In a tale that’s closer to the National Treasure movies than a typical coin-related story, the George O. Walton example of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin — presumed lost for a generation — made waves when it sold for $3.17 million at Heritage’s April 25, 2013, Central States Numismatic Society auction.
The coin was purchased by Larry Lee of Coin and Bullion Reserves, Panama City, Fla., and Jeff Garrett from Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Lexington, Ky. The auction achieved mainstream press coverage with more than 1,000 media outlets ranging from CNN to Al Jazeera reporting the auction.
The coin’s story is one that would be hard to make up: It was owned by Walton, a collector who was killed March 9, 1962, in a head-on automobile collision on a North Carolina highway en route to Wilson-Goldsboro Coin Club’s show where he planned to display the coin.
After Walton’s death his treasured coin was inaccurately identified as being an altered date piece. Considered missing by the numismatic community, It remained with his heirs for a generation.
It resurfaced and was authenticated July 29, 2003, at the American Numismatic Association’s convention in Baltimore when the 5-cent piece was examined by a panel of experts alongside the four other known examples.
After the coin was validated as authentic, the family decided to keep the coin for a decade, displaying it at the ANA’s Money Museum at Colorado Springs, Colo. It remains in the same acrylic plastic holder that George Walton had custom-made for it more than 40 years ago, and was graded at the 2013 Florida United Numismatists show as Proof 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service.
In deciding to sell the coin, the Walton heirs met with Paul Montgomery, who was part of the team that authenticated the coin in 2003. The family finally decided, in October 2012, to sell the coin and, while they had reservations, the fact that the Walton name would always accompany the coin meant that in a way, “it will always be their coin,” according to Montgomery.
It’s a story that Coin World has been following for more than 50 years. In fact, Coin World’s longtime editor Beth Deisher encouraged Walton’s heirs to bring the coin to Baltimore in 2003, and Deisher was the second person the family saw when they entered Baltimore’s convention center. In a letter published in the June 10, 2013, Coin World, the Walton family thanked the numismatic community for its generosity and kindness. ■