Read as much as you want on BostonGlobe.com, anywhere and anytime, for just 99¢.

Rare Liberty Head nickel, long dismissed as a fake, brings $3.1m at auction

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 at an auction Thursday night in suburban Chicago.

Continue reading below

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’s children said Friday 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. “It’s been in the family for so long.’’

The coin was minted surreptitiously, discovered in a car wreck that killed its owner, and forgotten 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 found at the crash site.

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

Melva 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 took 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 specialists concluded it was the missing fifth coin.

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

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week