A 5 cent American coin with a fascinating story dating back one hundred years is due to go down in the history books as one of the highest amounts ever paid for a US coin when it goes up for auction in Chicago on April 25th.

liberty nickel head - Rare US Coin, once thought a fake, could fetch $5m at auction

Experts believe bidding for the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel could top $5m due to the fact it’s one of only five known to exist and the remarkable story behind it.

Ill-gotten gains

It’s thought the Liberty Head is one of five bogus coins struck in secret at the end of 1912 by Philadelphia Mint employee Samuel Brown who altered the year on the die to say 1913, the year the Buffalo Nickel was introduced.

Pulled from the wreckage

Brown was rewarded handsomely for his efforts. He sold one of his ‘illegal’ Liberty Heads to a collector from North Carolina, George Walton, in the mid 1940s and made a reported $3,750. But events took another unexpected twist when Walton – and his coin – were involved in a car crash in 1962. Walton himself didn’t survive but his nickel did.

Declared a fake

But the story doesn’t end there. Recovered from the wreckage and passed to Walton’s sister Melva Givens, the coin was declared a fake because the date had been tampered with. Rather than throwing it away, Mrs Givens stuck it in an envelope in a bedroom closet where it remained undiscovered until her death thirty years later.

The missing fifth Liberty Nickel

It wasn’t until 2003 that experts at the World Numismatic Fair in Baltimore finally confirmed the ‘Walton’ Nickel was genuine and it was reunited with the other four coins. It is currently on loan to the Colorado Springs Museum.

A 1933 Double Eagle currently holds the US record when it was sold at auction for a cool $8m.

View The Westminster Collection’s full range of American coins.

Two weeks since America went to the polls, the history of its coinage is as rich and as varied as that of its presidents.  Discover why I believe these are 12 of the United States most iconic coins of the last 150 years … 

1. Indian Head Cent (1859 – 1909) – the first coin of America’s single currency issued surprisingly late in 1859. The cent in circulation today is still the same size and the design has only changed once in over 150 years

2. Two Cent Piece (1864 – 1873) – the first coin to bear the inscription ‘In God We Trust’ which became the US’s official motto in 1956 and now appears on most of America’s coins

3. Morgan Silver Dollar (1878 – 1921) – arguably the most famous American coin ever despite the fact it was designed by an Englishman born in Birmingham – Mr  George T. Morgan

us coins 2 - Coins that made the States 'great'

From top to bottom:
The Columbian Half Dollar
The Lincoln Cent
The Buffalo Nickel

4. Columbian Half Dollar (1892 – 1893) – America’s first ever commemorative coin issued to raise money for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.   Design marks 400th
anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492

5. Lincoln Cent (1909 – 1958) – first introduced in 1909 in honour of the 100th  anniversary of Lincoln’s birth and became famous as the first US coin to feature a  recognisable public figure

6. Buffalo Nickel (1913 – 1938) – underwent a design change in 1913 but during the Great Depression (1929-39) many coins were hoarded making them incredibly sought-after today

7. Standing Liberty Quarter (1916 – 1930) – caused outrage when it was first minted as the designer depicted an exposed breast of the Broadway actress who modelled as Lady Liberty as part of the design. Such was the uproar, the US Mint changed the design in 1917

8. Mercury Dime (1916 – 1945) – so-called because the design was mistaken for Mercury, the messenger of the Greek gods, when it was in fact a young Liberty with a winged helmet. The name has stuck in almost 100 years

us coins 3 - Coins that made the States 'great'

From top to bottom:
The Standing Liberty Quarter
The Mercury Dime
The Walking Liberty Half Dollar

9. Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916 – 1947) – often thought of as America’s most beautiful coin due to Adolph A. Weinman’s exquisite design which was later used on the ‘Eagle’ Silver Bullion coins

10. Lincoln Steel Cent (1943 only) – to preserve Copper reserves during WWII, in 1943 the Lincoln Cent was struck in zinc-plated steel but problems such as rusting saw a return to copper the following year

11. Kennedy Half Dollar (1964 – present) – in circulation by 1964 just months after the President’s assassination but the high silver content led to extensive hoarding and by 1971 was eliminated completely

12. Delaware State Quarter (1999 only) – the first in a remarkable series of coins designed to boost Americans’ interest in numismatics. ‘Delaware’ was the first specially themed ‘State’ quarter and sparked the collecting phenomenon of the decade

Are we missing something?

Is there another American coin that you think should be part of this list?