When the American Numismatic Association's World's Fair of Money last came to Baltimore in 2003, it made history: It displayed a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, now valued at $3 million, last seen almost five decades ago.
That nickel returns to Baltimore as a part of this year's event. The association's five-day convention at the Baltimore Convention Center features educational seminars, exhibits of historical coins and a treasure hunt and trivia game for children, among many other activities.
"It's basically a giant meeting for people who have a common interest in the study or collection of money, and an opportunity for people to view and buy rare coins," said Larry Shepherd, executive director of the roughly 33,000-member association.
Shepherd said the rarest of those coins will be the 1913 nickel. The coin disappeared after its owner, George O. Walton, was killed in a 1962 car crash. An appraiser had erroneously told the coin's heirs that it was a fake, so they kept it in their Virginia closet for decades. It resurfaced in 2003 when the association held a nationwide search for the missing nickel, one of only five such coins known to collectors.
"At that time, we had a reunion tour of all of the 1913 nickels, and we were attempting to put them all together for our Baltimore show, and we were hoping that the fifth coin would turn up. And it actually did," Shepherd said.
Other highlights of this year's show are a $1 billion display from the U.S. Treasury Department, which features $100,000 bills and other high denominations. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will also display its traveling exhibit, Historic Rarities: Early United States Proof Coins.
Shepherd said the exhibit presents coins that are not usually on display to the public, such as a new proof 1818 silver half dollar and a pattern 1860 Double Eagle.
"The Smithsonian will be bringing in some major rarities from their collection, including the 1860 Paquet Reverse, an extremely rare and valuable coin worth at least a couple million dollars," Shepherd said.
About 1,100 dealers will display and sell items from their collections, said Jay Beeton, the association's spokesman.
"You can buy, you can sell, and we encourage people, if they've got coins from an old collection that they may have inherited, we've got appraisers here to look at them," Beeton said.
There will also be an auction of currency and valuable coins conducted by Heritage Auction Galleries of Dallas. The World's Fair of Money auctions are some of the largest in the numismatics community, and many prestigious collections will be up for bidding this year.
Shepherd said totals for the auction often top $50 million, and he expects this year's auction to be similarly successful.
"There are usually some rare and valuable auction items. I know they have some outstanding collections of gold coins, some outstanding collections of rare coins," he said.
Another attraction is the World Mints Promenade, which features representatives from 18 different nations, including the Royal Mint from Great Britain, the Royal Canadian Mint, the South African Mint Co. and the Monnaie de Paris.
"Some of the mints from the around the world, they do some amazingly colorful and creative things to their coins, and it's always amazing to see that creativity reflect their cultures," Beeton said.
Shepherd is especially excited for this year's fair because it will be held in Baltimore. He said he always enjoys shows in Baltimore because of the large collector base on the Eastern seaboard.
"We're looking forward to having a good show," Shepherd said. "Baltimore is always an outstanding venue for our show and we're looking forward to having a great show and a lot of attendance."
The World's Fair of Money runs 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Wednesday -Aug. 2 and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 3. The fair is at the Baltimore Convention Center, Hall A (Charles Street Lobby), 1 W. Pratt St. The event is free. Call 719-632-2646 or go to money.org.