At the height of the California Gold Rush, massive numbers of people poured into the state in hopes of striking it rich. In turn, gold coins were cranked out of the San Francisco Mint with rapid-fire speed.
But one special edition $5 coin only, produced at the height of the Gold Rush in 1854, was minted just 268 times. With so few produced, and with more than 160 years having elapsed, finding another one is considered ultra-rare.
One anonymous coin collector from New England believed he possessed a rare $5 coin.
Many of the rare coins have gone missing over the years. Known as the Liberty Head Half Eagle in collecting circles, there are only three other authentic coins in known existence.
Understandably, the anonymous collector’s claim of owning a previously-unknown edition of the coin was met with skepticism. In fact, numerous coin dealers told him it was a well-executed forgery.
In hopes of getting a definite answer once and for all, he took the coin to the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the world’s largest and most respected rare coin authenticator.
“He had shown it to a few collectors and dealers at a recent coin show, but everybody said they thought it was a fake,” NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg said to PR Newswire.
NGC compared the coin to the other known examples and made a startling discovery.
“Our initial reaction on examining the coin was utter disbelief that a rarity of this magnitude could still be discovered in this era,” NGC President Rick Montgomery said.
The authentication process was meticulous and exhaustive. In addition to a side-by-side comparison of two physical coins, one of which is housed at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution, they also compared it to a photograph.
In October 1967, more than 7,000 rare coins were stolen from the collection of Willis H. Du Pont in Coconut Grove, Florida. Experts compared the coin to a photo of Du Pont’s missing coin which was last seen publicly at an auction in 1962.
“We look for common things that you’ll see between the coins,” Montgomery said. “You’ll see the four in the digit is slightly attenuated or not as high in relief as the regular part of the four.”
“We noticed that was exactly the same as the Smithsonian piece.”
After putting the coin through rigorous scrutiny, NGC had come to a conclusion that would shake the coin-collecting community to its core.
“It is a genuine, multimillion-dollar, rare coin,” Salzberg said.
The NGC’s research proved the coin in question was indeed authentic, but was not the coin stolen from Du Pont’s collection.
“It’s always incredible to find something that’s long been thought not to exist,” Montgomery said.
The owner of the coin has not announced what he intends to do with it. But after being told that his prized coin was a fake for so long, finding out it’s real was a thrill worth millions unto itself.
“It’s like finding an original Picasso at a garage sale. It’s the discovery of a lifetime,” Salzberg said to Gizmodo.
Learn more about the discovery of a lifetime! A coin that a New England man originally thought was a counterfeit has been authenticated by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as the fourth known 1854-S Liberty Head Half Eagle.
Posted by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation – NGC on Wednesday, April 25, 2018