in Wilson, North Carolina, of the combined coin clubs of Wilson and Greensboro, a drive of only a few hours. Walton also carried his famous 1913 Liberty nickel in its custom-made plastic holder, a coin he normally kept in a Charlotte safe deposit box.
According to the reference Million Dollar Nickels, by Paul Montgomery, Mark Borckardt, and Ray Knight, Walton was transporting a briefcase loaded with some $250,000 worth of coins. Walton loved exhibiting his fabulous collection and trading his duplicates for new pieces, and its exhibition at the Wilson show was sure to be a major draw to attendees. Retrieving the coins from his Roanoke safe deposit boxes, Walton chatted briefly with the bank security guard, who was familiar with Walton and his famous collection. The guard mentioned to him, "You know, George, with all those coins you really ought to get a will." Walton's response was, "Oh, don't worry, there's plenty of time for that. I'm still a young person."
--Source: Ryan Givens, nephew of George Walton.
George Owen Walton died instantly about 6:45 p.m. on March 9, 1962, when a vehicle driven by an alcohol-impaired driver crossed into the oncoming lane and crashed into his 1955 Ford station wagon in Nash County, North Carolina. Walton was only 20 miles from his destination, the coin show in Wilson. Walton kept most of his coins in safe deposit boxes in Roanoke and Charlotte.
Walton was born May 15, 1905, in Franklin County, Virginia, the son of James W. "Jimmy" Walton and Roberta "Berta/Bertie" Austin Walton. His death certificate, published on www.ancestry.com http://www.ancestry.com , shows he died instantly of "internal chest injury" as the result of an automobile crash on Highway 264 in Dry Wells, Nash County, North Carolina. His age at the time is given as 54 years on the death certificate that records his birth date as May 15, 1907. The death certificate further reports his burial on March 12, 1962, in the Methodist Church Cemetery in Gogginsville, Virginia, in Franklin County near Rocky Mount. George Walton is buried there along with a brother, Woodrow Walton, and their parents, James and Roberta Walton.
George Walton has been described as a "freelance estate appraiser" and coin collector who had no permanent address but called three cities home: Charlotte; Jacksonville, Florida; and Roanoke. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, near Charlotte, is of course home to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company; Walton was rumored to have "supplied coins to Reynolds [R.J. Reynolds, Jr. (1906-1964)] and handled sales transactions for the tobacco tycoon," according to Million Dollar Nickels.
Walton today is best-remembered for his ownership of the so-called "Reynolds-Walton" 1913 Liberty nickel, but his collection included many other remarkable pieces. Collectors of Southern gold will appreciate that Walton was also carrying a near-complete set of the one dollar, two and a half dollar, and five dollar Bechtler coinage of 1831-1852 -- some 252 pieces including duplicates -- as well as a virtually complete set of Charlotte gold coins struck between 1838 and 1861.
George Walton's nephew, Ryan Givens, was interviewed specifically for this tribute to his uncle and his remarkable, storied nickel in February 2013. Givens said he believes his uncle was actually carrying around $90,000 worth of coins at the time of his death, and that the reported figure of a quarter-million dollars is an exaggeration. "The story grew in the telling, but it wasn't true." Givens said. "Even Uncle George wouldn't have carried that much around at one time. But $90,000 was a ton of coins back in 1962. And he had the nickel, which he didn't show all the time, but he had the nickel. It was recovered, still in its plastic holder."
Police arriving at the scene identified Walton from a newspaper clipping and realized the coins were valuable. All of the coins he carried were recovered and impounded for the estate in a local bank vault. Most of Walton's coins, including many more that did not accompany him on his fatal drive, would be auctioned by Stack's. Unfortunately, later in 1962 the famous Walton 1913 Liberty nickel would be returned from Stack's, which had consulted with unidentified "authenticators" at the ANS who pronounced the coin a counterfeit -- incorrectly, as it turned out much later, in 2003.
Givens added, "Another part of the story that is untrue is that the coins were scattered across the highway after the wreck. When the nickel was 'missing,' they would all go down where they thought the accident was and look around on the ground, because they thought it might be there. But according to the bank, none of it was scattered on the highway. It was still in the car."
"Especially when the nickel was 'missing,' then you think, 'Well, OK, where is it? It was in a wreck; it might have come out of the car.' And people work that. But people still quote that, that the coins were scattered along the highway. I just saw it the other day in one of the stories. There are parts of the story that will stay out, no matter what. I believe it was John Dannreuther who said, 'In the numismatic world, somebody says something and it becomes fact. When it's repeated, it becomes absolute fact.'
"When you look at Uncle George's story, once the story got started, about it being in the Reynolds family, about not being real, nobody ever looked back, nobody ever said, 'Well, let's go back and start over again and see if there's something. The story just kept going, until that was what happened. People knew that was the way it was. And the story was always that he was a dealer. So they said, 'OK, he was a dealer, he probably got rid of it if he ever had it.' So many parts of it were wrong, and even though it wouldn't have been too hard to come back and trace this 'altered date' one and find it, and then maybe take a look at it, nobody ever thought of it. Once they got started in a different direction they kept going, and it never stopped."
Givens says that George Walton's collections, consisting mostly of the guns and the coins, brought a bit more than $1 million at auction. "He had quite a bit."
The tale of the recovery of the 1913 Liberty nickel from the wreckage, its later incorrect identification as a counterfeit, subsequent authentication as the "missing 1913 Liberty nickel" and its reuniting with its four siblings at the 2003 ANA World's Fair of Money in Baltimore is the legend of a master numismatic storyteller, a tale too good to be true -- but true nonetheless, a fascinating "back story" that makes the Walton 1913 Liberty nickel unique among its illustrious siblings and enhances its already enormous cachet.
The early history of the Walton 1913 Liberty nickel is shrouded in mystery. Accounts conflict on its early comings and goings, both as recounted by George Walton himself and as told by others. There is clear agreement that the Walton nickel was one of three James Kelly bought in 1943 from Burdette G. Johnson. Kelly sold the coin in that same year -- most likely for $1,000, although some other reports give $2,450, which would have been an awfully high price for the time -- to Dr. Conway A. Bolt, Jr., of Marshville, North Carolina.
From that point forward, the murk thickens. Did Walton obtain the coin directly from Bolt, or did the coin first pass to a mysterious businessman living in Winston-Salem (perhaps R.J. Reynolds, Jr., or his wife), and from there to Walton?
Although Walton told numerous tales about the 1913 Liberty nickel -- mistakenly or deliberately confusing the facts -- it appears that he acquired the coin in either 1945 or 1946 in a trade for about $3,750 worth of coins, including a Kellogg fifty dollar gold coin, from a "wealthy Winston-Salem collector." There is no documentary evidence that the Reynolds family ever owned the coin, despite an extensive hunt for records on the part of some members of the Reynolds family. The Walton coin was, nonetheless, for many years identified as the Reynolds specimen.
The provenance from the Reynolds family is the version that the Walton family nonetheless believes to be true -- as did much of the numismatic community for many years. Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, published in 1988, flatly gives the provenance after Burdette G. Johnson as "James Kelly, Numismatic Fine Arts 2:1058 (5/21/46), $2,450; Dr. Conway A. Bolt, R.J. Reynolds, Reynolds family. ... This piece was last seen with George O. Walton and has not shown up since he was killed en route to a coin show, Wilson, NC."
Givens said he "has no reason to doubt" that the coin came to his uncle from "some member of the Reynolds family."
Givens said, "Uncle George was quite the collector. He had guns, he had stamps, he collected books and Civil War memorabilia, but coins were his main focus. He was a member of a group called the National Cartridge Association, whose members collected gun cartridges. He had quite a few of those here that were auctioned off along with the guns. There were boards that held different types of gun cartridges, the companies they were from, and so forth. Uncle George was the editor of the association's journal in 1960. He wrote a little forepiece to the journal. The things that he wrote, not only for the cartridge association itself specifically but about collecting in general, these little pieces give an idea of his approach, his attitude towards collecting. He says things for the cartridge collectors, but it probably very well applies to his approach to gun collecting and coin collecting."
Walton wrote in 1960:
"I believe the greatest satisfaction realized by any collector or member is by bringing all duplicates to sell or trade so that he may acquire something to fill in those empty spaces and make his collection more attractive. I believe that by little deeds like this makes happiness with each member and collector and that's what counts."
Among Walton's many collections were multiple fifty dollar gold pieces struck in 1851 and 1852 by the U.S. Assay Office and Augustus Humbert, in 1855 by Wass-Molitor and Kellogg & Company, and in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exposition; diamond, colored stone, and pearl jewelry, and antique and gold watches; an extensive collection of rare paper money; a selection of Americana, books, almanacs, signed documents, and manuscripts; a wide variety of postage stamps including first day covers, postal card essays, five and ten cent 1847 issues, Confederate covers and postmasters' provisionals, and British Colonial sets; 1,850 antique guns, 500 swords, 100 canes (many with hidden guns), and 100,000 rounds of ammunition; and music boxes, china, and glassware.
A story dated Oct. 18, 1956, in the Richmond News-Leader headlined "$50 Coin Collector Started With Ordeal" began in this way: "George Walton, who says he has the world's largest collection of $50 gold pieces, won his first gold coin in a 'rasslin' match at 'big recess' when he was 12 years old." In addition to U.S. coins, Walton's collections also included a small but important group of foreign coins.
Walton's death was front-page news in Coin World, the first time a collector's passing had ever been covered on the front page. His coin collection -- minus the 1913 Liberty nickel -- was ultimately auctioned off in two parts by Stack's (June and October 1963), netting $874,837, a world record at the time. A 1930-S eagle brought $4,300; an 1849 Mormon ten dollar gold piece brought $14,000; an 1851 Dunbar & Co. five dollar brought $11,250; and an Oregon Exchange 1849 ten dollar brought $10,500. Among foreign coins, the largest price was for an English Oxford triple unite of 1642, which brought $3,400.
Givens said, "When Uncle George died, I got his dimes. My brother got the half dollars, one sister got the quarters, and another sister got the nickels. These were just low-priced mementos, odds and ends from Uncle George that my Mom [Melva Givens, George Walton's sister] got, things excluded from the Stack's auction. For so long, we thought that the 1913 Liberty nickel was a fake. [After Melva Givens died in 1992], I just had it lying around the house. I had it in a cabinet by my bed, and I would take it out and look at it. Then after 2003, when we discovered it was real, we asked the ANA if they would like to keep it at the museum and display it when they chose. They were of course glad to, and have shown it at many ANA conventions."
After the 1913 Liberty nickel that he had owned for so long was wrongly declared a counterfeit, Walton's reputation was on the decline. Many numismatists believed he had never owned the genuine article. Others believed him to be little more than a charlatan, for years passing off a fake 1913 Liberty nickel as the genuine item.
The Walton family, of course, had a different view. All those naysayers would be proven wrong in 2003, when the genuine George Walton 1913 Liberty nickel was finally reunited with its four siblings for the first time since 1943. Melva Givens, who inherited his coins in 1962, from that time until her death in 1992 never knew that the 1913 Liberty nickel she had in her possession was, in fact, genuine.
Givens said, "She saw the 1913 Liberty nickel. She had a program back from 1954 for the Roanoke Stamp and Coin Club. He had the nickel on display at the Hotel Roanoke, along with some other coins. Apparently she had gone there, and she saw it. That's one reason she was so sure that he had it. She never doubted for a minute that Uncle George had a genuine 1913 Liberty nickel. She thought, 'Well, he has this piece for display purposes, and there is a reason for it. The genuine coin is somewhere else. He had the real one somewhere.' She started looking for the real one. It would have been interesting if she had known that the real one was here, but she never doubted that he had it. If Uncle George said he had it, then he had it, my Mom believed he had it, and it was just a matter of finding out where it was."
Givens was queried if he viewed the labeling of the Walton coin as counterfeit, back in the 1960s at ANS, to be "unfortunate." His response was clearly a viewpoint that has developed over the decades. "Well, I don't look at it as unfortunate, because the way it's worked out for Uncle George has actually benefited him better than if it had sold as a real coin [back in the 1960s]. Now, as a collector, his collections are all back in the news, some 50 years after he died. Not many collectors can say that. In a way, he's coming out ahead. He's more well-known now than he would have been had the nickel been real, been sold at the [Stack's 1963] auction. People wouldn't think about him, but now he's back in the news. For a while, when people said the nickel was a fake, his reputation was brought down, but now he's come back."
Asked how he thought his Uncle George would like to be remembered, Givens said, "Uncle George was basically a self-made person. I don't think he graduated from high school. But he seemed to be a sharp person. He was known in the numismatic world as a very tough trader. It was hard to get a good deal on him. But he learned his business. So I think in his ability not only to put together a good coin collection but a good gun collection, and the other things that he was able to collect, with the resources that he had, which wasn't a whole lot, that's what I would like him to be known as: somebody who was able to go out, learn about what he was doing, get it done, and then have fun at it. He seemed to enjoy the hunt more than actually getting it, I think. He seemed to enjoy going out and finding things. Those are the things I would like him to be known as, someone who took the time to learn about his hobby, and that he did it not only for the money, but for the fun of it."
The present offering of the Walton Liberty nickel is the final vindication of George Walton and his reputation, a landmark offering of what is arguably one of the most well-known "story coins" in American numismatics.
3. Lost and Found
A Publicity Stunt That Stunned
Beginning with the auto accident that took the life of George Walton, the Walton specimen disappeared for 40 years and reemerged in a remarkable publicity campaign dubbed "The Clockwork Miracle."
George Walton made arrangements to display his famous nickel at a coin show in Wilson, North Carolina. He planned to mount an extensive exhibit of items from his collection, solely as a favor to the Wilson Coin Club. A contemporary collector, Dr. Conway Bolt, of Marshville, North Carolina, stated that Walton has as good a collection as anyone at the time, "except for a couple millionaires who won't let you tell their names."
Walton left the Ponce de Leon Hotel in Roanoke, Virginia, one of three cities that he called home, on Friday afternoon, March 9, 1962. His destination was a coin show in Wilson, North Carolina, about 200 miles to the southeast. While traveling to the show, he was involved in a horrific auto accident that took his life. The accident occurred just east of Middlesex, North Carolina, on Highway 264 at a few minutes before 7 p.m. His nickel and perhaps another $90,000 in rare coins were recovered from the accident scene and returned to his kin in Virginia.
The other car involved in the head-on collision was operated by Leona Perry. Her sister, Mae Strickland, was in the car with her; neither was seriously injured. No official record disclosed the cause of the accident, although an unofficial report placed the blame with Mrs. Perry, stating that the other driver "might not have been in full possession of [her] driving faculties."
R.E. Gilliam, the police chief for Middlesex, North Carolina, identified Walton through newspaper clippings, as well as the plastic holder that identified Walton as the owner and a past-president of MANA. Today, more than 40 years later, the Walton specimen remains in that same plastic holder. Later newspaper reports gave the value of the coins Walton carried at a quarter-million dollars, although that figure appears exaggerated.
The first policeman to arrive at the accident scene was familiar with the upcoming convention in Wilson and recognized the material as that of a prospective exhibitor, resulting in an immediate police guard at the site. Several newspaper reports have stated that the coins were "scattered across the highway," but that also is incorrect. Mr. Chester Elks was first on the scene, and he stated otherwise. The coins remained in their somewhat mangled briefcase.
Following the accident, the George O. Walton Collection was transported to Stack's in New York City, which sold the items in June 1963 and October 1963. However, the famous 1913 Liberty nickel was not among the coins that Stack's sold. Being unsure themselves, officials at Stack's took the coin to the ANS, where it was pronounced counterfeit. A planchet defect and other markings near the 3 give the distinct appearance of an altered date, although that is certainly not the case.
Fortunately, Mrs. Melva Givens, George Walton's younger sister who was born in 1913, doubted the opinion and elected to retain the coin, storing it in a closet at her home. Her son, Ryan, lives in the same Salem, Virginia, house today and was quite familiar with the coin in the closet.
It was merely supposed to be a publicity stunt to attract attention for the 2003 American Numismatic Association World's Fair of MoneySM convention in Baltimore. It did that. It also unexpectedly and excitingly solved a 41-year-old numismatic mystery: where was the long-missing fifth 1913 Liberty Head nickel? I was as stunned as everyone else that a gimmick became a game-changer.
The PR plan was simple. Arrangements were being made to display the four other 1913 Liberty nickels at that 2003 Baltimore event, so why not offer a reward for the fifth coin, which no one in the hobby had seen in decades? The offer would generate publicity for the show, and no one would have to actually shell out money because, surely, the coin wouldn't surface.
So, the PR stunt was launched in May 2003. It generated headlines nationwide, even worldwide. Fast forward to July 28, 2003, when one of George O. Walton's nephews, Ryan Givens, and one of Walton's nieces, Cheryl Myers, and her husband Gary, actually showed up at the ANA Convention with the coin that had resided in a Salem, Virginia, house closet since not long after their uncle died in a March 1962 car crash.
With an armed guard outside, eight of us huddled in the tiny office of the show manager at the Baltimore Convention Center to look at the coin: Ryan, Cheryl, and Gary; Paul Montgomery, who was making the award offer at the time on behalf of Collectors Universe; Mark Borckardt, now senior numismatist at Heritage Auctions; and numismatic human encyclopedia John "J.D." Dannreuther. Coin World editor Beth Deisher, who was instrumental in tracking down Walton's heirs, was also there. Paul, Mark, and JD took turns looking at the coin, passing it back and forth. The rest of us anxiously waited. Beth later said it looked like I was levitating as I nervously rocked up and down on my toes.
A secret midnight meeting then was arranged for other experts to view the coin alongside the four other 1913 Liberty nickels scheduled to go on display the next morning -- their first time together in over 60 years. Paul, Mark, and JD, along with PCGS cofounder David Hall, Fred Weinberg, and Jeff Garrett made the midnight examination.
I patiently waited with Ryan, Cheryl, Gary, and Associated Press reporter Sarah Brumfield outside the security room. Ryan and Cheryl explained about the nickel being mistakenly declared a fake after their uncle's death, and how Walton's sister -- their mother, Melva Givens -- kept it for decades in a closet. I'd spent 30 years as a journalist and broadcaster and I thought to myself, "This is one of the most amazing stories I've ever encountered!"
After about 40 minutes, I was summoned to the security room door, where Paul met me and said, "It's real. What should we do now?" I replied, "You should tell the family," and I brought over Ryan, Cheryl, and Gary to hear the good news.
I quickly shot photos of the nickel and the exhausted but happy authenticators, then phoned Beth, who was waiting for my late-night call to file a story online for Coin World. My first words when she answered were, "The Eagle has landed," borrowing an iconic phrase from the first moon landing mission.
Over the next nine years I happily assisted with publicity when the Walton nickel was displayed across the country. It always attracted an appreciative crowd. I'm sure its new owner will appreciate it, too. There's a lot of history behind a nickel now in the spotlight that spent much of the 20th century hidden in a closet.
4. The Walton Nickel Reemerges
Serendipity, chance, fate, and a host of synonyms all apply when describing the sequence of events and the force that seemed to be hurtling all involved on a trajectory that culminated July 30, 2003, with the declaration that the 1913 Liberty Head nickel deemed an altered date more than 40 years earlier was indeed genuine and the long-missing fifth specimen.
If the story of the Walton 1913 Liberty nickel ever appears on the silver screen, my entrance would be in early January 2003. I was on the bourse of the Florida United Numismatists show in Orlando when I received word that Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics had some news to announce. The news turned out to be that she and her partners, George Huang and Bruce Morelan, had purchased the 1913 Liberty Head nickel once owned by Reed Hawn and the same specimen that had appeared in an episode of "Hawaii Five-O." Near the end of the short interview, Laura said she planned to exhibit the rarity at the summer American Numismatic Association convention in Baltimore, which I included in the story published in the Jan. 27 issue of Coin World.
It would be nearly three months before the subject of 1913 Liberty nickels would again appear on my "radar screen."
In the late afternoon of March 19, I helped to set up the Coin World booth on the bourse of the spring ANA show in Charlotte, North Carolina, and promised to meet several Coin World staff members across from a sports bar off the main lobby of the hotel where we were staying. I arrived first and was seated at a table when I looked up and saw Steve Bobbitt, ANA public relations director, and Donn Pearlman, veteran radio newsman turned PR pro, walking toward me engaged in conversation. As they approached, I greeted them with, "What's new?"
They joined me at the table and shared that they had been discussing the fact that ANA had learned through reading Coin World that Sperber intended to exhibit Legend's recently acquired 1913 Liberty nickel at the Baltimore ANA. At that point they were thinking of using the 1913 Liberty Head nickels as a PR theme to attract attention and public attendance for the ANA Baltimore show. The Bebee specimen in ANA's museum would make two. Donn said he thought Dwight Manley would agree to display the Eliasberg specimen he had acquired in 2001. As he was speaking the thought, Donn was on his cell phone to Manley. I could not hear Manley's response, but could tell from the big smile on Pearlman's face it was a done deal. "Got it!" Pearlman reported as he shut off his phone.
"Why don't we try to get them all together?" I blurted out.
Pearlman and Bobbitt looked at each in amazement and exclaimed simultaneously, "Why didn't we think of that!"
The fourth specimen was in the Smithsonian's National Numismatic Collection. I had seen it on a number of occasions during visits and interviews with the NNC staff. I volunteered to make some calls to explore whether the Smithsonian would allow its specimen (donated by Mrs. Emery May Norweb) to travel from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore for display. I was aware of the Smithsonian's strict policies and knew there would be a ton of red tape to cut through. Bobbitt and Pearlman said getting the fourth 1913 Liberty nickel to Baltimore would be my "assignment."
Upon return from the FUN show, I contacted NNC Collections Manager Douglas Mudd. He was supportive and enthusiastic but warned it would be a miracle to get approval within three months, the tight timeframe in which we had to work our way through the Smithsonian bureaucracy.
I kept in touch with Pearlman and Bobbitt, updating them on progress and often lack of progress on the Smithsonian's 1913 Liberty nickel. During one of the conversations in mid-May, Pearlman revealed that he had talked with senior management at Bowers and Merena/Collectors Universe about offering a reward for the missing fifth specimen. He was pretty sure the reward would be up to $1 million, but he noted that this was background information and Coin World could not publish anything about it at that point. About a week later, Pearlman called back to say the reward would be offered and that he had guaranteed the Associated Press an exclusive. The wire service would be breaking the story. He would provide me with a copy of his press release announcing the search for the "lost" coin, but Coin World would have to agree to an embargo until the AP broke the story. I was disappointed that Coin World would not get to break the story, but I understood that the AP story would reach a far wider audience. Pearlman transmitted the embargoed news release via fax and called to confirm receipt. He told me that he had given my name to AP reporter David Tirrell-Wysocki, who might call. About two hours later, Tirrell-Wysocki called. He asked lots of questions, and we talked for about 20 minutes. I asked if he knew when his story would be on the wire. He was not sure but suggested that in all likelihood it would be sometime during the Memorial Day weekend.
Tirrell-Wysocki's story moved on the AP wire on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26. Coin World's offices were closed for the holiday. I arrived at the office early on Tuesday and was greeted at the door by the customer service manager. "Our phones are ringing off the hook! Every voice-mail box is jammed!"
It seemed like every person in the entire world was sure he or she had the missing 1913 Liberty nickel. "Just about every person who calls wants to talk with you," she added.
"Why me?" I thought. Then it dawned on me. I had probably been quoted in the AP story. I did a quick search online and found the story.
I quickly wrote out a script for the main phone operator, customer service representatives, and Coin World staff to use. It said that Coin World did not authenticate coins and provided information about contacting professional grading services. I added a note at the bottom of the script instructing them to put calls from the media through to me.
In addition to the main story about the reward being offered, Coin World staff began working on a story about the public interest and reaction to the AP story. We learned that Bowers and Merena, ANA, all the grading services, and just about every coin shop throughout the nation was being flooded with calls and people walking in the door with what they believed to be the missing coin. I fielded calls from newspaper reporters, radio talk show hosts, and TV producers. Even the BBC in London called to arrange for me to do a live interview at 3 a.m. from my home!
Toward the end of the week, phone calls began to taper off. When the operator told me a reporter from the Roanoke Times was on the line, I was keen to talk with him. In 1993, when the ANA had offered a $10,000 reward in its search for the missing coin, Richard Giedroyc of our staff had interviewed Arthur Smith, the attorney who had worked with the George Walton estate, and Lucille Walton, the wife of George's deceased brother. Giedroyc had inquired regarding the whereabouts of the 1913 Liberty nickel that had been retrieved from the accident scene where George Walton had been killed in 1962 and later proclaimed to be an altered date. However, he had been unsuccessful in locating the coin. Both Smith and Lucille Walton said they did not know its whereabouts. When I had researched the pedigrees of the five 1913 nickels in 2001 in preparation for writing scripts for Dwight Manley's "Las Vegas" style traveling exhibit featuring the Eliasberg specimen, I had again tried to find the "altered-date" Walton coin. But the trail always seemed to dead-end in Roanoke, Virginia.
Mason Adams, the Roanoke Times reporter, said he was preparing a local-angle story to follow the AP story about the search for the missing nickel. He had a number of questions and I agreed to fax to him copies of stories that Coin World had published during the years about 1913 Liberty Head nickels, particularly those with information (usually speculation) about the missing coin.
Adams' story was published in the Sunday, June 16, issue of the Roanoke Times. When I arrived at work on the 17th, I found a copy of the story that Adams had sent to me by fax. After reading it, I called to congratulate him on the excellent story, especially because it revealed that George Walton's nephew, who lived in the Roanoke area, had the "altered-date" coin. I immediately asked if Adams would provide me with the nephew's name and phone number. Adams explained that he had agreed not to use the nephew's name in his story and that he could not provide a phone number without his permission. So I asked Adams if he would relay my desire to speak with the nephew and provide him a toll-free number he could use to call me. Adams agreed.
Several days passed. I had almost given up hope when the phone rang and a man identified himself as Ryan Givens, George Walton's nephew. I confirmed that he had the "altered-date" coin in his possession and then told him about the "grand reunion" plan. I noted that since the "altered-date" Walton coin was part of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel story, too, it should be part of the exhibit.
Givens said through the years he had often taken the coin out and looked at it. He said he had compared it to photographs of other 1913 Liberty Head nickels when they had been in the headlines. He said he had also thought about having some experts look at it again. I told him that bringing the coin to Baltimore for the exhibit would present a great opportunity. "The top experts in the world will all be under one roof," I said, trying to offer an incentive for allowing his coin to be exhibited. He said he would think about it. I noted that since ANA was preparing the exhibit, they would need to know about the possibility of his coin being part of the display and suggested that he contact ANA Curator Larry Lee. I also asked if he had a close-up picture of the coin. He said he was making arrangements to have a better picture taken and would send me a copy.
After my conversation with Givens, I alerted ANA and Pearlman about the possibility of having the "altered-date" specimen for the display in Baltimore. They thought it was a great idea.
Meanwhile, it seemed I was on the phone with Smithsonian officials almost daily. I left for vacation June 28. Upon return July 7, I quickly sorted through messages and mail on my desk. Nothing from Givens. On July 10 I noticed a large manilla envelope under the previous week's issue of Coin World on my credenza. It was addressed to me, marked PERSONAL. Someone had separated it from the mail on my desk, but it had later been covered by the week's issue before I returned. Opening the envelope, I found two 8-by-10 black-and-white photographs, an obverse and reverse of a 1913 Liberty Head nickel with a short note attached from Givens. My heart skipped a beat. I walked straight into Bill Gibbs' office and handed him the photographs. A longtime Coin World staff member, Gibbs had also extensively researched and written about the 1913 Liberty Head nickels. We agreed. If the coin was not genuine, it was the best fake we had ever seen!
I placed a call to Givens and had to leave a message on his voice mail. He called later in the day. He told me he had talked with Lee, but he had not made a final decision regarding Baltimore. He said he was scheduled to work the week of the ANA show. I thanked him for the pictures and related my and Gibbs' reaction upon seeing the pictures. "I'd like to go to Baltimore, but ..." his voice trailed off. I countered: "Don't you have a couple of days of vacation you could take?" He ended the conversation saying he would see if he could get some vacation days.
I continued to be focused on getting the Smithsonian specimen to Baltimore. It was looking promising, but we still did not have confirmation. A couple of days went by. The phone rang. It was Pearlman. Givens had notified ANA he would bring the coin to Baltimore. Pearlman and Lee were making arrangement for experts to look at the coin. Even if it were deemed to be an altered date, it would still be a part of the grand reunion exhibit. Finally, Smithsonian officials called to say everyone had signed off on the approval for its coin to be in the exhibit.
The grand reunion of the four genuine specimens was going to happen! Plus, the Walton altered-date would be there.
I changed my flight in order to arrive in Baltimore the evening of July 28. Givens said he and two other members of his family would meet us (Pearlman and me) in the lobby of the Baltimore Convention Center around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 29.
They were on time. Givens, his sister Cheryl Myers and her husband, Gary, walked through the main entrance and paged Donn. I had been watching the entrance and saw that one of the men was carrying a small package. Donn and I greeted them, and we headed to the small office just off the lobby area that had been designated for the meeting. Donn suggested that I wait with them while he summoned the experts -- Paul Montgomery, Mark Borckardt, and John Dannreuther.
Once the door was closed, Donn introduced everyone and Givens opened a small, padded manilla envelope. The coin was encased in a custom-made black plastic holder with gold lettering.
Montgomery was the first to look at the coin. He was poker-faced. After several minutes he handed the coin to Borckardt. I had been snapping pictures. I wanted to document every phase of this session. I had my camera with telephoto lens trained on Borckardt's face. He was looking at the coin with a loupe and holding it close to his eye. I detected a change in his skin coloring. It was as if the blood had instantly drained from his face. That was my first clue that we were on the cusp of a history-making moment. Borckardt passed the coin to Dannreuther, who examined the coin for a couple of minutes. The three of them huddled and whispered. I could not hear what they were saying. Each seemed calm. They maintained their poker faces. They would continue passing the coin back and forth to each other with several huddles for about another 15 minutes.
Finally, Borckardt broke the silence. He declared he was "98 percent certain this is real." Montgomery and Dannreuther quickly agreed. They noted that there would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity later in the evening. All of the coins were to be displayed at a special exhibit in Maryland that evening and would then be brought back to the Convention Center in preparation for opening of the exhibit and show Wednesday morning. They would like to compare the coin to the other four genuine coins before going public with a declaration of genuineness.
Before leaving the room, all assembled agree to a vow of silence.
Montgomery arranged to place the coin in his company's vault, where it would be kept until it was transferred to the exhibit case in Maryland. He, Borckardt, and Dannreuther returned to the bourse, where Professional Numismatists Guild trading activity was under way. Pearlman left to work on arrangements for a late-night authentication session.
I walked out of the room with Givens and Cheryl and Gary Myers. I knew I would be writing a story, regardless of the final outcome of the authentication session, and it would be good to have more information about them and the Walton family. They seemed a little "lost." Looking back, they were probably in a state of shock, realizing that they were within hours of a final decision. Since the lunch concession was opening in the lobby area, I asked if they would like to join me for lunch. They quickly said "yes," and for the next two hours we sat and talked about their family, especially their Uncle George.
It quickly became apparent that vindicating Uncle George as the owner of the genuine coin was far more important to them than whatever money may come their way some day.
Cheryl also worried aloud about security, if the coin were declared genuine. I suggested that they should talk to the ANA. If they would agree to loan the coin to the ANA museum for exhibit, ANA would take care of security, especially when transporting it.
Lee had finagled an invitation for them to attend the gala reception at Diamond International Galleries in Timonium, Maryland, that evening. I saw them there and snapped a picture of three of them peering in the exhibit case at the four genuine specimens.
Pearlman informed me upon arrival at Diamond International that he had contacted AP and again guaranteed them an exclusive at the later authentication session. Since AP would be the only media allowed in, I knew that no other numismatic publication would have the story I would have.
"That's OK," I assured Pearlman. "All I need is a phone call from you to let me know the decision. I will not transmit my story until after 5 a.m. tomorrow morning."
I returned from the Diamond International reception and stopped to talk with friends sitting in a bar just off the hotel lobby, never once letting on to what had transpired that day. I left the conversation around 11:30 p.m., with the excuse that it had been a long day and that I would need to be up early tomorrow. I arrived at my room and began writing my Coin World story on my trusty laptop. My story was nearly complete except for the lead when Pearlman called just before 1 a.m.
"The eagle has landed. It's genuine!" Pearlman said. Our conversation was short. He had work to do and so did I.
I was on the phone waiting in the lobby of the Baltimore Convention Center Wednesday morning, July 30, when ANA Executive Director Christopher Cipoletti announced during opening ceremonies for the show that the Walton specimen had been authenticated as genuine.
"It's public. Post the story," I told Gibbs back at the office. And within a minute my story was posted at Coin World's web site.
5. Authenticating the Walton Specimen
Mark Borckardt, John Dannreuther, Jeff Garrett, David Hall, Paul Montgomery, and Fred Weinberg
The Sheraton-Oak Brook Motor Hotel was the site of the 10th Annual PNG Coin Show, held on October 19, 20, and 21, 1973. World-Wide Coin Investments, Ltd., from Atlanta made arrangements to display three rarities -- an 1804 silver dollar, an 1894-S Barber dime, and the Olsen specimen 1913 Liberty nickel. Attending that show from Findlay, Ohio, was a young numismatist named Mark Borckardt. I made the 270-mile drive with my father, attending the show as a visitor, since a small part-time coin business was clearly insufficient to support a bourse table.
In my mind I can still see the three coins that were housed in their oversized white plastic holders, including the 1913 Liberty nickel. Never did I think at the time that I would be handling multiple specimens of that famous rarity. It was worth $100,000 at a time when the purchase and sale of a $100 coin was an important transaction for a fledgling coin dealer. I had just entered the 11th grade and celebrated my 16th birthday the previous Saturday. It was 23 years later that I first handled a 1913 Liberty nickel while grading and researching coins for the Louis Eliasberg coin auction slated for May 1996.
Seven years afterward, I was one of six numismatists who sat at a table, late at night (actually, early in the morning), with all five 1913 Liberty nickels available for close scrutiny. I would have never dreamed of such an occurrence when I saw that first example in 1973. Now yet a decade later, 40 years since seeing my first 1913 Liberty nickel, I recall the six of us passing all five nickels back and forth, as the guards from the Smithsonian Institution grew ever more frustrated. They were responsible for their coin and moved with the coin, back and forth, never losing sight of their precious nickel.
There is no doubt that the authentication session with all five known 1913 Liberty nickels ranks at the top of my list of career highlights, even more important than the opportunity to catalog two Brasher doubloons simultaneously, or even the examination of the finest existing 1804 silver dollar. Numismatists often suggest that clandestine issues, such as various restrikes of the 1850s and 1860s, were the work of "midnight minters," so it seems appropriate that the authentication team met shortly after midnight to examine the five 1913 Liberty nickels.
ANA conventions are always greeted with great anticipation by collectors and dealers alike. I went to the 2003 Baltimore ANA with a bit more excitement than some other conventions, having been contacted by Donn Pearlman a week or two before the show. Donn said that the Walton family was bringing their "1913 Liberty Head nickel" to the show to try and claim the $10,000 reward offered by Bowers and Merena to the presenter of the missing fifth example. Owning seven altered-date 1913 nickels, showing the family examples of what coin dealers usually saw when they were told that someone had the elusive fifth example would let them down easy, I thought, if theirs turned out to be an altered date. I even had a phone call in the past with someone who said that they knew there were six of them, as they had it! Oh, boy!
I did have a slight advantage over some of the other numismatists who would be asked to help authenticate the Walton coin, if our initial examination deemed it worthy of further inspection. I had been emailed a picture of the Walton coin by Beth Deisher of Coin World a week before the show. I had examined the picture and concluded that either it was real or the best alteration in existence! The quality of the work was incredible, if it was an alteration. If it was a chased or added digit, they got the odd-looking 3 right, just as it is seen on genuine examples. Still, I figured, as did most numismatists, that Stack's had gotten it right in 1963 and this was an altered date. The real one had been misplaced or lost on the North Carolina highway the March 1962 night George Walton died in a car crash.
When Donn Pearlman told me Tuesday morning of the ANA that the coin was there, I gathered my altered-date hoard and headed to the small room that had been arranged for our viewing. Paul Montgomery, Mark Borckardt, and I were introduced to the members of the Walton family and said our hellos to the others present, including Donn Pearlman and Beth Deisher. Paul looked at the coin first, and when he handed it to me, I realized that it might be real because of its "look." Coin people are quite fond of saying (especially about gold coins) that a particular coin either looks "right" or looks "wrong" when authenticating an example. Those unfamiliar with this process will often ask what looks right or wrong about a coin, but sometimes that is difficult to verbalize.
Having seen the other four 1913 Liberty nickels, I knew that they had a particular look, because they are the only Liberty Head nickels struck from proof dies on unpolished blanks. Proof Liberty nickels have a certain look that distinguishes them from their circulation strike counterparts, but the 1913 Liberty Head nickels look like a hybrid of the two, neither fish nor fowl. Thus, I initially thought to myself that "this coin is real." My heart sank, however, when I examined it with a magnifier. There was an area of porosity right in the middle of the 3 of the date that when found on a coin almost always indicates heating, alteration, and then smoothing over of the affected area.
Still, the more I looked at the coin, the more I was convinced it was real. I decided that the porous area was on the planchet when it was struck, as these were unpolished blanks, of course. All five 1913 Liberty Head nickels have tiny features such as porosity, small planchet flaws, and so on. The porosity unfortunately happened to be right in the middle of the "money" digit. This porosity likely was the main factor that led to Stack's conclusion in 1963 that this was an altered date. However, we knew that the other four 1913 Liberty Head nickels were in Baltimore for display at the ANA. A meeting was arranged to examine them to compare to the Walton nickel and erase all doubt about its legitimacy -- or declare it an altered date, once and for all.
As we adjourned our little gathering, Paul, Mark, and I told the family that we were 98 percent certain that their coin was real, but would want to compare it to the other four. David Hall, Jeff Garrett, and Fred Weinberg were also enlisted to help authenticate the coin. There was a problem with the timing, as the four 1913 nickels were being shown at a reception that evening and would not be available until late that night, as the next day there were to be placed in the exhibit area of the ANA. We had to have a late-night get-together or we would have to look at the coins in an exhibit case. Some of us arranged to meet in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency that night and proceed to the Convention Center to examine the five coins. I headed back to the coin show and only told my daughter Paige what had just transpired. I also told her that I thought it was real, and that I had not even shown the Walton family the seven altered-date coins that were in my pocket.
After the show we had our usual evening meal, but I still told none of my friends what had transpired that morning. Even though the three of us had agreed it was likely real, we wanted to be certain before telling the numismatic world that the fifth 1913 Liberty Head nickel had been located. Around 11 p.m., I saw David Hall checking in to the Hyatt, and he joined us as we walked over to the Convention Center for the meeting. Inside the room was a table with the four 1913 nickels and the Walton example waiting for us. The National Numismatic Collection example was there, of course, along with two stone-faced Mint security guards, whose gaze never left the NNC coin. Millions of dollars' worth of coins was on the table, so their attention was riveted on the government's example.
One by one, we each examined the five coins. After scrutinizing, the group almost in unison announced that the Walton example indeed was real. We then started discussing aloud the reasons that we came to this conclusion. Fred Weinberg noted the ejection lines on their edges were very similar, while I noted that the variation in strike on the reverse corn could probably indicate the striking order. They ranged from full corn, with kernels very sharp, to almost no kernels present on a nearly flattened ear. The theory I presented was that in the haste to strike the five coins, the minter had not fully tightened the dies into the press. As the coins were struck, the dies loosened and the strikes became progressively weaker.
After another few minutes of discussion, the group disbanded, each heading to their hotel room after a very full day at the ANA! It was difficult to fall asleep for me, as there are few moments in your life that present you with such a momentous opportunity. Looking back on the experience, it felt like a dream or a movie. The authentication of the missing 1913 Liberty nickel was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a cliché that rings true this time!
The 2003 ANA Convention in Baltimore was already a memorable one for me before I received the call from Paul Montgomery to stop by his table. During the Professional Numismatists Guild bourse that day, I had bought and sold several great coins, and business was fantastic. I was excited to be in Baltimore for what would prove to be one of the most exciting ANA Conventions ever. I had no idea how exciting it could actually be. When I approached the table of Bowers and Merena, Paul asked if I could help him with something. After telling him that I would be happy to help, he said "I think we have a winner." I immediately knew what he was talking about. Bowers and Merena had come up with what I thought was a publicity stunt. They were offering a $10,000 reward for anyone who could produce the famed 1913 Liberty nickel for authentication. Paul told me the story of how they believed that the missing 1913 nickel had been found, and he asked if I would be part of the team to authenticate the coin. Talk about honored. I could not say "yes" fast enough! Paul told me that a meeting had been set up to examine the coin around midnight after the annual PNG banquet.
During the awards banquet, I was deeply honored to have been given the Abe Kosoff Founders Award for contributions to the Guild and the numismatic fraternity. Ironically, I was presented the award by Paul Montgomery, who had served on the board of the PNG with me for several years. The night only got better when I also received the Robert Friedberg Literary Award for my book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Normally, these incredible honors would have been all that was occupying my thoughts. But in the back of my mind, I could not help but think of the excitement to come.
Later that night, around midnight, I received a call to meet at the Convention Center for the authentication session. Normally I would be very tired by then, but the adrenaline kept me wide awake. After being let into the Convention Center, I met with the others who had been asked to attend. I spoke with Paul and John Dannreuther about my concern of being asked to authenticate such a high-profile coin. I asked if anyone had done a background check on the family who had shown up with the coin. For a million dollars, con men can be pretty creative. I was assured that the family was who they said they were, and after meeting them, my doubts were quickly alleviated. The family was as genuine as the coin proved to be.
Because of the event held earlier in the evening and in an effort to draw crowds to the show, the four known examples of the 1913 Liberty nickel were all in Baltimore. When the team of authenticators sat down at the conference table, all five 1913 Liberty nickels were together for the first time in 60 years. I had seen all four of the known coins at one time or another, but not together. I was extremely curious about the state of preservation of the Walton nickel. I wondered if the coin was an obvious proof, or some sort of hybrid, which those others appear to be. I wanted to examine the fabric of the coin and examine for any signs of tampering. I looked closely at the 3 and did a careful side-by-side comparison of all five coins. It was not long before any doubts were erased. Based on the coin's pedigree and all physical evidence, the team quickly came to the conclusion that we were all looking at the fifth 1913 Liberty nickel that had been missing for decades! It was a dream night for me that I will always cherish.
We came up with the idea to offer a $10,000 reward just to see the "missing" 1913 Liberty nickel. When we made the announcement of the reward, we had no idea that someone would actually have the coin. Like everyone else, we assumed it was lost. But when I got the word that the Walton heirs supposedly had the coin, I figured there was a good shot it truly was the real missing coin. I arrived at the show very late at night and was one of the last of the expert team to actually see the coin. My level of anticipation was sky-high, of course. The minute I saw the coin, I knew it was real. After I examined it closely under magnification, we took a poll of the experts, just to be sure. We all thought it was unquestionably the real thing. And we were fortunate enough to have the other four known specimens in the room with us, since they were being displayed at the show. The discovery and authentication of the Walton 1913 Liberty nickel is definitely one of the highlights of my career, a dream come true! I was in the same room with all five examples of the most famous U.S. coin. I was in the same room as some of the most knowledgeable coin experts of all time, all of us participating in an event for the ages.
Moments after we initially examined the coin, Mark Borckardt, John Dannreuther, and I realized the coin was indeed genuine; I began to panic a bit. Now what do we do? I knew I wasn't ready to "officially" declare the coin was authentic. After all, I had a million bucks at stake, and I was still trying to wrap my head around what had just happened to us. We were sitting in a storage closet, for Pete's sake! This is not where you declare a find like this!
I'm not sure whose idea it was, but the realization that the other four coins were at the show gave me my out. It simply made sense to pull in a few of my friends so we could make an absolute declaration of the coin's authenticity. With my best poker face on, I told the family that I was "pretty sure" this was the real deal but wanted to be 100 percent sure before any announcement was made.
It was with a very shaky hand that I wrote out a merchandise receipt and walked away with a multimillion-dollar coin. I was really surprised at the time that after knowing the family for only a few minutes, they were willing to let me walk away with their coin. I decided the more secure place for it (until I could assemble the team) was in the safe behind our table at the convention. (Funny sidebar is that my staff worked in and out of that safe all day long with zero knowledge the coin was in there. I have caught a lot of grief over the years because of that one, but it was absolutely essential that we kept the discovery a secret until we could assemble the team.)
Assembling the team: My choices seemed obvious. First, Mark Borckardt is among of the finest numismatists in the history of the hobby and was my executive vice president. John Dannreuther was my mentor in my early years and taught me much of what I know of numismatics. They were a lock to be part of the team. Next, David Hall clearly needed to be there. A world-class coin grader and the cofounder of PCGS, David was an asset to the team. Next, I solicited the help of two trusted friends, Fred Weinberg and Jeff Garrett. Beside the fact that I trusted each, both Fred and Jeff have credentials that far outclass 99 percent of our industry participants. What a team! What a blast!
Fred and Jeff were kind of fun, because at first I didn't want to tell them about the coin. I was very coy while asking them if they would join me at midnight for "something special." Both of them pushed back a little until I capitulated and shared the story of the morning's discovery. The actual authentication was the easy part. Mark, JD, and I were already convinced of the coin's genuineness, and we knew in our hearts that Jeff, Fred, and David would know beyond a doubt, too. Even then, it took us 45 minutes to be absolutely certain. We were like kids with a new toy. Each of us had something different to contribute and we "played" for much, much longer than we needed to. We got to a stopping point and David polled us out loud, starting with me. I replied "genuine," as did everyone else. History was made. It was the greatest moment of my career, and I will never forget it.
Being part of the team that authenticated the missing Walton 1913 nickel was, and still is, one of the absolute highlights of my 41-year career in numismatics. The late-morning conversation with Paul Montgomery on PNG Day, waiting through the day and through the PNG Banquet, and the midnight walk across the street are still sharp in my mind. I had never participated in something so exciting, so different, so significant, so late at night! I'd like to talk a bit about my contribution to the event that night.
Right after the team had unanimously declared the authenticity of the Walton nickel, and electricity was still in the air, I took a deep breath to try to absorb what we had just done -- and I quickly realized that in addition to declaring the nickel genuine, we had not only the other four known specimens right before us, but that three of them were "raw" and uncertified as far as being encapsulated in plastic holders.
The three "raw" coins were the Smithsonian nickel, the ANA coin, and of course the Walton specimen. Here was a chance to examine the edge of three of the coins at the same time -- the first time in about 60 years that all five coins were back together, and possibly the very last time it would be possible to do what I was thinking -- examine the "plain edge" of the coins. When I mentioned this to the others at the table, they didn't at first get what I was talking about -- a plain edge was a plain edge, after all!
However, due to my experience and knowledge of the minting process, I knew that even plain-edge coins would have evidence of being struck in a collar -- what I called "ballistic lines" that were fine, vertical marks on the edge, caused by being ejected from a collar that held the planchets. These lines would be similar to those ballistic marks that are on a bullet as it exits the chamber of a gun.
Asking permission, and then slowly and carefully gathering the three "raw" coins in my hand, I aligned them so that the dates of all three coins were in the same position as I held them on the edge; then I took a close look with my magnifying glass and proceeded to look for those matching "ballistic lines" on the edges of the three coins.
It wasn't that I was surprised to find them, it was that I immediately knew that by finding these lines, I was able to proclaim that all three "raw" coins -- and in all probability the other two also -- were indeed struck at the same time in the same collar. If these fine lines on the edge did not match, it might have meant that they were struck at different times, possibly using different collars, rather than the accepted "late night" striking for all of them in one event.
Finding these fine line marks in the exact same place on the edges of the three coins confirmed what was thought to be true, and was the last time that such a comparison would be able to be conducted. I'm glad I thought of it at the time -- and that it might be an important aspect of these coins in the future.
My thanks to all involved 10 years ago -- and for the opportunity to be able to say that not only was I one of a select few numismatists to examine all five 1913 Liberty nickels at the same time, but also hold three of them in my hand at the same time!
6. The Nickel Reunion
In April 2003 the headquarters of the ANA was buzzing with preparations for the reunion of the four 1913 Liberty head nickels at our Baltimore show in July. As director of the Money Museum, I was tasked with designing a traveling exhibit for the coins as well as coordinating the loan of the Smithsonian's specimen of the nickel.
Things were moving forward relatively smoothly until May 23, when Paul Montgomery and Bowers and Merena made the announcement they would pay $1 million for the missing Reynolds specimen of the 1913 nickel. While Montgomery did not really believe the missing nickel would emerge, all agreed it was a brilliant publicity campaign for both the ANA and Bowers and Merena.
However, because of the law of unintended consequences, Montgomery's announcement instantly set off a barrage of thousands of phone calls from people who believed they owned the missing nickel. At the time, the association still offered a counterfeit detection service, so even though the ANA did not receive as many phone calls as Bowers and Merena, we still fielded hundreds of calls coming in to that phone line, which rang at my desk.
Thus, while everyone else was pleased with the excitement of the offer, I was personally irritated with all of the nickel hoopla, as it dramatically increased my workload at a time when I was trying to work on the four genuine 1913 nickels, not deal with hundreds of fake ones. My desk always seemed to be covered with scores of pink phone messages from irate callers wanting to know where they could pick up the money for their nickel.
In returning the calls, I always started with the assumption that the nickel under discussion was a fake. My only task was to educate the owner as to why their nickel wasn't the real one. In doing so, I developed a pretty short checklist of diagnostics to look for in spotting a real coin versus a counterfeit. Basically, there was only one thing on the checklist: the shape of the 3 in the date.
On genuine 1913 Liberty nickels (and I use the term advisedly), the number 3 punch used does not match any other typeface used by the U. S. Mint on any other coin date. The original punch was hand-cut and is uniquely identifiable. Conversely, virtually every unsophisticated counterfeit 1913 nickel is made from an altered date of a genuine issue. Usually 1910-dated coins were used, but also 1912 and a few other dates; metal was pushed around and a new date created from an old.
The ANA had over 50 different fake 1913 Liberty nickels at the time, so it was not a new phenomenon. On the bright side, every altered-date coin was likewise unique unto itself, and thus the number 3 in altered-date specimens could be a lot of different shapes, but it would never match every curve and serif and line of a the real 3. Once people compared a photo of a genuine coin with their own, they could see the difference and many were grateful for the numismatic lesson. Many, not all.
In late May, one of my pink telephone messages said to call a reporter from the Roanoke Times by the name of Mason Adams. When I reached Adams, he asked if it would be a big deal if the long-lost Reynolds nickel was found. I assured him it would be a huge event in the world of coins, a modern-day treasure story. He thought he might have some leads there in the Virginia area he would check out. I told him what little I knew of the situation and told him he might want to call Beth Deisher, the editor of Coin World.
Little did I know this telephone call would set off a flurry of other calls that eventually linked me with the owners of the Reynolds-Walton nickel. For Deisher provided Adams with new clues on the ownership of the missing nickel, through which he was eventually able to reach the Walton family. And the Walton family had the 1913 Liberty Head nickel that was deemed a fake after the death of their uncle, George Walton.
In June 2003 I received a call at the ANA from Ryan Givens, who said his uncle was a coin collector who was killed in a car wreck, that his uncle had at one time owned a 1913 Liberty nickel, and that the family still had the coin and wanted to know if it was genuine. Beth Deisher at Coin World had told them to call me. Could I help?
Now, of course, my assumption was that this is yet another altered date 1913 nickel. I thought the inclusion of a car wreck showed a little more historical research than most of the other claims of provenance I had heard -- and dropping Beth Deisher's name also counted for a few points. So I was at least polite in telling Ryan I would be happy to take a look at his coin if he would send me a scan.
After a little more discussion (including the fact that Ryan used to keep the coin next to his bed at night), Ryan called his sister, Cheryl Myers. He said Cheryl was the most computer-savvy in the family, and since she would also be the one taking the scans of the coin, I should just talk with her directly.
Cheryl and I hit it off immediately. She and Ryan had studied the nickel for years and felt sure it was genuine. She was not going to be lightly dismissed. In her soft Virginia accent, she told me the most important thing was that George Walton's name was vindicated: He claimed he owned such a nickel, and the family knew he was not a man to lie. The family didn't care about the money: They cared about George's reputation.
Within a few days, Cheryl sent me some photos of the Walton coin. I thought it looked promising, but of the five people I initially showed the photos to in Colorado Springs, only one thought there was any chance the date looked right.
I had the ANA specimen of the nickel to look at, and I also had high-resolution photographs of the other three genuine nickels to compare. It seemed to me that not only was the date right, but the denticles lined up under the date in exactly the same spot on all five coins.
In the final weeks leading up to the Baltimore show, I was emailing and talking with Cheryl almost daily about her nickel. I would ask her a question about some detail of her nickel, or she would ask me a question about our nickel, and we would compare notes. According to our trail of emails, on July 21, just a few days before the Baltimore show was to open, I ask her to look at the ears of corn on the coin's reverse. She told me that her heart dropped because she saw they were fuzzy, mushy in detail. I didn't tell her at the time that the lack of detail in the corn was actual one of the last diagnostics on my list. We had worked one by one through them all -- and the Walton coin had passed every one.
Since that time, several other definitive characteristics of genuine 1913 nickels have been found, including a wire rim that shifts between coins, and ejection marks on the coin's edge. Also, if we had access to Eric Newman's notes from when he owned the coin, we would have focused on a small dot on Liberty's neck opposite the hanging curl, a detail he noted when he owned the coin.
The thing about authentication is that it is often easy to tell a fake: A single missed diagnostic like a blobbed 3 can instantly destroy a coin's credibility.
But to authenticate a coin, to prove that it is genuine, usually takes some time and several sets of eyes. A genuine coin must pass multiple tests (weight, specific gravity, die characteristics, etc.) before it can be authenticated. As far as I could tell, the Walton specimen looked really good. But it was not up to me or the ANA to make that call, because we weren't the ones putting up a $1 million reward. I reported to Donn Pearlman that the coin looked promising, and that he should have someone take a much harder look at it. I then turned my attention back to finishing up the exhibit case for the Baltimore show.
My directive to build a traveling exhibit for the reunion of the four Liberty nickels had one major limitation: The case was already designed and built, and I would have to work around its size and shape. Further, the exhibit case was in Maryland and had been designed to display comic books, not coins. Though I had photographs of the case, I would not actually see it until the night I installed the exhibit. This was shaping up to be a curatorial nightmare.
After spending so much time up close and personal with the Walton nickel, I decided I would hedge my bets and design the exhibit case so it could display either four or five coins, depending on how it went with the authentication. The default display showed four places for the four coins that were sure to be there; an additional panel that could be laid atop the base panel contained information about the Walton coin and could be added as needed.
Besides the four nickels, I also was able to obtain the custom-made case that Eric Newman had made to hold all five nickels when he owned them. I had worked with Eric before on two other museum projects, and he was always gracious to share his numismatic treasures with others. We also added a few other artifacts and objects relating to the nickels and some sensitive but unobtrusive security sensors to the case -- no one wanted to leave anything to chance.
I shipped the panels on ahead (they were too big to take with me on the airplane) and arrived in Baltimore at the opening night just in time to help install the four nickels before the party began. Using up what little political capital I had, I invited the Walton family -- Cheryl Myers, her husband Gary, her brother and sister Ryan and Bette Givens -- to attend the party as well. I thought they should get to meet the other owners of 1913 Liberty nickels and to see the exhibit case that might one day hold their own coin.
The party was every bit as swank as promised, but everyone "in the know" was looking forward to what happened after the party -- the authentication session back at the Convention Center.
As the party wound down, the room where the nickel display was kept was closed off and the four nickels were pulled out, each to find its own way through the night back downtown. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I noticed there was actually a convoy of museum personnel, ANA officials, and lots of security vehicles all heading the same way down the highway. If only those people looking on had any idea what was in those vehicles ...
The midnight authentication session had every bit of the cloak-and-dagger feel that other descriptions of the night have so nicely captured. It was late, it was dark, and the place was a warren of hallways filled with large men with guns. My duties were to arrive before the authentication team and prepare the examination area by setting up lights, laying down a tablecloth, laying out gloves, and so on. It was also my duty and pleasure to collect each of the nickels from their custodians and lay them out on the table, including the Walton nickel in its custom holder. This was my own chance to quickly examine the Walton nickel "in person." After talking about it and seeing photos of it for so many weeks, actually holding it in my hand was almost a visceral experience.
After much milling about and general disorganization -- for who could have planned such an event? -- the room was finally cleared of all but essential personnel. This left only curators, cops, and coin geeks; even the family members were excluded.
The authenticators got down to work, we curators made small talk, and the cops just watched everyone. Once the unanimous opinion the coin was genuine was reached, the family was sent for and filed back into the room. As soon as she walked into the room, Cheryl looked at me, and I gave her a wink: The coin was genuine. She was already pretty sure from the morning meeting that the coin was real, now she was about to be officially told it was genuine by Paul Montgomery, the million-dollar man himself.
After the congratulations and general euphoria eased, Ryan, Cheryl, Paul, and I had a discussion about exhibiting the Walton coin with the other four specimens at the show opening the next day. The family quickly gave their permission, logistics were ironed out, and everyone went home to prepare for the grand opening. Most people did not get much sleep.
The next morning before the opening of the ANA Convention, I once again had a chance to study the five 1913 Liberty nickels together, this time in depth.
Without doubt, I believed the Walton coin to be genuine. After we sealed the coins back in the display case (which had been hauled to the convention center in the middle of the night), the convention opened right on schedule. Because news of the fifth nickel's appearance had broken, there were immediately long lines of people waiting to look at the nickel display. Throughout the day and for the rest of the convention, there was rarely a time when there were not multiple people waiting to look at the case. I have designed several major exhibitions of coins, including two different Class I 1804 dollars, the plugged 1794 dollar, the Brasher doubloon, and the 1933 double eagle. But other than possibly the "Ship of Gold" exhibit, I have never seen more interest and actual excitement for an ANA exhibit than the reunion tour of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Besides a great publicity coup for the ANA, it was also the pinnacle of my public museum career.
As the convention drew to a close, I suggested to the family the advantages of placing their nickel on loan to the ANA. Now that they and their nickel were famous, they would be the target of everything from curiosity seekers to criminal minds. I had the proper museum loan paperwork with me, made out for a one-year loan, to be renewable if both sides were agreeable to an extension.
The family had not discussed the possibility of loaning the coin to the ANA, but they knew Uncle George had stated he wanted it to go to a museum after he passed away. They decided to sign. It is an example of the family's faith and trust in this mutual relationship with the ANA that this loan document has been renewed every year since, for nine years in a row.
After I left the ANA, I have continued to stay in touch with Cheryl Myers and the family and to follow the story of the Walton 1913 Liberty nickel. In 2006, their nickel was placed on exhibit at the ANA's Denver convention, and I again got to meet up with the family and talk about old times. I was even able to help them crash another swank party: Frederick Mayer's private exhibition of his Colorado territorial gold coins. This party also led to a Heritage auction, but that is a story for a different time ...
When she autographed my copy of Million Dollar Nickels, Cheryl wrote that "the 1913 will always have a value, but not our friendship -- it is priceless." For the first and only time in my life, I would dare to disagree with Cheryl: I would say our friendship was worth at least a nickel.
7. True Treasure
The single most exciting moment in my professional life happened in the form of a simple announcement. For 20-plus years I met with countless individuals and families who all believed they had found or inherited collections of coins worth thousands to even millions of dollars. Quite frankly, I disappointed all of them. That is, until the summer of 2003.
On a hot summer night in Baltimore, Maryland, I told a family that a single coin hidden away in a closet for more than 40 years was worth millions. In fact, I will never forget my words: "The coin is genuine, it's worth much more than a million dollars, and God bless you." It still gives me chills to think about it. But there was more to be revealed.
Early that same year, I was named president of the official auction company for the 2003 ANA. As part of our promotion for the ANA event, our publicist, Donn Pearlman, called and said "Hey Paul; would you pay a million bucks for the missing 1913 Liberty nickel?" I immediately responded "of course I would," but I also knew the coin did not exist. It soon became clear that he simply wanted me to put out a reward for the coin to promote the auction. I lost interest but allowed him to push forward and write a press release. What he delivered to me was in keeping with the great work Donn does, but the release sat in my inbox for three weeks and I almost didn't use it for fear it would be viewed as gimmicky and beneath the image of the company. When I finally let it fly, I revealed our strategy to my then vice president, Mark Borckardt, who merely laughed and said, "It will never work."
Well, it did.
We discovered a coin that had been missing and presumed lost forever, shared the good news with the family, and then braced ourselves for what was coming. You see, families, as a rule, can never get together on matters of money, especially newfound wealth measured in millions of dollars. I knew from experience that this is exactly the kind of deal that tears families apart. This, coupled with the knowledge that every coin dealer in the country would be looking for an angle to move in and get a piece of the deal, made it clear to me this family would surely be up against a wall soon.
So far from the truth.
Soon after the discovery and as the fanfare began, I began a 10-year adventure with Ryan Givens, his sisters Cheryl and Bette, and Cheryl's husband, Gary Myers. Many others have joined the journey, but the five of us have connected in ways families and coin dealers simply don't.
I must admit that in the beginning my motivation was the same as the others, wondering how our company could further profit from the discovery. Instead what I found was a family so down to earth, unimaginably uninterested in the value of the coin, and with absolutely zero thoughts of selling anytime soon. That would leave anyone scratching their head a little, much less a coin guy.
Amazingly, I discovered a family interested only in sharing their discovery with the rare coin world. I found a family interested in sharing the legacy of their "Uncle George"; so interested, in fact, that we've spent the last 10 years proclaiming the greatness of the pure "collector" that personified George Walton. What a blessing. I knew everything moving forward was going to be a blast!
It wasn't until my next trip to Baltimore for a coin show that we saw each other again. We spoke on the phone often, but we never needed to involve the coin because we knew it had been properly housed, insured, and displayed at the ANA museum in Colorado Springs and was NOT FOR SALE. What we did next was have fun. We went from city to city regaling anyone interested in the story about "our" coin, the history, the discovery, and the enigma that existed because the coin was not for sale. We love sharing the story and will continue to do so for many years to come. We still can't see each other without reliving the experiences. We have done seminars and dinners, ad hoc interviews in front of the display at shows, and even a television show called "Accidental Fortune" on The Learning Channel.
As a veteran coin dealer, my life has been filled with wonderful stories of treasure. I've bought and sold collections held for years and years. I have sold collections I helped build and collections put together by others. I've bought coins found buried in the ground for centuries and even some found on the bottom of the ocean. All these have qualified as treasure and hold a special place with me.
The Walton specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel is indeed a treasure. In anybody's book, anyone's life, this coin is something to treasure. But of all the "deals" I've experienced in my life, I will always cherish my journey with this remarkable family.
Someone else is going to own this coin soon. The new owner will have the privilege of being part of numismatic history. I hope he or she will also know the legacy, because what they buy is much more than a coin. It is a story of true treasure.
8. Telling the Story
The Million Dollar What?
Collaborating with Paul Montgomery and Mark Borckardt on writing the book Million Dollar Nickels sits on the top shelf of my collection of Most Memorable Experiences. The months-long undertaking was a fascinating highlight of my long writing career.
When Paul called me one spring morning in 2003 to say he was putting up a million bucks for a missing nickel and would pay $10,000 just to be the first person to see it, my first thought was, "Paul's been working too hard." Not being a coin collector, I didn't know the storied history of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels and couldn't imagine how a lowly nickel could conceivably be worth that much.
Even after he explained that the American Numismatic Association was working to reunite the four nickels whose whereabouts were known for display at a major upcoming numismatic event and he wanted to lure the fifth one -- which hadn't been seen for more than 40 years -- out of hiding, I still didn't get it.
After the call, I googled the topic to find out what all the fuss was about. Having worked on many writing assignments for Paul, mostly dealing with world events and their impact on the precious metals markets, I knew him to be a serious, highly regarded numismatist who would not be throwing around such generous numbers if it wasn't something important. I found the 1913 Liberty Head nickel story intriguing and began to understand why Paul was making such a bold offer for the missing nickel.
I put the matter on the back burner and forgot about it until Paul called again in August 2003 to say excitedly, "We found it!" "Found what?" "The missing nickel!"
It didn't sink in at first what he was talking about, let alone why it as such a big deal. But as he related the incredible and improbable tale of how the long-lost fifth nickel had actually been discovered and its authenticity positively established, I was astonished at how it all came about. The sequence of events sounded like the very tight script of a TV docudrama. Little did I know that the discovery event was only a small part of a much larger detective story that stretched in multiple twists and turns of intrigue all the way back to 1913.
The best part for me was that I was going to have the opportunity to investigate and document this amazing mystery story. Paul said he wanted me to work with him and Mark on writing a book chronicling the discovery of what is now known as the "Walton nickel," after George Walton, the mysterious coin collector/trader who had last owned the coin before it disappeared.
We started with several days of interview sessions in which Paul and Mark filled me in on details of how the actual discovery of the Walton nickel took place at the ANA's big World's Fair of Money show in Baltimore. They talked about meeting with George Walton's heirs who had a nickel they believed was the missing one, about the skepticism the coin experts had at first about the coin presented to them for inspection, about their excitement at realizing that it probably was in fact the elusive coin, and about the midnight session in a darkened exhibit hall under the stern gaze of armed guards as a team of authentication experts officially declared the coin to be the famous lost nickel.
Feverishly filling page after page of notes, I wanted to know names and contacts of people involved not only with the Walton nickel, but with the other four of its siblings as well. Over time, the list kept expanding as new leads in the story were uncovered in my research. Eventually I would interview more than 70 people whose lives had been touched by these famous nickels and who had a story to tell about their relationship with them.
As a noncollector, I came to the assignment with a clean slate, unbiased by the mythos and misinformation that dominated the conventional numismatic lore with regard to the Walton nickel. The deeper I got into this captivating story, the bigger it got, expanding beyond the Baltimore discovery to the winding, twisting enigma of the Walton nickel's puzzling disappearance and mistaken identity, and growing further to include the colorful folklore surrounding all the coins, going back to their as-yet unfathomed origins shrouded in impenetrable shadows. I felt at times like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes with the game afoot, chasing down each new clue either to a dead-end or to another teasing clue leading in a different direction.
The journey opened doors for me to get to know a veritable Who's Who of the numismatic world, including top officials of the ANA, key contacts at the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Mint, and a host of numismatic luminaries, among them nearly all of the living current and previous owners of each nickel and the members of the team that joined Paul and Mark in authenticating the Walton nickel -- John Dannreuther, Jeff Garrett, David Hall, and Fred Weinberg. One of my most delightful memories is of our two-day interview session with the legendary Eric Newman, the last person to own all five of the famous nickels at the same time, who graciously opened his home and his treasure trove of documents about the nickels (many of them previously unpublished) to Mark and me.
The most rewarding experience to come out of this extensive research process was getting to know and ultimately to become friends with the heirs of George Walton, who suddenly found themselves famous as the owners of a celebrated nickel steeped in controversy. Two of the family members, Ryan Givens and Cheryl Myers, were especially helpful in filling in many of the missing blanks regarding George Walton. They provided invaluable documents that revealed previously unknown facts about Mr. Walton's life and relationship to their celebrity nickel. I found them to be modest, unassuming, gracious, and a bit bewildered by being thrust unceremoniously into the spotlight of fame. My relationship with them blossomed into friendships that I treasure.
I confess to a twinge of sadness that this chapter of the Walton nickel, in which I was fortunate to be involved in a small part, is coming to a close as the mantle of ownership will soon pass to a new owner. At the same time, I'm rather envious of whoever has the good fortune to take custody of this famous coin. If the flamboyant history of these audacious coins is any predictor of the future, the new owner will be in for one whale of an adventure!
9. History of the 1913 Nickels: The Set Period 1913-1942
The ownership record of the fabled 1913 Liberty Head nickels can be divided into two distinct time frames: the "Set" period, referring to the 24-year time period from 1919 to 1943 when the five coins changed ownership as a set, and the "Single" period, after which the set was broken up and the coins acquired by separate owners. The ownership pattern of the nickels is fairly straightforward while they remained as a set. The pedigree trail becomes more complicated, however, when the coins were split off individually. The present section deals with the provenance of the five coins while they were still a set.
Samuel W. Brown
Samuel Brown, an employee of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia from December 1903 to November 1913, was the first person to hint at the existence of the 1913 nickels. Brown promoted the 1913 Liberty nickels in a sophisticated ad campaign beginning in 1919, when he advertised to buy any specimen of the nickel for $500 in the December 1919 issue of The Numismatist. Brown repeated the ad in the January, February, and March 1920 issues of that magazine, raising the offer to $600 to buy an example. His offer to buy a 1913 Liberty nickel was obviously a marketing ploy (and a brilliant one), as he already possessed all five coins!
Numismatists have subsequently speculated on Brown's involvement in the production of the five Liberty Head nickels, but no direct evidence has yet surfaced to corroborate it. What is known is that he displayed one of the nickels at a December 1919 meeting of the Chicago Coin Club, and all five nickels at the August 1920 ANA Convention in Chicago, perhaps to prove they existed. In any event, this was the first time the public got to view an actual 1913 Liberty nickel. The October 1920 issue of The Numismatist, noting the appearance of the nickel for the first time, stated: "... a few pieces -- believed to be five -- in proof were struck." The most obvious source for the number of coins existing was Brown himself.
Following the 1920 ANA Convention, Brown left one of the coins with Alden Scott Boyer, president of the Chicago Coin Club and future president of the ANA. Brown published a letter in the January 1921 issue of The Numismatist asking Boyer to return the coin because he had a deal to sell it to an unnamed party. This may indicate the timeframe when Brown actually sold the nickels, but it might also be just another publicity tactic.
The next public announcement about the whereabouts of the 1913 Liberty Head nickels appeared in an ad by Philadelphia coin and stamp dealer August Wagner in the December 1923 issue of The Numismatist. The same ad appeared in the January and February 1924 issues.
According to Gloria Peters and Cynthia Mohon, authors of the 1995 The Complete Guide to Shield & Liberty Head Nickels:
"There were five liberty Head nickels offered for sale -- and possibly three 1913 Buffalo nickels. The five Liberty Head coins were displayed in an eight coin holder made of soft leather and hard paper board with flaps lined with high quality fabric, all in black. The price was $2,000 for the set - and whether the Buffalo pieces were in the holder at the time of this sale is unknown; however, it is considered likely."
The Wagner ads are significant for two reasons: They offer the 1913 Liberty Head nickels for sale to the public for the first time, and they state publicly for the first time that there are five, and only five, of the coins.
It is unknown whether Wagner was an agent for Brown and selling the five nickels on consignment, whether he bought the five nickels from Brown, or whether he even knew Brown. In other words, there may have been an interim owner (or owners) between Brown and Wagner.
According to Walter Breen and Q. David Bowers, Stephen Nagy of Philadelphia was next in the chain of custody of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Just when Nagy acquired the coins from August Wagner is unknown, though it is thought to have occurred between 1924 and 1926. Peters and Mohon take a dim view of Nagy:
"... who had a reputation of cultivating mint employees and officers for his own gain, and the amazing ease that he managed to 'locate' these five extraordinary improbable coins would speak to his unethical involvement at the very least in the brokerage of these coins."
The two authors further intimate that Nagy could have been party with Brown in a plot to produce and market the coins. Nagy "could have become acquainted with Brown during the latter's (mint) employment."
Breen and Bowers indicate that New York coin dealer Wayte Raymond acquired the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels from Nagy solely for the purpose of placing them with Colonel E.H.R. Green circa 1926. Raymond described himself as a "dealer in rare coins of all countries."
Colonel E.H.R. Green
Col. Green held the five 1913 Liberty nickels that he acquired from Raymond in 1926 until his death on June 8, 1936. Much to the consternation of contemporary numismatists, Green had a penchant for holding on to anything he acquired. As mentioned in Million Dollar Nickels, "He had the nickels, was not interested in marketing them, and may not have really paid that much attention to them since they were but a few trinkets in his vast hoard of treasures."
Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green was the son of Hetty Green, the famous "Witch of Wall Street" who at one time was considered the richest woman in the world. Col. Green was an avid collector of many things and vies with King Farouk, who later owned two of the nickels, as the most eccentric coin collector of the 20th century. The coins passed into his estate in 1936, along with the rest of his collections, and remained there for several years. It required eight armored trucks to transport Green's various collections to a secure location after he died.
Eric Newman and Burdette Johnson
Eric Newman and Burdette Johnson were the last to own the entire set of 1913 Liberty Head nickels, acquiring them from the estate of Col. Green. Newman and Johnson formed an informal partnership to acquire Green's collection, which included Missouri National Bank notes, some 600 nickels, along with the five Liberty nickels and three Buffalo nickels in a leather case. Newman was liaison with the estate's executors, The Chase Manhattan Bank. The asking price for the 1913 Liberty nickels was $500 apiece. Johnson thought it risky to buy them at that price and suggested to Newman that they offer $500 apiece for two specimens, then offer $333 each for the other three. Newman wrote Chase Bank:
"... I have decided to buy the Nickel Collection offered for $2,000, which includes all regular issues, patterns, mis-strikes and mutilations except three of the five 1913 Liberty Head Nickels. When you remove from the little black case the two 1913 Liberty Head Nickels for me (as well as the three Buffalo Nickels in that case) I want two bright perfect specimens of the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels. With respect to the three excluded 1913 Liberty Head Nickels, I will buy them if you will accept $1,000 for them."
On December 18, 1941, the Bank's vice president wrote Newman that his original purchase was on the way, and that his offer for the remaining 1913 Liberty nickels was accepted. Those three coins were shipped to Newman on or about December 29, 1941.
Newman ended up with the "pick of the litter," the 1913 "Brilliant Proof" specimen (which has become known as the Eliasberg specimen). He also kept the leather case. Johnson transferred sole ownership of this coin to Newman on March 11, 1943, who kept the coin until November 2, 1948, when he sold it to Abe Kosoff for $2,000. Kosoff then sold the piece to Louis Eliasberg, Sr., for $2,350 in December 1948.
Beth Deisher reported in the June 11, 2001, issue of Coin World that Newman recalled that he and Johnson thought the 1913 Liberty nickels could be fakes. He also noted "the five 1913 Liberty Head five-cent coins appeared to have been struck on different qualities of planchets, possibly whatever was available to the person who struck them, and that they were of different conditions."
The authors of Million Dollar Nickels state that "it is commonly and incorrectly reported in the numismatic lore that the 1913 Liberty Head nickel set was broken up and distributed in 1942, but Johnson's inventory record shows transactions in March 1943." Specifically, Johnson sold two of the coins to James Kelly on March 11, 1943, for $750 each. He sold a third piece to Kelly on March 17 for $750, and the fourth specimen to F.C.C. Boyd on April 22, 1943 for $1,000.
Thus ended the "Set" period of the five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. They would not be seen again together until the July 2003 ANA Convention in Baltimore.
10. B. Max Mehl and other Promotional Efforts
Mark Van Winkle
Since its striking a hundred years ago, the 1913 Liberty nickel has been the object of high-visibility promotion. The subject of promotion is an interesting one in itself, and there are coins that are rarer than the 1913 Liberty nickel but relatively affordable. There are other coins that are of equal rarity, such as the 1885 Trade dollar, but not valued anywhere near what a 1913 Liberty nickel is. The general rule of promotion in rare coins requires that a coin be relatively available. That has never been the case with the 1913 Liberty Head. It has remained largely unavailable throughout much of the past century, yet its legendary rarity and the cachet of ownership have been used continuously to promote not merely the coin itself, but its owners and those who would seek ownership.
Samuel Brown was the first to promote the 1913 Liberty nickel when he offered to pay $500 for an example, when he knew perfectly well that he had all five specimens in his possession. In 1923 and 1924 August Wagner then offered to sell the same five 1913 Liberty nickels that Samuel Brown had previously advertised to buy. What is unclear is whether Wagner actually owned the five coins or was trying to sell them on speculation. His ads in The Numismatist certainly increased the visibility of the 1913 Liberty nickel among serious numismatists. Around the same time, certainly by 1925, B. Max Mehl began to advertise his willingness to pay $50 for a 1913 Liberty nickel in his Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia.
Mehl was a legendary coin dealer in the early half of the 20th century and probably did more than anyone else to popularize the hobby of coin collecting in those formative years. His offer to pay $50 for what sounded like a common coin caused innumerable people to examine their pocket change for potential rarities. But Mehl was not really looking for a 1913 Liberty nickel. He knew where all five coins were. What he was interested in was creating the perception of rarity in the minds of the public and instilling a curiosity to know how much their pocket change was worth -- enough curiosity to cause them to part with $1 for the purchase of a copy of his Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia.
Abe Kosoff, the "Dean of American Numismatics" and founder of the Professional Numismatists Guild knew Mehl well. In his 1981 book Abe Kosoff Remembers ... he recounts how Mehl used ads, cartoons, and radio programs to sell his Star Encyclopedia:
"Mehl was the pioneer in the use of the comic strip for advertising purposes. One of his most productive went something like this: In Panel 1 -- John and Jane walk along the campus, hand in hand, and both are sad. John has just said, 'My summer job fell through. That means I will not be back to school in the fall.'
"In Panel 2 -- John says, 'Well, let's go into the Malt Shoppe for our last soda together.' They enter the Malt Shoppe. Panel 3 -- The come out of the Malt Shoppe. John has some change in his hand. 'Look, Jane. This funny looking dime I just got in my change.' Jane excitedly answers: 'Hurry. Let's go to my house. Junior has the Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia.'
"In Panel 4 -- Two weeks later. John is seen running to meet Jane. He is waving a piece of paper. "It looks like a check. IT IS a check! 'Jane, Jane, look! I sent that dime to B. Max Mehl in Fort Worth, Texas, and he sent me a check for $400. Now I can come back to school in the fall.' "
"Corny? Sure it is but it sold Star Coin Encyclopedias like hot cakes."
If corniness sold Star Rare Coins Encyclopedias in the print medium, it was even more pronounced in his radio broadcasts. Again Kosoff:
"For years, Mehl sponsored a 15 minute radio program on the Mutual Network. In the New York area, where I lived, we got it via station WOR, Newark, N.J. It was on prime time, about 7:15 in the evening, following the sports broadcast which featured the famous Ford Frick.
"For 15 minutes, there followed a dramatization. The cast included the widow, her beautiful daughter, the villain who held the mortgage on the old homestead, and B. Max Mehl. Mehl's part was played by a later-famous movie star. The widow was delinquent in her mortgage payment. The villain would not foreclose if little Nell, the beautiful daughter, would marry him. Curses, a fate worse than death!
"Pleading came to no avail. The hard-hearted villain would marry Nell or foreclose on the mortgage. The widow was at the end of her resources. The villain, twirling his waxed mustache, grinned in anticipation. But wait! Hidden in an old pocket book was a coin left to the widow by her dying father. Could it be? Could it save little Nell? Let's send it to that big coin man in far-away Texas. Sure enough, the little old coin was worth more than enough to save little Nell."
On numerous occasions, Mehl stated he had spent more than a million dollars over 25 years to advertise the rarity of the 1913 Liberty nickel. Mehl had a particular knack for tapping into the public's dreams of fortune, a knack that was especially appealing to Depression-era Americans and one that served Mehl well; he sold millions of copies of his various editions of the Star Encyclopedia over decades of publishing. Dr. Conrad A. Bolt looked back over his 50 years in the hobby in 1962 and mused, "The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia by B. Max Mehl which cost $1 was obtained where budgets could afford this sum. Seldom were any coins bought, but many hours were spent in study and building air castles." The 1913 Liberty nickel was especially well-suited to such dreamy pursuits, as the general public knew little or nothing about the coins other than that Mehl would pay $50 for one.
In reality, the five examples of the 1913 Liberty nickel were worth many times Mehl's published price. In the 30 or so years he advertised and promoted the coin, he only handled one example. Mehl sold the Olsen coin twice at public auction, once in the Olsen sale in 1944 and again as part of the Will W. Neil Collection in 1947. Both times it realized the same price, $3,750.
B. Max Mehl may have been the longest-lived promoter of the 1913 Liberty nickel, but he certainly wasn't the only one. While Mehl used print and radio to advertise coins and specifically the 1913 Liberty, the Olsen coin, later owned by LA Lakers owner Jerry Buss, reached an even wider audience. It was used as a "central character" in a 1973 episode of Hawaii Five-O, appropriately titled "The $100,000 Nickel." The actual coin was seen in close-up shots, but other scenes used a "stunt double."
James McDermott owned the example, later bought by Aubrey Bebee and now housed in the ANA. He exhibited it for many years and was known to carry it loose in his shirt or coat pocket (today it is graded PR55). He would occasionally take it out and show it to a bartender, telling him and anyone else within earshot it was one of only five known and very valuable. When criticized about the way he handled the coin he would reply, "It's mine, ain't it?" Later McDermott encased the coin in a plastic holder. He alternately raised, then refused many cash offers for his coin. McDermott was generous, however, in publicly exhibiting his coin at many coin shows over the years he owned it.
The most recent promoter of the 1913 Liberty nickel, specifically the present Walton specimen, was Paul Montgomery. In 2003, while president of Bowers and Merena Galleries, Montgomery offered $10,000 just to view the missing fifth 1913 Liberty nickel and $1 million to buy it. The coin had not been seen for more than 40 years, and many assumed it had been lost in the deadly car crash that took George Walton's life in 1962. However, unlike Mehl's many promotional efforts from previous decades, the Walton heirs brought their uncle's coin to the 2003 ANA Convention, where it was subsequently authenticated and is now being sold for the first time ever at public auction.
11. Provenance Record of the Five 1913 Liberty Nickels
The 1913 Liberty nickels were struck sometime between November 1912 and February 1913. All five coins were acquired by Samuel W. Brown at an early date, although he may not have been involved in the actual striking. The coins were kept together from the time of issue until the early 1940s, when the set was broken up by Eric Newman and Burdette G. Johnson. By the time Eric Newman purchased the coins, and probably for a long time before that, the five Liberty nickels were displayed in a custom-made leather case, along with three coins of the Buffalo nickel design. Circumstantial evidence points to Brown as the original owner of the case and all eight coins, but this is uncertain.
The 1913 Liberty nickels were widely dispersed beginning in 1943, and the coins were not seen together again until the 2003 ANA Convention, when the long-missing Walton specimen was miraculously rediscovered. All of the nickels have been prized by important numismatists over the years. The roster below records the illustrious history of each coin down to the present time.
Roster of 1913 Liberty Nickels
1. Eliasberg Specimen, PR66 PCGS. Philadelphia Mint, circa 1913; Samuel Brown, before 1919; August Wagner; Stephen K. Nagy, circa 1924; Wayte Raymond, circa 1924; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate (12/1941); Eric P. Newman and Burdette G. Johnson; Eric P. Newman (11/1/1948); Numismatic Gallery (12/16/1948); Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1976); Eliasberg estate; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, Part I (Bowers and Merena, 5/1996), lot 807; Jay Parrino; ANA National Money Show Auction (Superior, 3/2001), lot 728; Dwight Manley (2003); Edward C. Lee (2005); Legend Numismatics (2005); Legend Collection (Bruce Morelan); Orlando Sale (Stack's, 1/2007), lot 1599; anonymous California collector.
Retained by Eric Newman for his personal collection until 1948, when Abe Kosoff persuaded him to sell it so he could place it with Eliasberg. The finest of the five 1913 Liberty nickels.
2. Olsen Specimen, PR64 NGC. Philadelphia Mint, circa 1913; Samuel Brown, before 1919; August Wagner; Stephen K. Nagy, circa 1924; Wayte Raymond, circa 1924; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate (12/1941); Eric P. Newman; Burdette G. Johnson (3/1943); James Kelly (1943); Fred E. Olsen; Olsen Collection (B. Max Mehl, 11/1944), lot 1551; King Farouk; Mail Bid sale No. 2 (Numismatic Fine Arts, 5/1946), lot 1058, unsold; Farouk retained ownership; Will Neil Collection (B. Max Mehl, 6/1947), lot 2798; Edwin Hydeman Collection (Abe Kosoff, 3/1961), lot 280, unsold; Edwin Hydeman (1972); World-Wide Coin Investments; World-Wide Coin Investments and Bowers and Ruddy Galleries; World-Wide Coin Investments; Robert L. Hughes Enterprises (1977); Superior Galleries (1977); Dr. Jerry Buss Collection (Superior, 1/1985), lot 366; Reed Hawn Collection (Stack's, 10/1993), lot 245; Spectrum Numismatics; Nevada investor (7/2002); Bruce Morelan and Legend Numismatics (2004); John Albanese and Blanchard & Co., Inc.; private collection; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2010), lot 2455, realized $3,737,500; private collection.
The Numismatic Fine Arts catalog of May 1946 has not been widely studied by later numismatists. It is the first auction catalog to mention a possible sixth specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel, probably based on an account in the May 1935 issue of the Numismatic Scrapbook, which describes the exhibition of "six to eight" nickels at the 1920 ANA Convention. Circa 1975, Bowers and Ruddy Galleries purchased a half interest in the Olsen specimen, but then had second thoughts and sold their share back to World-Wide. Continental Coin Corporation is sometimes mentioned in the provenance of this coin following World-Wide Coin Investments. However, Warren Tucker states that World-Wide Coin Investments sold the coin directly to Robert Hughes.
3. Walton Specimen, PR63 PCGS. Philadelphia Mint, circa 1913; Samuel Brown, before 1919; August Wagner; Stephen K. Nagy, circa 1924; Wayte Raymond, circa 1924; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate (12/1941); Eric P. Newman; Burdette G. Johnson (3/1943); James F. Kelly (1943); Dr. Conway Anderson Bolt (1945); possibly "Reynolds" (1945 or 1946); George O. Walton (1962); Melva W. Givens (1992); Givens estate, including four heirs (2003); on loan to the American Numismatic Association, exhibited at the Dwight Manley Money Museum and at coin conventions nationwide (2013); returned to the Givens heirs. The present coin in its first auction appearance.
This specimen was believed lost from March 9, 1962, until July 30, 2003. The remarkable story of its loss and recovery is detailed here and in the book Million Dollar Nickels by Paul Montgomery, Mark Borckardt, and Ray Knight.
4. Norweb-Smithsonian Specimen, PR60. Philadelphia Mint, circa 1913; Samuel Brown, before 1919; August Wagner; Stephen K. Nagy, circa 1924; Wayte Raymond, circa 1924; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate (12/1941); Eric P. Newman; Burdette G. Johnson (4/22/1943); F.C.C. Boyd (1944); Numismatic Gallery (1944); King Farouk (1952); Government of Egypt; Palace Collections of Egypt (Sotheby's, 2/1954), lot 1695; Abe Kosoff and Sol Kaplan (1954); Emery May Holden Norweb (1978); National Numismatic Collection, Smithsonian Institution.
This coin has been the highlight of many famous collections and was undoubtedly owned by more illustrious public figures than any other specimen.
5. McDermott-ANA Specimen, PR55 NGC. Philadelphia Mint, circa 1913; Samuel Brown, before 1919; August Wagner; Stephen K. Nagy, circa 1924; Wayte Raymond, circa 1924; Colonel E.H.R. Green; Green estate (12/1941); Eric P. Newman; Burdette G. Johnson (3/1943); James F. Kelly (1943); J.V. McDermott (1966); Elizabeth McDermott; ANA Convention (Paramount, 8/1967), lot 2241; Aubrey and Adeline Bebee (1989); American Numismatic Association.
McDermott famously carried this coin as a pocket piece, accounting for its lightly circulated appearance.
12. Biographies of Selected Past Owners of the 1913 Liberty Nickel
Aubrey Bebee (1906-1992)
Born in Huntington, Arkansas, Bebee moved to Chicago after graduating from high school. In 1930 he married Adeline Dorsey, a long distance operator at his employer, Illinois Bell. He entered the coin business in 1939. His firm thrived, and he relocated to Omaha in 1952. Bebee was a founder of the PNG in 1955 as Charter Member No. 1. On August 11, 1967, Bebee purchased the McDermott specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel at a James Kelly auction for a then-world record price of $46,000. Aubrey and Adeline both participated in the Assay Commission, respectively, in 1971 and 1969. Bebee acquired the Idler specimen of the 1804 dollar in a 1985 Superior auction. He eventually donated both famous rarities to the ANA, in addition to a remarkable collection of paper money.
F.C.C. Boyd (1886-1958)
Frederick Cogswell C. Boyd was born in New York City. His origins were humble. He apprenticed as a printer at age 13 but found greater success as a traveling salesman. Eventually, Boyd became a vice president of the Union News Company. He was ANA Life Member #5 and for decades served as an officer of the New York Numismatic Club. He was also a coin dealer and auctioneer. He appraised the numismatic estate of Col. E.H.R. Green, and in 1943 he purchased one of Green's 1913 Liberty nickels, later known as the Smithsonian specimen. He sold the famous rarity to Abe Kosoff the following year. The U.S. portion of Boyd's vast and comprehensive collection was auctioned by Kosoff's Numismatic Gallery between 1945 and 1946, billed as "The World's Greatest Collection." In 1956, Boyd donated his world numismatic holdings, 13,552 pieces, to the ANS. Boyd's early American and exonumia holdings were sold to his friend, John J. Ford, Jr.
Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1896-1976)
Louis Edward Eliasberg was born in Selma, Alabama. He moved to Baltimore in 1907. His career as a banker was highly successful. He married Hortense Kahn in 1927, and they had two sons, Louis Jr., born 1929, and Richard, born 1931. Eliasberg began collecting in the 1920s and soon aspired to form a complete U.S. coin collection. A major step toward this goal was the acquisition of the Clapp family estate in 1942. One by one, Eliasberg added all the great rarities to his collection, including the finest known 1913 Liberty nickel, which he purchased from Abe Kosoff in 1948 for $2,350. Eliasberg's famously complete collection was exhibited in Philadelphia and other cities in 1976, the year of his death. His collection of gold coins was auctioned by Bowers and Ruddy in 1982, and Bowers and Merena auctioned the remainder of his principal U.S. collection, including the 1913 Liberty nickel, in 1996 and 1997. His world holdings were auctioned by American Numismatic Rarities in 2005. Heritage auctioned a consignment from the Eliasberg estate in 2007.
King Farouk (1920-1965)
Farouk was born in Cairo as the great-great-grandson of Muhammad Ali, founder of a dynasty in 1805 that ruled Egypt and Sudan. At the age of 16, Farouk became King of Egypt, the 10th ruler of the Ali Dynasty. Farouk was initially a popular ruler, but that changed even before Egypt's defeat in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Farouk lived lavishly, and among his many collections was an important holding of U.S. coins, especially patterns. At one time he owned two 1913 Liberty nickels, the Smithsonian and Reed Hawn specimens. The former was in his collection when he was overthrown by General Gamal Abdel Nasser in a July 1952 coup. Farouk was exiled but his collection remained in Egypt, where it was auctioned by Sotheby's in 1954. The 1913 Liberty nickel was acquired the following year by the Norwebs. Farouk settled in Rome, where he gained considerable weight and died in 1965 following a heavy meal.
Abe Kosoff (1912-1983)
Kosoff was born in New York City, and his career as a numismatist began in 1929. He soon gave up plans of becoming an accountant, and by 1937 was a full-time dealer under the business name of Numismatic Gallery. Kosoff became a leading auctioneer, handling, among many other properties, the F.C.C. Boyd and Hydeman collections. Abner Kreisberg became his partner in 1944, though they parted ways in 1954, following the Farouk auction in Cairo. Kosoff moved to California in 1948 and founded the Professional Numismatists Guild in 1954. He was associated with Dr. J. Hewitt Judd's pattern reference through its early editions. In 1967 he appraised the gold collection of Josiah K. Lilly, which was donated to the Smithsonian in return for a tax credit. In his later years he helped the ANA transition from a descriptive to a numerical grading standard. He died from a brain tumor in 1983.
Kosoff played a role in the pedigree of three different 1913 Liberty nickels. In 1943 he purchased the eventual Smithsonian specimen from F.C.C. Boyd and promptly sold it to King Farouk. In 1948 he coaxed a different 1913 Liberty nickel, the finest known, from its owner Eric Newman, and sold it to Eliasberg. In 1961 he acquired the Hydeman specimen at auction and held it until 1972, when it was sold to World-Wide Coin Investments..
J.V. McDermott (1898-1966)
Gregarious coin dealer James V. McDermott was born in Iowa. For many years, he was the best-known owner of a 1913 Liberty nickel, since it went with him to countless coin conventions, where he was always the center of attention. McDermott purchased his 1913 Liberty nickel in 1943 for $900 and kept it until his death in 1966, turning down many lucrative offers in the interim. His famous nickel was eventually auctioned by James Kelly of Paramount International and acquired by Aubrey Bebee.
Emery May Norweb (1895-1984)
The future Mrs. R. Henry Norweb was born in Salt Lake City. Her grandfather Liberty Emery Holden was owner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, and a portion of the family wealth went into an important coin collection principally formed by her father, Albert Fairchild Holden. Emery May's interest in numismatics began at an early age. She joined the ANA in 1914 and was a member for nearly 70 years. In 1917 the United States entered World War I. Her fiancé, Raymond Henry Norweb, became a diplomat stationed in Paris. She married him there that same year and worked as a nurse in French hospitals. Their son was born in a cellar in Paris during an air raid in 1918.
After the war Mrs. Norweb steadily improved the collection she inherited until it was one of the finest American holdings. In 1955 Mrs. Norweb acquired a 1913 Liberty nickel, the former Farouk "Palace Collection" example, from Sol Kaplan. Also in 1955 she served on the Assay Commission, and in 1968 became the first woman on the council of the ANS. The Norwebs donated a Brasher doubloon to the ANS in 1969. In 1978 they donated their 1913 Liberty nickel to the Smithsonian to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. The Norweb U.S. collection was auctioned by Bowers and Merena between 1987 and 1988. The Canadian collection was sold by that firm in 1996 and 1997. The Washingtonia collection was auctioned by Stack's in 2006.
13. Walton Family History
Mark Borckardt with Cheryl Myers
The earliest use of surnames in Europe dates to approximately the 11th century and continued to develop into the 15th century. Prior to that time, most people lived in small villages or rural areas and had little need for more than a given name. According to the AAG International Research website (www.intl-research.com): "The acquisition of surnames during the past eight hundred years has been affected by many factors, including social class and social structure, cultural tradition, and naming practices in neighboring cultures."
Surnames derived from a variety of sources, such as the name of parents, the location where one lived, or one's occupation. For example, Richard Johnson literally meant Richard, the son of John. William, who worked as a blacksmith, became William Smith. Certain ancestors of this writer have the surname Bretland, thought to originate at an English location known as Bretland or Britland.
The origin of the Walton surname is speculative, although the name most likely derives from a location and is closely related to Wolton. There may have been a lost medieval village of Walton, or the name might be topographical, deriving from a town near a forest, combining "wald" (woodland or forest) with "tun" (town or hamlet). One unsubstantiated explanation suggests that the family came from a town with a wall built around it. Spellings of surnames have changed throughout the centuries, and Walton may have had several spellings. The genealogists at AAG International Research report: "Among the humbler classes of European society, and especially among the illiterate, individuals had little choice but to accept the mistakes of officials, clerks, and priests who officially bestowed upon them new versions of their surnames, just as they had meekly accepted the surnames which they were born with."
The Internet Surname Database (www.surnamedb.com) reports an early use of the name: "The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Odo de Wolton, of the county of Oxford. This was dated 1273, in the register known as 'The Hundred Rolls,' during the reign of King Edward 1st, 1272-1307." That name clearly indicates a place called Wolton.
More recently, according to the 1891 England and Wales Census, most Walton families in England lived in the northern part of the country. The three English counties of Yorkshire, Durham, and Lancashire were home to 68% of all Walton families in that country. The Walton family in the United States, according to the 1920 Census, lived in the Southeast, with 15% of all Walton families living in Georgia, Virginia, or the Carolinas.
One of the earliest Walton immigrants to America, possibly the first, was John Walton of Virginia whose name appears in records in 1623. Perhaps the most famous Walton in American history was George Walton (1741-1804), who signed the Declaration of Independence, while the most famous Walton in American numismatic history was George Owen Walton (1905-1962) who owned the Walton 1913 Liberty nickel.
The Walton Family in America
While the exact date is uncertain, George Owen Walton was born just after the beginning of the 20th century, between 1903 and 1907. His death certificate records May 15, 1907 as his date of birth, while his gravestone shows May 15, 1905. In the absence of confirming records, the 1905 date is used here, being reasonably consistent with Census records. He was born in Franklin County, Virginia, likely on or near the family farm at Little Creek, a few miles northwest of Rocky Mount, southeast of Roanoke. His parents, James W. (Jimmy) Walton and Roberta (Bertie) Walton, née Austin, were married circa 1902. Nothing is known of Roberta Austin or her family.
George Owen Walton was a descendant of several Colonial Virginia families, including those with the surnames of Walton, Penn, Leftwich, and Callaway. He was indirectly related to the George Walton of Declaration fame and may have been related to William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania.
George Owen Walton was the great-great-grandson of William Walton (1749-1845) and Mary Leftwich (1758-1824). They were the parents of William Leftwich Walton who was born on December 28, 1794, and married Nancy White, who was born in 1796 and died on September 20, 1856. These Walton ancestors are buried at the Walton Cemetery in Salem, Virginia.
George Walton and his siblings were descendants of the Colonial Virginia Leftwich and Callaway families from the late 17th century, and descendants of the Leftwich family of Cheshire, England. Internet family trees exist that follow the Leftwich family through the years back to the 14th century and earlier, although documentation seems questionable.
The Callaway Family of Virginia and England
There is much to be learned about the Callaway family at www.callawayfamily.org http://www.callawayfamily.org , the website of the Callaway Family Association. A medieval family tree traces the surname to the middle 14th century and traces the family to Brionne de Gilbert, who died prior to the year 1000. In recent years, much genealogical speculation has been proven through DNA testing, and the Callaway Family Association was one of the first to adopt the new process.
One of George Walton's fifth great-grandfathers was Joseph Callaway, whose wife is identified as Catherine Browning. He was a planter in the vicinity of present-day Caroline County, Virginia, formerly known as Essex County. The location is eastern Virginia, just south of Fredericksburg. Joseph Callaway may have been born in Virginia, although England is more likely. He was born about 1680 and died about 1730. His father was apparently also named Joseph and is considered the Callaway family immigrant who appears in Virginia records as early as April 1687. A family note suggests that the younger Joseph and his wife, along with a son, all died within a six-week period due to an unknown illness. His orphaned children, including William Callaway, eventually moved west to Bedford County, Virginia, between present-day Roanoke and Lynchburg.
The son, William Callaway (1714-1778), was a leading landowner and public official of Bedford County and was one of the first white settlers on Big Otter River, about 1740. He represented Bedford County for 13 sessions in the House of Burgesses and served as a colonel in the French and Indian War, being granted 15,000 acres of land for his service. He donated 100 acres of land for the Bedford County Courthouse in New London; his portrait hangs in the Bedford County Circuit Court.
The first son of William Callaway and Elizabeth Tilley was James Callaway (1736-1809), who is considered the founder of Rocky Mount, Virginia, where he operated lead mines and an ironworks. Like his father, James represented Bedford County in the House of Burgesses, and he served in the French and Indian War. He was later active during the Revolutionary War, supplying lead for Continental forces. In later years, he served as a trustee and the first treasurer of New London Academy, founded in 1795 and still operating today. James Callaway and his first wife had 12 children born between 1757 and 1773, including James Callaway, Jr. (1768-1851). The elder Callaway reportedly had 10 other children, born between 1778 and 1796, with his second wife.
James Callaway, Jr., was born in Bedford County on January 23, 1768, and died in Callaway, Franklin County, in August 1851. He is given the title of captain, reportedly for his service as a captain in the Bedford County Militia during the Revolutionary War, although he would have been just 13 years old at the end of the war, suggesting a problem with his birth date or with documentation. James Callaway, Jr., was a planter, landowner, and slave owner, who was educated at the College of William and Mary. He was married to Elizabeth Greer, who was the daughter of Moses Greer. They were the parents of nine children, including Miranda Ellen Callaway.
Miranda Ellen Callaway was George Walton's great-grandmother. She was born at Franklin County about 1816 and died in 1879. She married James Maston Williams Leftwich, and they were the parents of five children, including Elizabeth Ann Leftwich.
Known as Bettie, Elizabeth Ann Leftwich was born in Franklin County, Virginia, about 1849 and died about 1881. She married Samuel W. Walton on November 1, 1870, and they were the parents of four children. Samuel Walton was a farmer who lived his entire life in Franklin County. He was the son of William L. Walton and Nancy White, born in April 1835 and died after 1900. Samuel and Bettie Walton were the parents of four children, including James W. Walton. Little is known about the parents of Samuel Walton, although the middle name of his father is sometimes given as Leftwich, suggesting that Samuel Walton and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Leftwich, may have been distant cousins.
James W. Walton was a farmer who lived in Franklin County. He was born there on August 1, 1872, and died in 1946. Walton was married to Roberta Austin about 1902, and they were the parents of six children, including George Walton and Melva Walton Givens. Known as Bertie or Berta, Roberta Austin was born in 1888 and died in 1960.
The Leftwich Family of England and Virginia
Information about the Leftwich family is gleaned from the website of the Leftwich Historical Association, Leftwich.org. George Walton's grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Leftwich, was descended from the Leftwich (or Leftwiche) family of medieval Cheshire County, England. A seventh great-grandfather of George Walton was Ralph Leftwich, believed to be the Leftwich immigrant to Virginia, who was born about 1628 and died about 1712. He resided in the vicinity of New Kent County, Virginia, near present-day Richmond. His wife is sometimes identified as Elinor, and they were the parents of Thomas Leftwich.
Thomas Leftwich was born sometime during the 1660s in New Kent County, Virginia. He was married first to Elizabeth Rosier, who died at a young age before any children were born. His second wife was Mary North, who was born in Essex County, Virginia, in 1686. After the death of his second wife, Thomas remarried Sarah, who is further unidentified. Thomas Leftwich and Mary North were the parents of at least three children, including Augustine Leftwich.
Augustine Leftwich, Sr., was born in New Kent (Caroline) County, Virginia, about 1712 and died in Bedford County prior to June 1795. All 12 of Augustine's children, including his first son, William Leftwich, were born to his first wife, who remains unidentified. Active in Bedford County politics and civic matters, Augustine was a large landowner who gave a substantial plantation to each of his children. He served as a sergeant in the French and Indian War circa 1758.
William Leftwich was born in New Kent County about 1737 and died in New London, Bedford County, Virginia, on May 31, 1820. He served as a colonel during the Revolutionary War. He was married to Elizabeth Haynes, who was born about 1740. They were the parents of eight children, including William Leftwich, Jr.
William Leftwich, Jr., known as Black Head, was born on March 10, 1768, and died on June 16, 1848. He was married to Frances Otey (1772-1825), who was the daughter of John Otey and Mary Hopkins. The couple were the parents of 12 children, including William Ballard Leftwich. Following the death of his first wife, Black Head was married two more times and had one child with his second wife.
William Ballard Leftwich was born on March 3, 1795, and died on October 25, 1867. He had six children with his first wife, Sarah Champe Williams (1799-1844), who was the daughter of James Maston Williams. Leftwich was married again to Charlotte Hagerman.
James Maston Williams Leftwich was born in May 1823 and died on February 12, 1902. He was married to Miranda Ellen Callaway and they were the parents of six children, including Elizabeth Ann Leftwich, who is discussed above.
The history of the Walton family and related families in Colonial America extends to the formative years in the American Southeast, and to England before that. Primarily engaged in farming activities, family members were involved in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, as well as other aspects of American history.(Registry values: N1) (NGC ID# 278P, PCGS# 3912)
Weight: 5.00 grams
Metal: 75% Copper, 25% Nickel
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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