George Huber submitted this answer to Pete Mosiondz, Jr.'s query about the "old wives' tale" regarding the car crash that killed dealer George O. Walton in 1962. Thanks! Pictured at left in Walton's nephew Ryan Givens, holding a fake prop 1913 Liberty Nickel used in the filming of Accidental Fortune for The Learning Channel.
I write to set the record straight, hopefully once and for all, concerning the question of whether George Walton's coins were "scattered all over the highway" after his fatal car crash. It was widely, and wrongly, reported at the time that this was so; apparently numismatists aren't the only ones who don't let facts stand in the way of a good story. Many people's recollections are probably based on all of that inaccurate reporting at the time of Walton's untimely death.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing Ryan Givens, Walton's nephew, back in February 2013 for the Heritage offering of his family's famous 1913 Liberty nickel. While others at Heritage had known Givens much longer -- particularly Mark Borckardt — it was a signal honor for me to get to know this modest, charming man and help the Heritage team relay his uncle's story in what we believe to be a faithful and accurate manner.
The words of Ryan Givens from the Heritage catalog should suffice:
George Walton's nephew, Ryan Givens, was interviewed specifically for this tribute to his uncle and his remarkable, storied nickel in February 2013. Givens said he believes his uncle was actually carrying around $90,000 worth of coins at the time of his death, and that the reported figure of a quarter-million dollars is an exaggeration. "The story grew in the telling, but it wasn't true." Givens said. "Even Uncle George wouldn't have carried that much around at one time. But $90,000 was a ton of coins back in 1962. And he had the nickel, which he didn't show all the time, but he had the nickel. It was recovered, still in its plastic holder."
Police arriving at the scene identified Walton from a newspaper clipping and realized the coins were valuable. All of the coins he carried were recovered and impounded for the estate in a local bank vault. Most of Walton's coins, including many more that did not accompany him on his fatal drive, would be auctioned by Stack's. Unfortunately, later in 1962 the famous Walton 1913 Liberty nickel would be returned from Stack's, which had consulted with unidentified "authenticators" at the ANS who pronounced the coin a counterfeit -- incorrectly, as it turned out much later, in 2003.
Givens added, "Another part of the story that is untrue is that the coins were scattered across the highway after the wreck. When the nickel was 'missing,' they would all go down where they thought the accident was and look around on the ground, because they thought it might be there. But according to the bank, none of it was scattered on the highway. It was still in the car."
"Especially when the nickel was 'missing,' then you think, 'Well, OK, where is it? It was in a wreck; it might have come out of the car.' And people work that. But people still quote that, that the coins were scattered along the highway. I just saw it the other day in one of the stories. There are parts of the story that will stay out, no matter what. I believe it was John Dannreuther who said, 'In the numismatic world, somebody says something and it becomes fact. When it's repeated, it becomes absolute fact.'
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
QUERY: WERE WALTON'S COINS REALLY SCATTERED ON THE HIGHWAY?
ACCIDENTAL FORTUNE: THE WALTON 1913 NICKEL EPISODE
Wayne Homren, Editor
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