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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (09/2003) Headlines (08/2003) Headlines (10/2003)   Vol. 37 September 2003 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the September 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine


South Carolina's collection of Confederate relics has a new home- in an old cotton mill.

The Confederate Relic Room and Museum, tucked into a corner of the 1893 mill that is home to the State Museum, displays the state's fighting spirit since the Revolutionary War.

But the focus is on the war that began 32 years before that mill was built, when the South sought to keep its slaves in the cotton fields. The first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

The Confederate Relic Room reopened recently after moving from a cramped location that had no ramp or doors accommodating wheelchairs.

The museum is home to what may be the only remaining flag of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a Union regiment of former S.C. slaves, museum director Allen Roberson says. That flag, a tatter of red and white silk stripes with a streak of blue remaining, is next to a display dedicated to black Union soldiers.

"It was one of the earliest regiments of an African American militia," Roberson said.

Roberson says most similar flags are thought to have been burned in the 1920s and 1930s at West Point because they were in disrepair.

Another exhibit- a pair of opera glasses- tells the story of a close call Confederate Col. Elbert Bland had on a hill outside Fredericksburg, VA. A rifle's ball slammed into his chest but lodged in the opera glasses. Four months later, Bland died at the battle in Chickamauga, Georgia.

The Wade Hampton Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy organized the museum in 1895.

The state spent $650,000 to equip the new digs to handle a collection of about 3,500 objects, including the flags, swords, rifles, hats, medals and clothes displayed in an 8,000-square-foot space.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

From the Associated Press, submitted by David Wolan, Grand Forks, ND.


A nationwide bounty hunt is under way- with a $1 million reward. The target: a 90-year-old nickel.

After being born of questionable, some say clandestine, circumstances, five 1913 Liberty Head nickels surfaced in the 1920s. Two are in private collections, two are in museums, but the whereabouts of the fifth has confounded collectors for at least 40 years.

"There's a little bit of gimmick to it," concedes Paul Montgomery, president of Bowers and Merena Galleries of Wolfeboro, N.H., which is offering the reward. "But it's all about trying to find the coin."

The Liberty Head Nickel was minted from 1883 to 1912, when it was replaced by the Indian or Buffalo Nickel.

Five Liberty nickels, however, were minted illegally in 1913, possibly by a mint official. They were never placed into circulation and for many years were considered illegal to own because they were not a regular issue.

In 1996, Bowers and Merena auctioned one of the 1913 nickels for $1.4 million, the first coin to sell for more than $1 million. It is because of that price that the company is offering at least $1 million for the missing nickel.

"Everybody in the industry would love to see it," said Montgomery.

As one story goes, the coin may have been owned by a North Carolina dealer killed in a car crash in 1962. Part of the mystery is a theory that the dealer was carrying the coin to a buyer named Reynolds.

People have searched the roadside, said Lawrence Lee, curator of the American Numismatic Association Money Museum, which owns one of the nickels.

"He was killed on his way there," Lee said. "Did the Reynolds family actually get it? Was it in the car wreck?"

Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World magazine in Sidney, Ohio, said a nickel was recovered from the wreckage, but it was not one of the original five. The date had been altered.

The dealer "claimed to have access to the genuine, through a client named Reynolds," she said. "We believe he had an altered date coin he often carried with him and put on display."

Lee said many claimed to have the missing coin.

"There are lots of counterfeits," he said. "We have maybe 50 examples in the museum."

Lee believes publicity from the reward offer will get people to start looking for it again, and maybe it will show up in an estate or a grandmother's attic.

He figures if the owner knows about the coin, "they couldn't resist, sooner or later, bragging to somebody or selling it to somebody."

On the Net: American Numismatic Association:

Bowers and Merena:

Coin World:

From The Courier, submitted by Jeff Hauenstein, Findlay, OH.


An old debate over whether Romans might have found their way to Tucson hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World has found new life at the Arizona State Museum.

Artifacts from a controversial discovery made nearly 80 years ago that suggested an ancient Roman settlement existed here- a theory that experts were quick to debunk- are on public display for the first time since 1930.

A handful of pieces, including an iron cross bearing Latin inscriptions, can be seen at the museum on the University of Arizona campus, and museum officials hope to display the rest in the near future.

Tom Peterson, director of the Arizona Historical Society's southern division, said he hopes bringing the items out of hiding will spur new discussion of their historical significance.

"A part of the expanded exhibit will be to leave a place for the voices of those who feel they are in, in fact, genuine," Peterson said.

Researchers in the decades following their discovery generally considered the items more recent forgeries, but some current scholars insist there is reason to believe they may be the real thing.

The artifacts, the first of which was found in September 1924 sticking from a caliche wash bed eight miles north of Tucson, include a trove of lead alloy crosses, swords and other items inscribed with phrases and dates ranging from A.D. 760 to A.D. 900.

The number of objects unearthed eventually grew to 32.

Word of the discoveries by Charles Manier and Thomas Bent, both World War I veterans, spread via newspaper reports and threatened to rewrite history and relegate Columbus to a list of Johnny-come-lately explorers.

Byron Cummings, director of Arizona State Museum, was asked to examine the objects and declared them genuine. Experts from the East Coast, without examining the objects, were quick to dismiss them as forgeries.

Tucson teacher Laura Coleman Ostrander translated the Latin inscriptions as the tale of an 8th-century battle between a settlement of Roman Jews and Native Americans described as "Toltezus," the predecessors of the Aztecs.

But doubters countered that the A.D. dating system didn't come into use until nearly two centuries after the objects were dated, that the wording was taken from Latin textbooks published in the 19th century or later and that the lead alloy was similar to what printers of the day used to cast type.

One of Cumming's students, Emil Haury, surmised that fresh longitudinal scratches on the surface of some of the objects indicated they had been inserted into the caliche, and that the caliche itself was a Pleistocene-era deposit, meaning anything naturally embedded in it would have to be 10,000 years old or older.

But John P. Molloy, a Tucsonan who earned a doctorate in anthropology from UA and did postdoctoral work in roman genealogy and early Roman-Hebrew family migrations, disputes most of those claims.

He countered that the anno Domini (A.D.) dating system was used hundreds of years earlier than detractors claim, that the lead likely came from a mine near Picacho Peak and the Latin phrases in textbooks quote from annals- historic recounting of events hundreds of years earlier.

"None of these arguments was put forth by scholars," said Molloy, who said the language, names and events recounted on the cross-shaped tablets match what is known historically.

Raymond Thompson, retired director of Arizona State Museum, claimed to have found evidence that the items were planted in the wash.

"(Emil Haury) had decided there was a pre-existing hole these things had been placed in. He walked into the arroyo and discovered some long holes had been drilled parallel to the surface," Thompson said.

Bent allowed Arizona State Museum to display the items for a year and in 1929 offered to sell the collection to the museum for $16,000. Amid the controversy, the museum opted not to make the purchase.

Peterson said the objects "essentially disappeared" afterward.

"We thought they had been taken to California and lost," he said.

About a decade ago, the late Margaret Bret Harte, a longtime employee with the society, learned that Thomas Bent Jr. had the items and convinced him to donate them to the society.

Burgess said Bent, who lives in Tempe, has since told him that as doubt grew about the so-called "Roman crosses," so did suspicion that his father was involved in some sort of hoax.

Molloy said he and others are continuing research that could shed new light on the artifacts.

From the Tucson Citizen, submitted by Ed Deschaines, Tucson, AZ.


Israeli archaeologists excavating caves near the Dead Sea have found nine rare silver coins believed to date back to a failed Jewish rebellion against the Romans in the second century. The coins add another layer to the story of the families that Shimon Bar Kochba led into hiding in the caves of the Judean Desert- what turned out to be the end of the second Jewish uprising against the Romans, which resulted in their exile. Archaeological finds relating to the three-year rebellion are rare.

About 2,000 coins from the rebellion are known to exist, and this is only the second time archaeologists have found such coins, said Hanan Eshel, who led the digs and is the head of the Jewish Studies and Archaeology Department at Tel Aviv's Bar Ilan University.

Of particular rarity is the largest Jewish coin ever issued, a half-ounce silver coin known as the Petra Drachma.

One side of the coin shows Jerusalem's second Jewish temple, destroyed by the Romans during the first Jewish rebellion in the year 70. The other side shows another important Jewish symbol- the image of four plants, known as the four species, used during ceremonies for the festival of Sukkot.

Historical records tell little about the rebellion or its leader. "Neither the Jews or the Romans considered the rebellion to be a success, so very little was written about it," Eshel said.

With the collapse of the rebellion that broke out in the year 132, many Jews fled to the caves in the hope of avoiding the advancing Roman legions.

The coins will be on display at Jerusalem's Israel Museum.

From the Star Tribune, submitted by Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.

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