Family believes missing coin under Nevada freeway

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- If John Finney is right, no one will ever claim the $1 million bounty offered by a New Hampshire coin dealer for a rare 1913 Liberty Head nickel.

Finney, of Bend, Ore., believes the coin vanished under tons of concrete when his mother's girlhood home in Sparks was razed in the early 1960s to make way for a freeway overpass.

The story, he said, "started way back in the '20s and has been in the family forever," Finney said Tuesday by telephone. "I remember hearing about it when I was 8 years old."

The Liberty Head was minted from 1883 to 1912. But five Liberty nickels were minted illegally in 1913, possibly by a mint official.

They were never placed in circulation and for a time were considered illegal to own.

Two are in private collections and two are in museums. The whereabouts of the fifth has been a mystery.

Bowers and Merena Galleries of Wolfeboro, N.H., is offering a $1 million reward for the coin.

"Everybody in the industry would love to see it," said Paul Montgomery, president of Bowers and Merena, which auctioned one of the coins in 1996 for $1.4 million.

And everyone in the country who has a nickel seems to have called his company since an Associated Press story about the coin ran around the nation on Tuesday.

"It's caused a general sort of chaos," said assistant auction administrator Sue Mitchell. "We have 12 lines, and since about 9 a.m. yesterday, they pretty much haven't stopped.

"All 12 are blinking right now," she said Wednesday afternoon.

She said the company hadn't gotten any solid leads among the several thousand calls Tuesday and several thousand more on Wednesday. She hadn't heard the Finney account previously.

Over the years, many have claimed to have the missing coin but it hasn't turned up.

According to Finney, his uncle, Geno Questa, began collecting coins as a youngster and obtained the nickel in the 1920s.

"He had seven brothers and sisters and was afraid one of them would find it," Finney said. "So he hid it in one of the floor boards in the house."

When he went back to find it, it was gone.

Finney said his uncle, nicknamed Dene, talked often about the lost nickel and mentioned it again the day before he died in 1993 at age 78.

"Dene thinks what happened is one of the other kids found it and hid it in another spot," Finney said. "He searched the house but never found it."

Questa, he said, believed his youngest sister and Finney's mother, Evelyn, was the mischievous culprit.

"I was just a little girl," said Evelyn Finney, who lives in Reno.

"He hid it in my mother and dad's closet," she said. "I remember finding it. Then he said it was worth $13,000."

But Evelyn Finney, who turns 86 in June, doesn't remember what she did with it. She thinks she may have spent it on ice cream.

"I was maybe 9 or 10," she said. "I didn't look at it. It was a nickel."

But John Finney said his uncle was convinced she tucked it away in the house because she feared her older brother's wrath.

"If she spent it, it would have resurfaced," Finney said. "Why wouldn't it have shown up?"

He believes she found it, became afraid and hid it away again forever.

Sheri Slover, of the Sparks Rare Coin Co., is skeptical.

"Everybody and their uncle has a story," she said. "Everybody wants to believe.

"It's a good story, but there's a lot of them out there."


On the Net: American Numismatic Association:

Bowers and Merena:

Coin World:

Coin Gallery:

Smithsonian Press:


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