Coin experts offer $1 million reward for missing 1913 Liberty Head nickel

By DAVID TIRRELL-WYSOCKI, Associated Press Writer
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A nationwide bounty hunt is under way -- with a $1 million reward. The target: a 90-year-old nickel.
After being born of questionable, some say clandestine, circumstances, five 1913 Liberty Head nickels surfaced in the 1920s. Two are in private collections, two are in museums, but the whereabouts of the fifth has confounded collectors for at least 40 years.
"There's a little bit of gimmick to it," concedes Paul Montgomery, president of Bowers and Merena Galleries of Wolfeboro, N.H., which is offering the reward. "But it's all about trying to find the coin."
The Liberty Head Nickel was minted from 1883 to 1912, when it was replaced by the Indian or Buffalo Nickel.
Five Liberty nickels, however, were minted illegally in 1913, possibly by a mint official. They were never placed into circulation and for many years were considered illegal to own because they were not a regular issue.
In 1996, Bowers and Merena auctioned one of the 1913 nickels for $1.4 million, the first coin to sell for more than $1 million. It is because of that price that the company is offering at least $1 million for the missing nickel.
"Everybody in the industry would love to see it," said Montgomery.
As one story goes, the coin may have been owned by a North Carolina dealer killed in a car crash in 1962. Part of the mystery is a theory that the dealer was carrying the coin to a buyer named Reynolds.
People have searched the roadside, said Lawrence Lee, curator of the American Numismatic Association Money Museum, which owns one of the nickels.
"He was killed on his way there," Lee said. "Did the Reynolds' family actually get it? Was it in the car wreck?"
Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World magazine in Sidney, Ohio, said a nickel was recovered from the wreckage, but it was not one of the original five. The date had been altered.
The dealer "claimed to have access to the genuine, through a client named Reynolds," she said. "We believe he had an altered date coin he often carried with him and put on display."
Lee said many have claimed to have the missing coin.
"There are lots of counterfeits," he said. "We have maybe 50 examples in the museum."
Lee believes publicity from the reward offer will get people to start looking for it again, and maybe it will show up in an estate or a grandmother's attic.
He figures if the owner knows about the coin, "they couldn't resist, sooner or later, bragging to somebody or selling it to somebody."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)