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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2010) Headlines (10/2010) Headlines (02/2011)   Vol. 44 December 2010 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the December 2010 edition of W&ET Magazine

RARE PENNY SELLS FOR $1.7 MILLION

When is a penny worth $1.7 million? When it is a one-of-a-kind Lincoln cent, mistakenly struck in 1943 at the Denver Mint in bronze rather than the zinc-coated steel used that year to conserve copper for World War II. It has been sold by Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, New Jersey for $1.7 million to an unnamed Southwestern business executive. The coin's anonymous former owner made arrangements for the entire sale proceeds to go to a charitable organization.

"This is the world's most valuable penny. It's the only known example of a 1943-dated Lincoln cent incorrectly struck in a copper alloy at the Denver Mint. Zinc-coated steel was being used for pennies in 1943 to conserve copper for other uses during World War II, and this one was mistakenly struck on a bronze coin disc left over from 1942. It took four years of aggressive negotiations with the coin's owner until he agreed to sell it," said rare coin dealer Laura Sperber, President of Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, New Jersey who obtained the unique penny for the unnamed collector.

The new owner has been a coin collector since he was a teenager. When he was a kid he thought he had found a 1943 copper penny in circulation but it was not authentic. He is "the only person to ever assemble a complete set of genuine 1943 bronze cents, one each from the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints, and he plans to display them," said Sperber.

Most 1943 pennies are steel-gray in color and not worth much more than face value but less than 20 pennies were accidentally struck in bronze that year at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints, and this is the only known example from the Denver Mint according to Don Willis, President of Professional Coin Grading Service of Santa Ana, California, the rare coin certification company whose experts authenticated the unique 1943 Denver bronze cent.

The anonymous penny-mad collector also paid $250,000 for a 1944-dated Philadelphia Mint cent mistakenly struck on a zinc-coated steel coin blank intended only for 1943 pennies, and paid $50,000 for an experimental 1942 cent composed mostly of tin. The collector's coins will be publicly displayed at a major rare coin convention in Tampa, Florida, January 6-8, 2011.

From the Associated Press, submitted by Ty Brook, and many other readers.



HELMET UNEARTHED BY METAL DETECTOR EXPECTED TO FETCH 300,000 POUNDS

A Roman bronze helmet complete with face-mask- thought to be one of only three of its kind to be found in Britain- has been discovered by a metal detector enthusiast in Cumbria.

The helmet, with its enigmatic and virtually intact features, would have been worn, possibly with colorful streamers attached to the object, as a mark of excellence by Roman soldiers at cavalry sport parades.

Described as a "hugely important discovery", it is now expected to fetch 300,000 pounds at Christie's Antiquities auction in London.

A "hugely important discovery": The Roman bronze helmet complete with face-mask was found at Crosby Garrett in Cumbria by a metal detectorist.

The Crosby Garrett Helmet- which dates from the 1st-2nd century AD- has been named after the hamlet in Cumbria where it was found in a field recently by the treasure hunter, who wants to remain anonymous.

The helmet has a never-seen-before griffin crest, which, with the object's hair, would have been a golden bronze color, contrasting with the polished white-metal surface of the face mask.

Christie's described the find as an "extraordinary example of Roman metalwork at its zenith."

The auction house's London head of antiquities, Georgiana Aitken, said: "This helmet is the discovery of a lifetime for a metal detectorist.

"When it was initially brought to Christie's and I examined it at first-hand, I saw this extraordinary face from the past staring back at me and I could scarcely believe my eyes.

"Enigmatic: The helmet would have been worn as a mark of excellence by Roman soldiers at cavalry parades.

"This is a hugely important discovery and we expect considerable interest at both the public preview and at the auction where it is sure to generate great excitement from museums and collectors alike."

Arrian of Nicomedia, a Roman provincial governor under Hadrian, suggested, in an appendix to his military series Ars Tactica, that Romans wore the helmets as a mark of rank or excellence in horsemanship.

The Roman cavalrymen were divided into two teams that took turns to attack and defend during the events, which accompanied religious festivals and were also put on for the benefit of visiting officials.

Rare: It is one of only three of its kind discovered in Britain since records began 250 years ago.

The mask is thought to have been worn with an elaborately painted shield, embroidered tunic, thigh-guards and greaves.

The only other two helmets that have been discovered complete with face-masks are the Ribchester Helmet, found in 1796 and now in the British Museum, and the Newstead Helmet, found some around 1905 and now at the Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.

The helmet will go on sale in the Antiquities auction at Christie's South Kensington.

From The Daily Mail Reporter, submitted by many readers.



POLICE FIND OVER $9 MILLION IN CASH IN DRUM

Police in El Salvador have found two buried oil drums stuffed with millions of dollars in cash possibly linked to the illegal drug trade, authorities said recently.

The first barrel was found on a ranch in the town of Penitente Abajo, about 40 miles from the capital.

After three days counting the bundles of $100, $50 and $20 bills, authorities announced that it contained about $9 million in U.S. dollars, which the Central American nation uses as its currency. Another plastic drum was uncovered about 5 yards away, also crammed with money. A count of the second stash was under way.

"It is possible that there are more, and we are obliged to conduct a detailed investigation," said Carlos Ascencio, director of the National Civil Police.

The Attorney General's office said residents reported "frequent, strange movements" in the area. The money was found with the help of the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador.

From The Associated Press, submitted by Karen Zejhulahu, Brockton, MA.



HOW DID 2,000 YEAR OLD COIN END UP IN MANCHESTER?

What a builder thought was a quarter has turned out to be a 2,000-year-old shekel, the coin used to pay Judas for the betrayal of Jesus.

The coin was found during the reconstruction of a Manchester wharf in the spring of 2006, and now, four years later, the finder and property owner are trying to solve the mystery of how it got there.

Phillip Pelletier of Salem was reconstructing a wharf in Manchester when he found what he thought was a quarter in a small hole in the sand. He pocketed the change without thinking twice and set it aside when he got home.

Pelletier, later, after a closer look, realized the coin wasn't a quarter at all. He brought it to one of his wife's so-workers, a coin collector, who identified the silver piece as a shekel of Tyre. The collector told Pelletier the 90 percent silver coin dated to pre-biblical times and was the type of silver used to pay Judas for the betrayal of Jesus.

Pelletier said he was shocked he found a 2,000-year-old coin in Manchester but ironic that he discovered the shekel on Holy Thursday, the day that commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles; it was after the meal that Judas betrayed Christ.

Pelletier said he held on to the coin for a while, thinking he had struck big. Some further research, however, revealed the coin was worth about $800 or so. The world-wide coin source online lists the coin as worth about $1,000.

Curiosity got the best of Pelletier, though. "I had to find out where it came from," he said.

He called the owner of the location where Pelletier found the coin, to see if there were coin collectors in her family who maybe lost the shekel. The property owner said she had no history of coin collectors in her family and was just as puzzled by the ancient coin being on her property.

"It's a complete mystery to me as to how it got there," said the property owner.

Pelletier gave the coin to the property owner so she could photograph and research it. She said she would return the coin to him after she finished her search, according to Pelletier. The property owner still has the coin.

She rented a metal detector to search the area for significant metals on her property after Pelletier suggested it. She said she found no other substantial artifacts.

Pelletier and the property owner said they wanted to get the story out so they could solve the mystery of how a Phoenician shekel arrived in Manchester, Massachusetts.

The property owner said she took the coin to J.G.M. Numismatic Investments, a Beverly coin and jewelry dealer, which verified it as a real shekel of Tyre. The inspector first weighed the coin to confirm its authenticity; the coin had worn and lost some of its mass. The appraiser also noted that there was evidence the coin had been submerged in water for a significant time. The authenticity was verified, but no formal paperwork or record was drawn up by the company, she said.

The shekel of Tyre was minted by the Phoenician-Judean city of Tyre, which is in present day Lebanon, from 126 BC to 66AD. The coin replaced the Greek coinage of Alexander the Great. The silver shekel features a graven image of Melkart (Baal), the Phoenician deity on one side; the reverse is an Egyptian-style eagle with its right claw resting on a ship's rudder, which is associated with Hercules. The Greek inscription on the coin is "Tyre, the Holy and Inviolable," followed by the date.

The real question is how did this pre-biblical cion arrive in Manchester?

The property owner called it an "unsolved mystery" and acknowledged her research has suggested there are hundreds of ways the coin could have gotten to Manchester.

The property owner noted the harbor is very close to where the coin was found and thought that the Phoenicians may have come here to trade with the Vikings. "The Phoenicians were great sailors," she said.

The house was owned by two other families before the present owner purchased it in 1951. The home was built in 1890 and its first owners owned the Waltham Watch Co., which may have had a connection to coin collecting, she said.

To her knowledge, there was no history of coin collectors in the other owners' family, either.

"The only other plausible explanation I've heard to date is that a bird such as a seagull picked it up and dropped it there," she said. Pelletier also noted that it could have been buried or dug up from underground by a squirrel or other creature.

But the mystery of the shekel of Tyre remains unsolved.

"The coin took a one-way ticket trip from Lebanon," said the property owner. "But that doesn't explain how it got here."

"We're happy the coin was found. This is an unusual mixture of history."

From The Gloucester Daily Times, submitted by Lary Salo, Rockport, MA.



HUNT FOR GOLD REACHES A FEVER PITCH

When John Brewer's construction business soured along with the economy, he sought to replace lost income by prospecting for gold from the river valleys of central Idaho to the wilds of Alaska.

Armed with the tools of the trade- a metal detector, gold pan and sluice box- the Montana man represents the new face of a pursuit that once paved the way for settlement of the Western frontier.

The poor economy and a record price for gold have renewed interest in prospecting in Western states where public lands are rich with deposits and small-scale operators face minimal government regulation.

What Brewer has in common with 19th century prospectors is a drive for gold equaled in intensity only by the instinct to keep quiet about its location.

"Asking a miner where they found it and what they found is like asking an angler about his secret fishing hole," said Brewer. "We're not going to tell anybody. As soon as you tell anybody, there will be a crowd- and that would be counterproductive."

Gold prices hit a record high recently. That makes gold mining economically feasible for the first time in years, prompting mid- and large-scale operators to apply to mine in national forests and on acreage overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department.

"When gold goes over $1,000 an ounce, everybody becomes a miner," said Russ Bjorklund, minerals manager with Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho.

He is among federal land managers reporting a marked resurgence in gold mining, from amateurs armed with pans to corporations working hard-rock mines.

Susan Elliott, a geologist with Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada, said the rush is on in a state that already is the fourth-largest producer of gold in the world.

Elliott linked a 75 percent increase in mining activity in the 6.3 million-acre forest to the rise in gold prices in recent years.

"We've got all types: individuals out there with pick and shovel and companies with heavy equipment," she said.

International gold mining giant Barrick Gold Corp. gained approval from the federal Bureau of Land Management to expand its Bald Mountain mine in northeastern Nevada. Bald Mountain is one of the company's 25 operating mines, eight of which are in the western United States.

Large-scale operators like Barrick must clear a number of hurdles in advance of gold mining, often a yearslong process.

But Ray ReSoro, minerals specialist for the U.S. Forest Service region that includes Montana, also described an influx of "mom and pop operations."

Those small-time prospectors, like Brewer, mostly engage in low-impact, stream-side mining like gold panning and sluicing, techniques that rely on gravity to separate heavy gold from sediment.

In the mountains of central Idaho, gold fever has been blamed for recent trespassing incidents. Beverly Cockrell, a rancher near Salmon, has confronted strangers with "sticky fingers" on her creek-side land, including one who reportedly raided a sluice box.

"We're having to run people off," Cockrell said.

Some economists take a dim view of the gold rush.

"You've got this pretty metal- what does it do?" said James Hamilton, an economics professor at University of California, San Diego. "It doesn't create dividends, it doesn't create more productivity. It's a hedge against certain kinds of risks."

Still, it will take more than discouraging words to dampen the enthusiasm of gold hunters.

Jon Cummings, who promotes gold-mining adventures at his Idaho resort, says finding what prospectors call "color" in the pan ignites a passion.

"You start finding a little gold in the pan- that's when gold fever kicks in. It's like a drug and you're ready to work all night," he said.

From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.



PROPOSED CASINO SPLITS GETTYSBURG



The town where the Civil War's tide-turning battle was waged is fighting dissension in its own ranks, with even hard-core preservationists split over a proposed casino that would rise near the historic battlefield and be named for the line that divided North and South.

It's the second time in five years that Gettysburg has fought over a plan to build a casino.

This time it's the Mason Dixon Resort & Casino, proposed on a hotel and conference center site within a mile of the southern boundary of Gettysburg National Military Park.

"No Casino" and "Pro Casino" signs pepper business windows in the streets of Gettysburg, where more than a million tourists shop, dine or sleep each year.

Supporters say the casino plan doesn't tread on hallowed ground and will bring jobs, more tourists and tax relief to the area.

But the potential that a casino will cheapen the wholesome reputation that draws tourists to Gettysburg is what worries many.

"It seems like a lot of people, they just want more business, they want more money to flow in the community at any cost, and that's really upsetting," said Barbara Schultz, a Gettysburg native and casino opponent who owns a bed and breakfast and art gallery.

Casino principals, supporters and opponents will speak at a public meeting today with state regulators who are considering the license application to build the casino.

The developer, David LeVan, is a noted local philanthropist and former Conrail Inc. chairman who lives across the street from the park's museum and visitors center.

He declined to comment through a spokesman, David L. Torre, who pointed out the area around the nearly 6,000-acre park is already saturated with hotels, fast-food restaurants and big-box stores.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board rejected LeVan's first plan in 2006 amid an outcry that gambling would sully the character of the battlefield where Union soldiers stopped the Confederate advance.

From The Bonita Press, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.

FIND GIVES NEW MEANING TO 'OLD STYLE'

First there was the discovery of dozens of bottles of 200-year-old champagne, but now salvage divers have recovered what they believe to be the world's oldest beer, taking advertisers' notion of "drinkability" to another level.

Though the effort to lift the reserve of champagne had just ended, researchers last week uncovered a small collection of bottled beer from the same shipwreck south of the autonomous Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea.

"At the moment, we believe that these are by far the world's oldest bottles of beer," Rainer Juslin, permanent secretary of the island's Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, told CNN via telephone from Mariehamn, the capital of the Aland Islands.

"It seems that we have not only salvaged the oldest champagne in the world, but also the oldest still-drinkable beer. The culture in the beer is still living."

The newest find came as divers unearthed bottles separate from the earlier champagne find. While lifting a few to the surface, one exploded from pressure. A dark fluid seeped from the bottle.

Juslin said the cold seawater was a perfect way to store the spirits, with the temperature remaining a near-constant 32 F and no light to expedite spoiling.

Experts estimated the exclusive bubbly to be worth tens of thousands of dollars per bottle. The beer's value has not been determined. It's also unknown whether the beer went flat while sitting at the bottom of the Baltic.

Juslin said other artifacts were still lying in the shipwreck, about 160 feet deep between the Aland Island chain and Finland, but it would take several months to retrieve them.

All the cargo on the ship- including the beer and champagne- is believed to have been sent from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, Russia, sometime between 1800 and 1830. It could have been intended for the Russian Imperial Court.

"Champagne of this kind was popular in high levels (of society) and was exclusive to rich groups," Juslin said.

From The Chicago Tribune, submitted by Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.














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