George O. Walton, Part 1

The name George Walton would lead a historian to think of the gentleman from Georgia who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. But a numismatist instead thinks of the mid-20th century George Walton who was the owner of one of the 1913 Liberty Head five-cent pieces. There are only five known of this famous rarity, all of which were previously owned by Col. E.H.R. Green, from whose estate Eric Newman and B.G. Johnson of St. Louis purchased them in the 1940s.

But the greatness of George O. Walton was only complemented by his ownership of this important nickel. However, his contributions to numismatics somehow get lost in all the publicity that has surrounded the loss, and the recovery, of this rare coin.

George Walton had vast holdings of Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coins, plus the coins of the Bechtler family and Templeton Reid, as well as a large collection of paper money, including southern state bank notes, issued and used prior to the Civil War, and Confederate currency. For more information about the man, I reference what was written in a Stack’s catalog of his collection offered in 1963. As early as 1937 George Walton was well known to the Stack family. He would visit our shop and talk for hours with Joseph and Morton. They were amazed at how much this young man knew about southern currency. From these early encounters a mutual friendship and respect grew. When the Stacks needed guidance on the history and money of the pre-Civil War period, George Walton’s great knowledge in this area was put to use.

George O. Walton was active in the American Numismatic Association, attended most conventions and also formed or participated in numerous coin clubs in the southeastern United States. Part of his livelihood came from being a bank inspector and appraiser for banks in the Carolinas, George, northern Florida and the mountainous areas of Virginia and Maryland. As he traveled through the towns and cities of these areas he made many friends and was also able to buy and sell southern gold coins and early paper money. Among the people served was the Reynolds family of tobacco fame and Dr. Conway Bolt, whose collection Stack’s sold in the early 1970s.

Beyond his affection for southern gold, Walton also had substantial holdings of territorial gold, not only the private gold of the Carolinas and Georgia. He often had a quantity of $50 gold pieces with him as well as those that remained in his bank) and loved to display them at ANA shows. He had a friendly rivalry with Amon Carter, Jr. who also had a large collection. At one point, some other collectors challenged them that they could not put together an exhibit of more than 100 pieces. George and Amon accepted the challenge and at the next ANA convention, between them they showed 101 territorial gold slugs, octagonal and round. It was like seeing the contents of a Wells Fargo chest on display. The challengers could not believe their eyes and never underestimated George or Amon again.

Unfortunately George, this knowledgeable numismatist and great friend of so many, was in a fatal automobile accident in 1962, on his way to a meeting of the Wilson-Goldsboro Coin Club. As was his style, he had with him many coins and these ended up spread over the highway. The police closed down the road and officers were assigned the task of picking up what they could find. Much was retrieved (but likely not all). After the collection was reassembled, it was given to Stack’s to sell at public auction by the Colonial-American National Bank of Roanoke, Virginia, who were the administrators of Walton’s estate.

The collection was so voluminous that it took two Stack’s catalogs to present it for sale. The Charlotte and Dahlonega gold and the private gold coins of the Bechtlers and Templeton Reid would have been a landmark sale on their own. But George Walton had gold coins of all denominations in quantity.

In the next part of this story I will outline the extent of his holdings and tell why we always thought him to be one of the legendary numismatists of the 20th century.

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