A rare-coin dealer based in Lexington called the iconic century-old U.S. nickel he purchased Thursday on behalf of a friend the Kentucky Derby of coins.
Jeff Garrett, owner of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries in Lexington, said he represented the buyer in the purchase of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, which was once mistakenly declared a fake.
The nickel was sold at auction for more than $3.1 million Thursday to Garrett on behalf of Larry Lee of Panama City, Fla., a rare coin dealer and friend of his, Garrett said Friday morning.
The 1913 nickel is one of only five known to exist. It's the coin's back story that adds to its cachet: It was surreptitiously and illegally cast, discovered in a car wreck that killed its owner, declared a fake, forgotten for decades, then declared the real deal.
A story two weeks ago in the New York Times described the coin's unusual history:
Production of the Liberty nickel ended in 1912. In 1920, a collector made it known that he possessed five Liberty nickels dated 1913. He was vague about their provenance, but he later was found to have worked at the U.S. Mint, and researchers suspect that he created those five nickels himself at the Mint.
The nickels passed through several collectors, and in the mid-1940s, George O. Walton, an estate appraiser and coin collector, traded a variety of coins for one of those nickels. Walton was killed in a crash in 1962 while on his way to display the nickel at a show. The next year, all of Walton's coins were auctioned off in New York for a then-record total of more than $800,000 — but the Liberty nickel was rejected as a fake.
Walton's sister kept the nickel, however, and after she died, her son, Ryan Givens, kept it.
In 2003, the nickel was reappraised for the first time in 40 years, and experts unanimously pronounced it genuine — and in excellent condition.
The nickel was offered for sale Thursday by four Virginia siblings at an auction of rare coins and currency in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, and it sold for significantly more than the expected $2.5 million.
Garrett said he thought the family decided to auction this year, the 100th anniversary of the coin being minted.
"It's just exciting to be part of an iconic coin," Garrett said.
The coin will not come to Lexington, he said.
It will go from the Chicago suburbs, where it was auctioned, to Lee in Florida probably in a couple of weeks after the insurance and other details are worked out, he said.
"He is going to keep it," he said of Lee. "He has no plans to sell it."
Garrett has a financial interest in the coin, but he is not a co-owner, he said. "The financing part of it is just confidential."
Garrett, who also is founder of the Bluegrass Coin Club, co-authored the book 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.