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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2011) Headlines (12/2010) Headlines (04/2011)   Vol. 45 February 2011 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the February 2011 edition of W&ET Magazine


It was just an old Chinese vase that had been in the family for 80 years. It turned out to be much more.

When the intricately painted 18th century piece went on the block at Bainbridges, a small suburban London auction house recently, it sold for a record $83 million, scooped up by a Chinese buyer.

"How do you anticipate the Chinese market?" asked the shocked auctioneer, Peter Bainbridge. "It's totally on fire."

The sale price was more than 40 times the pre-sale estimate and a record for a Chinese work of art- an outcome Bainbridge called "a fairy tale" for the family who owned the vase.

The sellers, who wished to remain anonymous, are the sister and nephew of a deceased elderly woman in the West London suburb of Pinner. The vase had been in the family at least since the 1930s, though they don't know how it was acquired.

Many Chinese artifacts surfaced in Britain in the 19th century, having been looted from Beijing's Summer Palace when it was sacked by British and French troops at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860.

Painted sky blue and imperial yellow and adorned with medallions depicting leaping goldfish, the 16 inch vase dates from the Qing dynasty, a time when Chinese porcelain-making was at its pinnacle.

Made for the personal collection of Emperor Qianlong and bearing the imperial seal, it was an exceptional piece, experts said.

Still, no one expected what happened when the delicate enameled vase went on the block.

Bainbridge said the atmosphere was "electric."

The vase, bought by a Chinese bidder on behalf of an undisclosed buyer, beat the previous record for Chinese art. A 45-foot-long, 11th century scroll elaborately decorated with calligraphy sold for almost $64 million in Beijing last June.

From The Daytona Beach News-Journal, submitted by Zoueva Grossmann, Palm Coast, FL, and many other readers.


A four-year-old boy unearthed a rare 16th century gold pendant which could be worth millions of pounds on his first ever metal detecting trip.

James Hyatt was using his grandfather's metal detector in a field when he literally struck gold.

His stunned father Jason, 34, dug down eight inches into the mud and unearthed a gold 16th century religious pendant which could have been owned by a member of the royal family. James, who was three at the time of the discovery, could now become a millionaire because his discovery has officially been declared as treasure trove and similar reliquaries have sold for 2.5 million pounds.

His father, a web designer, from Billericay in Essex, said: "My son is one of the luckiest people ever.

"If we go to the doctors he'll put his hand down the side of the sofa and pull out a tenner, so this is just the sort of thing that happens to him.

"James was so excited when he realized he had found real treasure.

"He's too young to realize the significance of what it is but he can tell you step-by-step how he found it."

Buzz Lightyear fan, James said: "I was holding the detector and it went beep, beep, beep, beep. Then we dug into the mud. There was gold there.

"I was happy. It was really small and old. We didn't have a map, only pirates use treasure maps."

The trio were out metal detecting when James started asking questions about his grandfather's metal detector and was allowed to have a go.

Within minutes he had hit the jackpot- topping his father and grandfather's previous finds.

Mr. Hyatt, who lives with his wife Rebecca, added: "The metal detector was bigger than James.

"We got a couple of little buzzes, things like nails and coins and it wasn't long before we got a strong buzz and we dug it up.

"It was about eight inches down, we could see the metal glinting so we gently pulled it out and there it was.

"We dug down and I saw this bright, glistening. I couldn't believe it. I was in disbelief, I looked around and thought it was some kind of prank.

"The soil came away quite easily and I could see it was gold. It was about the size of a 50 pence piece but thicker, it was a little box and the lid was crushed down.

"I think James was too young to appreciate what was happening. I was shocked and quite excited and he picked up on that. He knew something special had happened."

When the tiny mud-caked pendant was cleaned up it was revealed to be a religious piece of jewelry believed to date from the early 1500s and, due to the quality of the piece, is thought to have been owned by a high ranking clergyman or a member of the royal family.

The square pendant appears to be engraved with Mary the mother of Jesus clutching a cross and the shrine on the front, and five bleeding hearts of Christ on the back.

Around the sides it is engraved with the names of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the three kings who followed in the star to Bethlehem to witness Christ's birth.

Mr. Hyatt, who also has a six-month-old daughter, contacted the Essex Finds liaison officer and the British Museum who took the locket in for further examination.

The tiny piece of jewelry, which measures 25 mm along the length, has undergone rigorous testing and has found to be medieval and made of up to 73 percent gold.

The names of the three kings had been misspelled on the locket but the engraving was of a type popular in the 16th century.

A letter from the British Museum said: "The back panel slides out to reveal a cavity, undoubtedly designed to contain a relic.

"The letters of the inscriptions are of a type of Lombardic script in use in the sixteenth century. The reliquary pendant is gold and dates from the first half of the sixteenth century."

"They have classed it as high status which I believe means it probably belonged to someone high up in the church, or royalty.

"Maybe they dropped it when they were out hunting. I've been told it's an incredible piece."

The locket is in the safe keeping of the British Museum and is to go before the Treasure Valuation Committee to discover how much it is worth.

The British Museum and Southend Museum have both expressed an interest in buying the piece but until the valuation Mr. Hyatt has no idea how much it is worth.

He said: "I had heard about the jewel one, that had a big sapphire on the front of it, so it could be worth more than the one we found, there was an auction at Sotherby's last year when half of a locket sold for 38,000 pounds, so I really don't know.

"I don't even want to think about the money. If we get anything it will be for the children.

"James gets a couple of pounds pocket money a week but we wouldn't give any of the money to him until he was much older.

"I think it is an amazing piece and I would love to have it on show at a museum. People need to be able to see it and enjoy it."

The locket, known as a reliquary, was used to contain supposed pieces of the crown of thorns Jesus wore at his crucifixion or a splinter of the cross he was killed on.

Plant material, which could be wood, was discovered inside the reliquary, and is being tested by scientists to discover what it is and how far back it dates.

In the 16th century reformists, like Martin Luther, opposed the use of relics as they suspected many were fake and so were destroyed, melted down and pulled apart, by the Calvinists.

Only three other reliquaries of this kind are known to have survived, including one called the Middleham Jewel, also found by a metal detector, which was sold at auction in 1986 for 1.3 million pounds and later to the Yorkshire Museum for 2.5 million pounds.

James' find was the subject of an inquest where it was deemed to be treasure trove so it can be sold on.

Mr. Hyatt said his son's find is due to be valued and then offered for sale to the British Museum and other interested institutions.

The proceeds from the sale will be split between the family and the landowner.

The find was made in Hockley, a small town near Southend, which has a church which dates back to the 12th century.

The landowner, who does not want to be identified, will be getting some of the proceeds of any future sale.

From The Daily Mail, submitted by many readers.


A gold finger ring, a collection of Roman coins, and several axe fragments have been discovered across the Uttlesford district and have been declared as treasure.

The ring, deemed to be the most precious of all the artifacts, was discovered by local resident Jeremy Curzon using a metal detector last year.

It was found amongst a hoard which also included alloy coins; 12 silver, five gold and one copper, all varying in their value and minted across different locations within the area formally known as the Roman Empire.

Mr. Curzon's bounty was one of three finds across the district in the past 15 months. All were declared as treasure by Essex Coroner Caroline Beasley-Murray at an inquest at New Bridge house in Chelmsford recently.

Elsewhere in Uttlesford, Barry Knee delved deep with his metal detector and emerged with mid to late Bronze Age artifacts; including six copper alloy fragments and also axe fragments believed to date back to between 1500 and 1000 BC.

Mr. Knee's finds from a year ago have attracted to the attention of the British Museum who want to put them on display.

All areas of declared treasure are kept secret to protect them and finders of gold and silver objects which are more than 300 years old have a legal obligation to report such items under the Treasure Act of 1996.

They are often valued by the British Museum and a fee is then handed to the finder.

From The Dunmow Recorder, submitted by Dan Knuth, Thiensville, WI.


A rare Honus Wagner baseball card that was bequeathed to an order of Roman Catholic nuns has sold at auction for $262,000.

The Baltimore-based School Sisters of Notre Dame put the card up for sale after inheriting it from the brother of a deceased nun. The sale price exceeded the expectations of auctioneers at Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries.

The nuns will receive $220,000 from the sale. The total sale price includes a 19.5 percent buyer's premium. Sister Virginia Muller, who was entrusted with the card, says the proceeds will go to the order's ministries in more than 30 countries around the world.

Collector and card shop owner Doug Walton of Knoxville, Tennessee, bought the card.

About 60 of the T206 Honus Wagner cards, produced between 1909 and 1911, are known to exist.

From The Bristol Herald Courier, submitted by Robert C. Marx, Bristol, VA, and Jerry Hallett, Napa, CA.


A notable piece of Rhode Island art history came to light recently- literally- when workers removed Depression-era murals from a building undergoing renovation at the University of Rhode Island.

The murals, by the late artist Gino Conti, had been hidden for decades beneath drywall put up during an earlier renovation inside Edwards Hall. They are bound for restoration and an eventual return to URI.

Painted in oil on canvas, the six murals depict a variety of themes, including youth, progress, and the four ancient elements of earth, air, fire and water- all in a style that URI art history professor Ronald J. Onorato, one of many officials on hand, called "sort of late-Cubist," a style popularized by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.

As Onorato and others watched, workers carried the murals from Edwards Hall to the lawn outside, where they were packed for shipment by van for restoration at Williamstown Art Conservation Center in western Massachusetts. They will come back to URI mounted on panels or frames for display.

"The university just assumed they were lost," said Thomas Branchick, director and conservator of paintings for the 1960s, when the Edwards lobby was remodeled. Workers at that time placed drywall over the murals, which were painted in Conti's Providence studio and attached to the Edwards walls in the early 1940s.

"We knew they were there, in terms of documents," said Onorato, "but we didn't know if they existed anymore." Perhaps they had been destroyed. In any event, they were invisible for all those years.

When workers on the $1.5 million Edwards renovation uncovered them last month, Onorato was among those who experienced excitement.

"I thought they were gone," he said. "It really was like an archaeological find. I was thrilled."

Conti was one of several artists nationally who received federal funding during the late 1930s and early 1940s as President Franklin Roosevelt helped move America out of the Great Depression. According to Onorato, only a handful of similar murals survive in Rhode Island.

"They're unusual," he said, "and for the state, they're very unusual because we don't have many of them left."

Branchick said that when the murals return to URI, they will be suitable for display, perhaps on easels. "The last thing we would want to do is re-adhere them to a wall," he said.

Born in Italy in 1900, Conti came to America three years later. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and soon established a strong reputation, which continued until his death in 1983.

A March 1941 Providence Sunday Journal story chronicled Conti's work on the murals for what was then known as Rhode Island State College.

"The six oil canvases are symbolical in character," the paper wrote, "flat and decorative in treatment and very much stylized. Of the two largest panels, one symbolizes the drama, music and the dance; the other, the protection of youth, the striving for progress and the past."

Conti, the paper noted, received funding for the murals from the Federal Art Project, part of Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) program that pumped government dollars into the economy.

In that sense, said Onorato, the murals have a connection to today, when the Obama administration is using federal dollars to help jump-start a recession economy.

The Calson Construction Corp. of Johnston is handling the $1.5 million renovation of Edwards Hall. Removing the murals from beneath the drywall cost about $4,000, an official said. No cost has been determined for restoration and mounting.

From The Providence Journal, submitted by Bill Ladd, W. Warwick, RI.

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