Rare nickel owned by Salemite expected to bring millions

SALEM, VA – A rare 1913 Liberty Head nickel that the Salem Times-Register wrote about in May 2010 is making headlines all over the world because it is expected to bring millions when it goes up for auction in April.

The nickel is said to be one of only five of that type known to exist. The stories that go with the nickel – which at first was believed to be counterfeit, the sudden death of its owner, and being hidden away in a closet in Salem for 30 years – are as fantastic as the probability of the coin’s rarity.

This 1913 Liberty Head Nickel believed to be worth millions was in a Salem closet for 30 years. Photo by Donn Pearlman

The owners are Ryan Givens of Salem and his three younger sisters and brother – Richard Givens of Richmond, Cheryl Myers and Bette Givens, who both live near Washington, D.C. The family held onto the coin even after their mother, the late Melva Givens of Salem, had been told it was probably a fake because the coin was secretly minted in 1912 but had the date 1913.

Their mother kept the coin in a box with some of her late brother George Walton’s effects after he died in an automobile accident in 1962. Walton also had ties to Craig County – indirectly – because his family owned the home originally named Green Hill near Salem where Craig County’s namesake, Robert Craig, is buried.

It was authenticated 10 years ago at a Baltimore coin show, Ryan Givens said in an interview Tuesday, and was on long-term loan to the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Col. Now it’s on consignment to a firm that has it on tour, generating excitement for the upcoming auction planned in April in Chicago.

The last time Ryan Givens saw the coin in person, he said, was at the American Numismatic Association convention in October in Philadelphia.

“We try to go to see it as much as possible, since we don’t actually have it any more,” he said. “It is always fun to watch people enjoy it.”

Their mother inherited the coin after her brother George O. Walton purchased one of the coins in the 1940s, Ryan Givens said, for more than $3,700. The coin was one of a number found at the site of his Walton’s car crash.

“I’m not surprised at the $2.5-million possible sale price,” Givens said this week. “It’s never been for sale before so it depends on what people are willing to pay for it.”

He said although he’d just as soon keep the coin, “but there are some things we need to do and we need to sell the coin first for Uncle George and his family.

“Some of my friends in the business advised us it might be a good year to sell it, because it’s 100 years old and it has been 10 years since the family discovered it,” he added.

Givens and his siblings plan to be at the auction in Chicago. As far as what he plans to do with his share of the sale price, “More than likely, it will go into the bank.” Givens, who is 66, said he does inventory and marketing work and is considering retiring.

He does have a coin collection he started when his uncle died and to which he might add a few, “but I won’t buy anything as expensive as the 1913,” he said.

This week, the story about the planned auction has been on publications and websites ranging from the “Washington Post,” to coin collecting specialty publications and the United Kingdom online “Daily Mail.”

Read Kristin Adams’ May 27, 2010, story about the nickel and a television show about rare coins that was filmed in Salem, on the Salem Times-Register’s website, http://ourvalley.org/television-show-about-rare-coin-films-in-salem.

Editor’s note: this is an updated version of the article filed Jan. 29, with additional comments from Ryan Givens.