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1913 Liberty Head nickel fetches $3.1M

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 8:42 p.m.
An authentic 1913 Liberty Head nickel that was hidden in a Virginia closet for 41 years after its owners were mistakenly told it was a fake. The nickel is one of only five known and was sold Thursday April 25, 2013 at an auction conducted by Heritage Auctions in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Ill., for $3,172,500. (AP Photo/courtesy of Heritage Auctions.)

RICHMOND, Va. — Four Virginia siblings who never let a rare 5-cent piece slip through their fingers, even when it was declared a fake, have been rewarded for their devotion to a humble family heirloom after the century-old coin sold for more than $3.1 million.

The 1913 Liberty Head nickel, one of only five known to exist, was sold to two bidders for $3.17 million in an auction on Thursday night in suburban Chicago.

The children of the late Melva Givens of Salem will divide $2.7 million, before taxes.

While pleased with the price, which topped the pre-sale estimate by Heritage Auctions of $2.5 million, Givens' children said on Friday that it was a bittersweet parting of a coin that never should have been minted and has an improbable history.

“I guess I still feel kind of sad about it, and I'll probably feel that way for a while,” said Ryan Givens, 66, who attended the auction with two siblings. “It's been in the family for so long.”

The nickel was minted surreptitiously, discovered in a car wreck that killed its owner and forgotten in a closet for decades after it was pronounced a fake.

The coin was struck at the Philadelphia Mint in late 1912, the final year of the Liberty nickel, but with the year 1913 cast on its face — the same year the beloved Buffalo Head nickel was introduced.

A Mint worker is suspected of producing the five coins and altering the die to add the bogus date. The five remained together under various owners until the set was broken up in 1942.

A North Carolina collector, George O. Walton, purchased one of the coins in the mid-1940s for a reported $3,750. The coin was with him when he was killed in a car crash on March 9, 1962, and it was found among hundreds of coins scattered at the crash site.

One of Walton's heirs was his sister, Melva Givens. She was given the coin after experts declared it was a fake.

Givens put the coin in a box with other family items and stuck it in a closet, where it stayed until her death in 1992.

Curious, the children finally brought the coin to the 2003 American Numismatic Association World's Fair of Money in Baltimore, where the four surviving 1913 Liberty nickels were being exhibited. A team of rare coin experts concluded it was the long-missing fifth coin.

In another twist, one of its new owners was among the numismatic experts who helped authenticate the nickel in Baltimore.

Besides Jeff Garrett of Lexington, Ky., the other buyer was Larry Lee of Panama City, Fla. Garrett called the nickel “one of the greatest coins at that price range.”

Their plans for the coin were not immediately known.

“He's a real nice man,” Givens said of Garrett. “You kind of feel in a roundabout way it's still in the extended family.”

Givens and one of his sisters, Cheryl Myers, 61, celebrated their new fortune with dinner to unwind after a busy and emotional day. They plan to invest the money.

“I have no big plans to blow it,” Ryan Givens said.

They said the coin has opened many doors into their family's past and introduced them to a new circle of friends.

“We were always saying, no matter what it came to, we were ahead,” Myers said. “The money is definitely nice. We started with a nickel yesterday morning and now we have $2.7 million.”

Ryan Givens said the siblings intend to honor George Walton in some way.

As for the coin, “It's hard to realize it's not around. That connection will always be there.”

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