Found! The last of the heralded 1913 nickels

A highly elusive and coveted fifth 1913 Liberty Head nickel, the final piece of the puzzle that has mystified the numismatic world for over 40 years, has at long last been identified and authenticated.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect, as in mid-June, the American Numismatic Association announced plans to reunite four specimens, two from private collections and two from museums, as a stunning display at its annual convention, the "World's Fair of Money" in the Baltimore Convention Center. This would have marked the first time the four appeared together since the 1920 ANA gathering in Chicago, over 80 years ago.

The real stunner came when the Walton heirs brought the fifth coin to the convention floor on July 29. A panel of five ANA experts was promptly picked to examine the long-missing find: David Hall, Fred Weinberg, Jeff Garrett, John Dannreuther, and Paul Montgomery. The panel discovered that the Walton coin and the four other 1913 gems were a perfect match. "This is a remarkable event, " said Paul Montgomery. "We were like a bunch of schoolboys because we solved the mystery."

Amazingly, a $1 million reward posted by Paul Montgomery, president of Bowers and Merena Galleries, proved to be more than a publicity stunt and bore fruit when descendents of the coin's original owner, dealer George Walton, stepped forward with the genuine item. The 1913 Liberty Head superstar is called "probably the most famous coin in the world" by eminent numismatist Dave Bowers. Its ultra-rarity once made it the focal point of a Hawaii Five-O TV series episode, and one specimen became the first to fetch over $1 million dollars at public auction.

The fifth 1913 nickel disappeared from the hobby after its owner, dealer George Walton, was killed in a car wreck in North Carolina in 1962. Walton's sister had placed the coin in safe-keeping after his death, having questioned its being genuine. The heirs elected to reintroduce the coin to the world only when the Bowers and Merena Galleries came forth with a $1 million bounty for the fifth uncirculated coin, with the added inducement of $10,000 just for the privilege of being the first to view it.

1913 treasure celebrates its 90th anniversary

The Liberty Head nickel was replaced by the Indian Head or Buffalo nickel after 1912, but five Liberty nickel Proofs bearing 1913 dates were minted illegally by Samuel W. Brown, a Philadelphia Mint official. In December 1919, seven years later, existence of the five nickels first came to light, coinciding with expiration of the statute of limitations for prosecuting any wrongdoing. Brown sold the coins for $600 apiece to Philadelphia dealer August Wagner.

The Walton heirs have yet to decide what they will do with the fifth Liberty Head nickel.