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Nickel still in 'family'

If you were about to sell something that has been in your family since 1945 or 1946, would you feel a twinge of regret?

That question helps explain the state of mind of Ryan Givens last night when the George Walton specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for $3,172,500 at the Heritage Central States Numismatic Society auction in Schaumburg, Ill.

In a ballroom packed with numismatists from all around the country, auctioneer Bob Merrill opened the coin at $2.2 million and hobbyists like me watched bids ascend in $100,000 increments. For us, following the money is second nature. With the final bid of $2.7 million, the coin went to Jeff Garrett, Lexington, Ky., coin dealer and member of the board of governors of the American Numismatic Association.

Garrett said afterwards, “I bought it in partnership with a really good friend of mine.” For a few seconds, he hesitated, thinking it better not to identify the partner at least until he notified him of his successful bid, but then he relented and identified the partner as Larry Lee of the Coin and Bullion Reserve of Panama City, Fla.

Garrett also said of the nickel, “It is one of the greatest coins at that price range.”

Givens approached Garrett outside the auction room after the sale. He is George Walton’s nephew. Along with his sister, Cheryl Myers, and her husband, Gary, he has been the family face of a nickel that had been thought lost for 41 years until they brought it to the American Numismatic Association convention in Baltimore in 2003. Six hobby experts huddled there and compared it to the other four 1913 nickels before declaring it genuine.

In a quiet voice that was out of earshot of many in the group of people around Garrett, Givens said, “I’m glad Jeff got it because he is one of the crew who authenticated it 10 years ago.”

Indeed he was, along with Paul Montgomery, David Hall, John Dannreuther, Fred Weinberg and Mark Borckardt.

But in some ways all collectors are part of the crew. We have taken a deep interest in the coin. We have admired the family for allowing the nickel to be exhibited at ANA headquarters and at national conventions for the past decade. We have appreciated their enthusiasm for organized numismatic.

In that sense, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel will never leave the family, the family of coin collectors.