When the cornerstone of SCITS was opened in April the reaction was subdued among of the 1,000 curious onlookers.
Moisture had entered the 97-year-old time capsule and damaged its paper contents, which included a 1921 Observer, a city directory, and a book of local Indigenous history. Even vials of Imperial Oil products were deteriorated.
The only thing relatively unscathed was a handful of four coins. The rest of the capsule, including the wet sludge on the bottom, was dumped on a table for further examination.
And there, buried in the mud, was a fifth coin, a small one with a Cinderella story.
The nickel turned out to be extremely rare. In fact, with fewer than 500 known to exist today, the 1921 George V is sometimes called the ‘Prince of Canadian Coinage.’
And it has an estimated market value of $15,000 to $25,000.
An amateur coin collector in the crowd that day alerted a member of the SCITS Memorabilia Committee and it was quickly removed from the rest of the items on public display.
Paul Wiersma, the principal of Great Lakes Secondary School and an amateur coin enthusiast himself, went online and soon found a 1921 King George V selling on eBay for $18,000 U.S.
A local dealer subsequently inspected the coin and confirmed its value. Graded “uncirculated,” the silver and copper piece has some weathering and oxidation. In mint condition, it would sell for even more.
Early five-cent pieces were known colloquially as a “fish scale,” not a nickel. It wasn’t until the following year, 1922, that the first five-cent coins made of nickel were struck.
Wiersma said the rare find, which is the property of the Lambton Kent District School Board, won’t be sold. Instead, it will be placed on display at the renovated Great Lakes Secondary when it opens on Murphy Road.
“The coins may now be our only tangible link to the old school of 100 years ago,” he said.