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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2012) Headlines (04/2012) Headlines (08/2012)   Vol. 46 June 2012 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the June 2012 edition of W&ET Magazine


A treasure hunter said recently he has located the wreck of a British merchant ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Cape Cod during World War II while carrying what he claims was a load of platinum bars now worth more than $3 billion.

If the claim proves true, it could be one of the richest sunken treasures ever discovered. But an attorney for the British government expressed doubt the vessel was carrying platinum. And if it was, in fact, laden with precious metals, who owns the hoard could become a matter of international dispute.

Treasure hunter Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research in Gorham, Maine, announced that a wreck found sitting in 700 feet of water 50 miles offshore is that of the S.S. Port Nicholson, sunk in 1942.

He said he and his crew identified it via the hull number using an underwater camera, and he hopes to begin raising the treasure later this spring with the help of a remotely operated underwater vessel.

“I’m going to get it, one way or another, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water,” Brooks said.

The claim should be viewed with skepticism, said Robert F. Marx, an underwater archaeologist, maritime historian and owner of Seven Seas Search and Salvage LLC in Florida. Both an American company and an English company previously went after the contents of the ship years ago and surely retrieved at least a portion, Marx said. The question is how much, if any, platinum is left, he said.

“Every wreck that is lost is the richest wreck lost. Every wreck ever found is the biggest ever found. Every recovery is the biggest ever recovery,” Marx said.

Brooks said the Port Nicholson was headed for New York with 71 tons of platinum valued at the time at about $53 million when it was sunk in an attack that left six people dead. The platinum was a payment from the Soviet Union to the U.S. for war supplies, Brooks said. The vessel was also carrying gold bullion and diamonds, he said.

Brooks said he located the wreck in 2008 using shipboard sonar but held off announcing the find while he and his business partners obtained salvage rights from a federal judge. Salvage rights are not the same as ownership rights, which are still unsettled.

Britain will wait until salvage operations begin before deciding whether to file a claim on the cargo, said Anthony Shusta, an attorney in Tampa, FL, who represents the British government. He said it is unclear if the ship was even carrying any platinum.

“We’re still researching what was on the vessel,” he said. “Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores.”

The U.S. government has not weighed in on the court case yet, and Brooks said he doubts that will happen, since the Soviets eventually reimbursed Washington for the lost payment.

A U.S. Treasury Department ledger shows that the platinum bars were on board, Brooks said, and his underwater video footage shows a platinum bar surrounded by 30 boxes that he believes hold four to five platinum ingots each. But he has yet to bring up any platinum, saying his underwater vessel needs to be retrofitted to attach lines to the boxes, which would then be hoisted to the surface by winch.

“Of course there are skeptics,” he said. “There’s skeptics on everything you do.” Maritime law is complicated, and there could be multiple claims on the ship’s contents.

After the sinking of the HMS Edinburgh, an English warship carrying Russian gold bullion as a payment to the allies during World War II, England, the U.S. and Russia made claims on the sunken treasure, Marx said. The salvage company was given 10 percent of the prize, while the three counties split the rest, he said.

In other big finds, treasure hunter Mel Fisher made international headlines in 1985 when he discovered a $450 million mother lode of precious metals and gemstones from a Spanish galleon that went down off Florida in 1622.

In another case, a Tampa exploration company has been ordered by the courts to return $500 million worth of treasure from a Spanish warship to Spain. The ship was sunk by the British navy during a battle off Portugal in 1804.

From the AP, submitted by Jeff Kehl, Avon, MN, Steve Powell, Parkesburg, PA, Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN, Zoueva Grossman, Palm Coast, FL, and Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.


A rowdy band of bloodsuckers, gunslingers, wily wise guys, jaded private eyes, hardboiled reporters and good girls gone bad, stuck in an attic together for 80 years, is going its separate ways.

Nearly three dozen movie theater posters from the Golden Age of Hollywood found in a Pennsylvania attic are expected to fetch $250,000 at auction in Texas. They were stuck together with wallpaper glue when they were purchased for around $30,000 at a country auction last fall in Berwick, near Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The buyer, who chose to remain anonymous, consigned them to Heritage Auctions in Dallas, where the stack of 33 Depression-era posters was painstakingly steamed and gingerly separated over the course of several weeks.

“As we started to peel them apart, it was one of the greatest treasure troves from a beautiful period of poster printing,” said Grey Smith of Heritage Auctions.

The separated posters underwent minor touch-ups and were backed with linen at a restoration house, he said.

“A number of them were in very, very nice shape... The colors had not seen the light of day in 80 years,” Smith said. They were glued, one atop the other, apparently as each new release came to town. The find most likely came from one of the three big movie houses in Berwick during that era, Smith said.

From what the auction buyer was able to ascertain, the valuable stack of Hollywood history was inside a home whose contents were being liquidated as part of an estate sale, he said.

The trove includes extraordinarily rare original posters from the 1931 films “The Public Enemy,” “Cimarron,” “The Front Page” and “Little Caesar.” Some are versions never before seen, while others are among only one or two other known copies. All measure roughly 27 by 41 inches, known in movie parlance as a one-sheet.

James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Barbara Stanwyck are among the matinee idols gracing several posters but Bela Lugosi, bug-eyed and menacing in the 1931 ad for horror classic “Dracula,” counts as the star of the auction with a starting bid of $200,000.

An identical poster owned by actor Nicholas Cage sold at auction in 2009 for $310,000.

The films in the posters date from 1930 and 1931, a uniquely permissive time for filmmaking that came after the adoption of sound but before the enforcement of stringent moral guidelines popularly known as the Hays Code. Movies from the “pre-Code” era of roughly 1929 to 1934 include sex, violence and social commentary that vanished as the Hays Code censored everything from religious criticism to “suggestive postures.”

The Humphrey Bogart-John Huston version of “The Maltese Falcon,” for example, was a remake of the 1931 original, which was later deemed lewd under the Hays Code for nudity and sexual references and banned from re-release. A poster for the earlier “Falcon,” featuring smooching leads Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez, is also part of the sale and the auctioneers say it’s the only one known to exist.

“They were purely a product to be disposed of... They’re not something anyone would have thought to save,” Smith said in explaining the scarcity of movie ephemera of the era. Berwick had three large movie houses in the early 1930s and the posters likely came from one of them, he said.

For collectors, a find like the Berwick posters is “like a dream come true,” said Bob King, editor of Classic Images, an Iowa-based periodical devoted to pre-1960s film and television.

“When (a discovery like) this happens, it’s a big deal because you never know when or if it’ll happen again,” he said. “Are they ever going to find another one like this? Maybe not.”

From HPC, submitted by Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


Two brothers’ private museum of classic cars, rare musical instruments and other collectibles was emptied recently with the final strike of an auctioneer’s gavel, bringing in $38.3 million in sales.

Two days of bidding on 550 lots neared their conclusion with the biggest sale of them all, $3.3 million for the only known surviving 1912 Oldsmobile Limited, more than double its pre-auction estimate. The final tally came in just below the roughly $40 million the auction houses estimated they’d yield.

Most automobiles sold at or above their estimates, though bids for many rare musical instruments came in below expected ranges. The centerpiece of the collection, a stunning custom-built merry-go-round, sold for nearly $1.3 million.

“Think of all the friends you could have over,” said the auctioneer, Max Girardo, as the carousel went up for sale.

Bob Milhous, 75, and his brother Paul Milhous, 73, spent decades building their collection. The Milhous Collection, as it has become known, is housed in a 39,000-square-foot building. It was never opened to the public, though it played host to charity fundraisers and some small, private tours.

The brothers made their fortune in the printing business and other ventures. They decided to sell off their collectibles, though, as they planned their estates. They hired two auction houses, RM Auctions and Sotheby’s.

The offerings were eclectic, to say the least. A vintage barber chair sold for $28,875, and a toy Mercedes-Benz car went for $34,500, both far above their estimates. Also fetching higher-than-expected bids was a grandfather clock that netted $103,500, a neon sign from a Chevrolet dealership that went for $82,800 and a 1941 PT-22 airplane that sold for $241,500.

All manner of other items were sold, too: giant toy soldiers that once stood at FAO Schwarz in New York, funhouse mirrors, Tiffany lamps, vintage gas pumps, fine furniture and antique guns.

The real highlights, though, were the antique cars, which sat perfectly shined in the showroom, and the rare music boxes, player pianos, organs and orchestrions, which are made to simulate the sound of an orchestra all in one piece.

The final lot to sell was a 1948 tractor that went for $11,500.

When the bidding was over, Girardo announced, “All done, all finished, SOOOLLLLDDDD,” banging his gavel one last time.

Afterward, the Milhouses and some guests gathered around an organ in the museum. Paul Milhous said he was happy with the auction’s result, saying it was simply time to move on. A woman sang, the carousel below twirled, and for one final time, the music continued to play.

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


A rare Roman cavalry helmet dating from Emperor Claudius’ invasion of Britain nearly 2,000 years ago was unveiled recently after painstaking restoration lasting nearly a decade.

The so-called Hallaton Helmet was found 10 years ago during the excavation of an Iron Age shrine at Hallaton in Leicestershire, central England.

At the time, archaeologists used to finding more instantly recognizable gold and silver coins joked that they had unearthed a fairly modern “rusty bucket.”

In fact what they had found was a treasure of considerable importance which experts said pointed to the close relationship between Roman invaders and some native Britons.

“The helmet doesn’t seem to be damaged, so it could have been taken in battle but I think that’s not terribly likely,” Peter Liddle, community archaeologist for Leicestershire County Council, told Reuters.

“I think two things are the most likely— this belonged to a Briton who has fought in the Roman Army and got back home in one piece or it was a diplomatic gift from the Romans to a local ruler to cement an alliance,” he added.

The Guardian newspaper said the helmet was estimated to be worth 300,000 U.K. pounds (more than $460,000).

The paper said wearer of the helmet would have “shone in the sun like a god.” It said the helmet was discovered by Ken Wallace, a retired teacher and a member of a local archaeology group, in 2001.

The first thing he saw was a human ear made of silver sticking out of the mud, and he then used his metal detector to find a number of coins, The Guardian said. At that point, he decided to call in the experts.

Wallace told the paper that the treasure that was eventually unearthed, including more than 5,000 pieces of Roman and British gold and silver, was “jaw-dropping.”

Alongside the valuables, three skeletons of dogs about the size of Labradors were found “on guard for eternity,” The Guardian said.

Both possibilities challenge the idea that it was Romans versus Britons in and around 43 AD when Emperor Claudius’ conquest began.

The site where the helmet was found is believed to be a major religious center which has produced one of the largest number of Iron Age coins ever discovered in Britain.

The presence of pig bones also points to ritual feasting dating to the mid-1st century AD. The remains of the once magnificent helmet had to be lifted from the site in a soil block and transported to the British Museum where experts spent years piecing together hundreds of fragments in a process likened to a 3D jigsaw puzzle.

Marilyn Hockey, head of ceramics, glass and metals conservation at the British Museum in London, said the project was one of the most challenging of her career.

“It’s wonderful to be able to coax something like this out of the soil and to allow it to show itself off again,” she said.

What Hockey discovered was a helmet built of sheet iron, once covered with carefully crafted silver sheet decorated in places with gold leaf.

The helmet’s bowl features a wreath, symbol of military victory, and the scallop-shaped browguard shows the bust of a woman flanked by lions and other animals.

The cheek pieces depict a Roman emperor on horseback with the goddess Victory flying behind. Beneath his horse’s hooves is a cowering figure, possibly a native Briton.

It is the only Roman helmet found in Britain with the majority of the silver-gilt plating surviving, and one of only a handful ever discovered.

The Hallaton Helmet will be displayed permanently at Harborough Museum in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, alongside the other finds from the Hallaton Treasure.

From The Guardian, submitted by Kenneth Cole.

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