$2.48 PURCHASE TURNS OUT TO BE VALUED U.S. RELIC
A rare, 184-year-old copy of the Declaration of Independence found by a bargain hunter scouring a thrift shop is being valued by experts at about 100,000 times the $2.48 purchase price.
Michael Sparks, a music equipment technician, is selling the document at Raynors' Historical Collectible Auctions in Burlington, NC. The opening bid is $125,000 and appraisers have estimated it could sell for nearly twice that.
"I'm told that it could go for between $200,000 and $300,000," said Sparks.
Sparks found his bargain last March at Music City Thrift Shop in Nashville. When he asked the price on a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document, the clerk marked it at $2.48.
Sparks forked over the money and walked out with what turned out to be an "official copy" of the Declaration of Independence- one of 200 commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820 when he was secretary of state and printed in 1823.
"I saw that it said 1823 and I knew that the declaration was 1776, and I was just interested. It also said "by order of the government", said Sparks, who did online research on the document and then had it appraised.
From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.
WHO'S MINDING THE MINT?
An unknown number of new George Washington dollar coins were mistakenly struck without their edge inscriptions, including "In God We Trust," and are fetching around $50 apiece online.
The properly struck dollar coins, bearing the likeness of the nation's first president, are inscribed along the edge with "In God We Trust," "E Pluribus Unum" and the year and mint mark. The flawed coins made it past inspectors and went into circulation early this year.
The U.S. Mint struck 300 million of the coins, which are golden in color and slightly larger and thicker than a quarter.
About half were made in Philadelphia and the rest in Denver. So far the mint has only received reports of error coins coming from Philadelphia, mint spokeswoman Becky Bailey said.
Bailey said it was unknown how many coins lacked the inscriptions. Ron Guth, president of Professional Coin Grading Service, one of the world's largest coin authentication companies, said he believes that at least 50,000 error coins were put in circulation.
"The first one sold for $600 before everyone knew how common they actually were," he said. "They're going for around $40 to $60 on eBay now, and they'll probably settle in the $50 range."
Production of the presidential dollar entails a "new, complex, high-volume manufacturing system" that the mint will adjust to eliminate any future defects, the mint said in a statement.
"We take this matter seriously. We also consider quality control a high priority. The agency is looking into the matter to determine a possible cause in the manufacturing process," the statement said.
Guth said it appeared from the roughly 50 smooth-edge dollars he has authenticated that the problem had to do with quality control rather than a mechanical error.
"These coins are struck like normal coins, then they go through another machine that adds edge lettering in another process," he said. "We've seen a couple of instances where the edge lettering may be weak or indistinct, but we're not talking about that here."
The coin's design has already spurred e-mail conspiracy theories claiming that the religious motto was purposely omitted. That rumor may have started because the edge lettering cannot be seen in head-on photographs of properly struck coins.
It is the first U.S. coin to have words stamped around the edge since the storied 1933 $20 gold "double eagle," among the rarest and most valuable in the world. In 2002, a 1933 double eagle was sold for $7.5 million- the highest price ever paid for a coin.
From The Associated Press, submitted by Jerry Hallett and Jeff Kehl.
HISTORIC PRESERVATION, CHARM EARN TOWN AWARD
Known for its cobblestone town square and role in a popular movie, Woodstock has been named a distinctive destination for travelers, officials said recently.
Woodstock was among a dozen towns the National Trust for Historic Preservation cited because they "represent the very best of small-town America," according to a prepared statement from the organization.
Woodstock hosts festivals and concerts throughout the year on its square, which is dominated by a courthouse built in 1857 and opera house that dates to 1889.
From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.
END OF THE ROAD FOR WONDER SPOT
In a wooded ravine tucked away from the water parks, restaurants and megaresorts that dominate the tourist town of Lake Delton, Wisconsin, a piece of history is quietly dying.
After more than half a century of drawing tourists, the Wonder Spot, a mysterious cabin where people can't stand up straight, water runs uphill and chairs balance on two legs, is no more.
Owner Bill Carney has sold the iconic attraction to the village of Lake Delton for $300,000. The village wants to build a road through the crevice where the Wonder Spot has stood since the 1950s.
Now, the Wonder Spot, one of more than a dozen sites around the nation dubbed "gravity vortexes" and a throwback to post-war, family-oriented tourist attractions, has a date with a bulldozer.
"We're kind of wondering how the town is going to deal with the gravitational forces under the road. That might be an issue with driving and how you bank a curve," joked Doug Kirby, publisher of RoadsideAmerica.com, which catalogs odd tourist attractions.
Kirby's site lists the Wonder Spot as one of 21 "mystery spots." Lake Wales, Florida, has Spook Hill. Irish Hills, Michigan, has the Mystery Hill. California has the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, and farther north, Confusion Hill in Piercy.
The claim behind each one is similar- gravity doesn't work in them. People seem to grow smaller, can't stand up straight and can barely walk.
The Wonder Spot lies just off U.S. Highway 12, the main drag between Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells in south-central Wisconsin.
According to a sign proudly placed at the base of the ravine, the Wonder Spot was discovered June 16, 1948. People who enter the spot, the sign warns, won't see correctly, stand erect "or feel quite normal."
Generations of people have stopped to see it. Children who visited would return grown up, their own children in tow, Carney said. During the mid-1990s, he saw up to 50,000 people per summer.
When people asked what caused the Wonder Spot, Carney's guides blamed it on igneous rock or simply replied they didn't know. When pressed, though, Carney said it's all an optical illusion.
"We said don't try to figure it out," he said. "Just have fun."
Carney said the road wasn't going to go directly through the Wonder Spot, but it would come within yards. With the megaparks dominating tourism in the Dells and the spot's nostalgia compromised, he decided to get out.
"This town has changed," he said.
From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.
PRESIDENTS' FACES TO GRACE NEW DOLLAR COIN
Can George Washington and Thomas Jefferson succeed where Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea failed? The U.S. Mint is hoping America's presidents will win acceptance, finally, for the maligned dollar coin.
The public will get the chance to decide starting early this year when the first of the new coins, bearing the image of the first president, is introduced.
Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are scheduled to grace the coin in 2007, with a different president appearing every three months.
The series will honor four different presidents per year, in the order they served in office. Each president will appear on only one coin, except for Grover Cleveland, who will be on two because he was the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms. To be depicted on a coin, a president must have been dead for at least two years.
The idea of rotating designs borrows from the highly successful 50-state quarter program. Since its launch in 1999, this program has featured five state designs each year in the order the state joined the union.
The quarter program has been widely successful, introducing millions of people to coin collecting for the first time. The Mint hopes the presidential program will enjoy similar success, in part because of the bold designs on the new coins.
Those designs were being made public during a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, home of some of the famous paintings that served as models for the coins.
Copies of the designs were made available to The Associated Press in advance.
"These designs are beautiful and so eye-catching that a lot of Americans are going to do a double take when they get them in their change the first time," Edmund C. Moy, the director of the Mint, said in an AP interview.
The coins will be the same size as the Sacagawea dollar- a little larger than a quarter- and the same golden color as the Sacagawea. The image of the president will be on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other.
The images will be slightly larger than those on a quarter because space was freed up by moving some of the traditional wording such as "In God We Trust" to the edge of the coin. Edge lettering has not been tried on an American coin since 1933.
From The Courier, submitted by Jeff Hauenstein, and Doug Amundson.
THIS LIST IS WHERE STOLEN ART TURNS UP
The request was simple enough: Lloyd's underwriters had been approached to insure the movement of seven paintings, including one by Cezanne, from Russia to London for valuation and sale.
HOUSING THREATENS CIVIL WAR SITES
So Lloyd's contacted the Art Loss Register, a small private company in London whose computer archive lists 180,000 items including sculpture and silver, textiles, books, stamps and vehicles- and many of the great art works stolen or missing around the world.
What the insurance company discovered in 1999 was that the works, including Cezanne's "Fruit and Jug," had been stolen in 1978 from the home of American collector Michael Bakwin in Massachusetts.
Thus began a long investigation, including Art Loss Register researchers and negotiators, that resulted in the FBI announcing last month the arrest of a lawyer. He allegedly had obtained the art from the thief, who had been murdered by another criminal after the robbery. In the end, Bakwin got his paintings back and sold the Cezanne for $35 million.
Now the Art Loss Register is on the trail of two Picasso paintings stolen in Paris last week.
The register, which calls itself the only comprehensive searching service for stolen art, serves museums, art dealers and auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's that want to avoid handling stolen art, as well as theft victims, insurance companies and police hunting for the thieves.
When thieves stole Pablo Picasso's "Maya With Doll" (1938) and "Portrait of Jacqueline" (1961) from his granddaughter's home in Paris, their description and photo were added to the company's database within hours.
The paintings are valued together at around $65 million, but the information in the register severely curtails their resale prospects and could help lead police to the thieves.
In the last 10 years, information supplied by the Art Loss Register has helped recover paintings by Manet, Delacroix, Giacometti and Constable; a Queen Anne cabinet; and a Roman marble head of Dionysius.
"But even with our database, the recovery rate for really good paintings is only around 20 percent, and the owners may have to wait 30 years," said chairman Julian Radcliffe. "The success rate for stolen jewelry, furniture and silver artifacts is much lower."
The register's 10 employees work in a modest six-story office building in London's jewelry trade district, chosen because it is well policed and, says Radcliffe, "we are obviously fairly discreet... There are people we have helped put in jail."
From The Charlotte Observer, submitted by David Wolan, Charlotte, NC.
Plans for a casino just outside Gettysburg were shot down last year, but the site of the Civil War's bloodiest battle is threatened by spreading home construction, a preservation group says.
While Gettysburg's new nemesis is housing, a site in Alabama's Mobile Bay is suffering from neglect and a lack of state funding, and vast tracts of land stretching from Virginia to Pennsylvania are at risk from a planned major power line, the Civil War Preservation Trust said in its annual inventory of endangered battlefields.
"Tens of thousands of valiant young Americans still lie entombed in those fields," former U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, who backed federal spending on Civil War land preservation, told reporters recently. "It is truly hallowed ground."
In addition to sites in Pennsylvania, Alabama and Virginia, the report names Civil War locations in jeopardy in Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Suburban sprawl was cited as the most common problem. Around Marietta, Georgia, outside Atlanta, where Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army drove Confederate soldiers out of several strategic positions in 1864, the group cited large networks of trenches and other fortifications that remain unprotected. Some of the sites already have been damaged, and they are likely to succumb soon to Atlanta's development pressures, the group said.
The trust refreshes the list every year based on military significance, the urgency of threats and location. It boasts of saving more than 23,000 acres in 18 states by raising money and leveraging government funding to buy land or preservation easements.
Property outside Harpers Ferry in West Virginia was added this year after a developer dug 45-foot-wide trenches for water and sewer lines and unveiled plans to develop several thousand homes on land that saw fierce Civil War battles.
Harpers Ferry, best known for John Brown's failed effort to arm and free local slaves, changed hands eight times during the Civil War and was the site of an 1862 battle in which Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson won the surrender of 12,500 Union troops.
A mining company wants to rezone some 640 acres of "core battlefield" to dig more quarries at Cedar Creek, Virginia, while Fort Morgan in Alabama needs an infusion of state cash to reverse its decline, the group said. In December, Pennsylvania gambling regulators rejected a bid for a casino about a mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park after the trust and other preservation groups protested. But the trust cited a pending threat: Plans for thousands of new homes.
The trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group in the county, boasting some 70,000 members.
From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek and Jeff Kehl.