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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (02/2014) Headlines (12/2013) Headlines (04/2014)   Vol. 48 February 2014 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the February 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


A Houston scrap collector hauled an old safe from a family's home, but when the vault was pried open he discovered it held a fortune in gold coins and silver dollars.

The man who opened the safe was David Molick, owner of Robbie's Key & Lock shop who told ABC News that the scrap collector asked him to break into the safe before it was turned into scrap recently.

"He showed me a picture of this safe, and I saw that it was a high security one," Molick said. "It was real difficult to get into. It was pretty beat up. Looked like somebody had tried forcing their way into it since the front was beat up."

Molick said he spent more than 20 hours trying to open the safe. Finally, after drilling 10 holes through six-inch walls of concrete, he discovered a bonanza.

"I thought, 'Oh, this ain't real,'" Molick said. "There were 50 Krugerrands in one pipe, and brand new, un-circulated silver dollars in ammo boxes. All of them were well over half full. The entire safe must've weighed at least 3,000 pounds." Molick estimates the safe to contain $2.5 million.

Molick then called the police and put a lock back on the safe the next day.

"We temporarily took custody of the coins," said Houston Police Department spokesperson Keese Smith.

Smith declined to estimate the value of the coins.

"I don't have an exact number, but there was a substantial amount," he said.

The scrap dealer and the family that originally owned the safe have remained anonymous, but Mike DeGuerin, an attorney for the family, told ABC News affiliate KTRK that the coins were returned to the family. He told the station the family's father had been saving them for decades, but had died recently. Someone who was helping his family clear out the garage was given the safe to sell as scrap, but was supposed to return anything inside of value once he figured out a way to get it open.

Smith said, "The two parties involved worked out their differences, and the coins were released to the individuals involved."

From ABC News, submitted by Glenn Worthington, Murfreesboro, AR.


Authorities in the German city of Munich have reportedly chanced upon a vast trove of priceless art that vanished during the Nazi regime and is today valued at about $1 billion.

The BBC cites the German magazine Focus in reporting German tax authorities found the store of 1,500 artworks, including those by masters like Matisse, Picasso and Chagall, hidden in the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the reclusive son of a Munich art dealer.

Gurlitt had been reportedly suspected of tax evasion, and authorities found the cache after obtaining- and then executing- a search warrant for his Munich home in early 2011.

"This is a sensational find," a spokesman for German Customs reportedly said. "A true treasure trove. It is an incredible story."

And although the art was seized over two years ago, the Focus story apparently represents the first public account of the works' discovery.

Decades ago, many of the works had reportedly been declared "degenerate," or "un-German," by the Nazis, subsequently confiscated, and then re-sold to German collectors at below-market prices. Others had been reported stolen or were apparently bought for a pittance from Jewish art collectors who were under duress or forced to hurriedly emigrate.

The BBC cites the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in estimating the Nazis seized about 16,000 works of art in all during their tumultuous, terror-filled reign in the 1930s and 1940s.

Of those pieces of art recovered from Gurlitt's mansion, filled with rotting food and other bric-a-brac, 200 are reportedly the subject of international warrants.

According to the Focus report, as cited by the BBC, the collection is now held in a secure warehouse in Munich, until authorities sort everything out.

A break in the case reportedly came in 2010 when German customs officials conducted a routine check of a train from Switzerland and found the elder Gurlitt's sole-surviving son aboard with 9,000 Euros and several empty envelopes.

Further investigation reportedly revealed Gurlitt was not registered with any German authorities or government tax and social service organizations, either.

"He was a man who didn't exist," one official reportedly said.

Meanwhile, Cornelius Gurlitt's famous father, Hilderbrandt Gurlitt, was well-known in international art circles for having reportedly been tasked with none other than Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, with monetizing the seized artworks deemed "degenerate."

But the elder Gurlitt apparently kept much of the art, and after the war, claimed the collection had been destroyed in the 1945 bombing of Dresden, where he had a home.

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


Archaeologists have recovered five cannons from the wreck Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, off the coast of North Carolina.

State underwater archaeologists raised the largest of the guns, weighing in at about 3,000 pounds. The other four weigh about 2,000 pounds, the Carteret County News-Times reported.

Project Director Billy Ray Morris says historians think the largest cannon was made in Sweden, indicating that Blackbeard had guns from different countries. State officials say about 280,000 artifacts have been recovered from the wreck.

"It was just an absolutely fantastic day," Morris told the Carteret County News-Times. "If we can get this team in the future and weather like we had today, we will have the artifacts up by the end of 2014."

Blackbeard, the world's most famous pirate, captured a French slave ship and renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge in 1717. Volunteers with the Royal Navy killed Blackbeard in Ocracoke Inlet the following year, five months after the ship sank.

The wreck was located in 1996 in Beaufort Inlet. According to the News-Times, archaeologists hope to retrieve all of the artifacts from the site by next year because of deterioration brought about by hurricanes that have hit the coast.

Morris told the News-Times that 30 cannons have been discovered at the site and at least eight remain on the ocean floor. To date, 22 cannons have been raised from the wreckage.

"We know the records state that the Queen Anne's Revenge had 40 cannons, and I believe we'll find some more before it's all over, but I'm not sure if we'll find all 40," he said.

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


A French climber scaling a glacier off Mont Blanc got more than satisfaction for his efforts when he stumbled across a treasure trove of emeralds, rubies and sapphires that had been buried for decades.

The jewels, estimated to be worth up to $332,000, lay hidden in a metal box that was on board an Indian plane that crashed in the desolate landscape some 50 years ago.

The climber turned the haul in to local police.

"This was an honest young man who very quickly realized that they belonged to someone who died on the glacier," local gendarmerie chief Sylvain Merly told AFP.

"He could have kept them but he preferred to give them to the police," Merly said, adding that the climber stumbled upon the box earlier this month and that some of the sachets containing the precious stones bore the stamp 'Made in India.'

French authorities are contacting their Indian counterparts to trace the owner or heirs of the jewels.

Under French law, the jewelry could be handed over to the mountaineer if these are not identified, Merly said.

Two Air India planes crashed into Mont Blanc in 1950 and in 1966. Climbers routinely find debris, baggage and human remains.

In September last year, India took possession of a bag of diplomatic mail from the Kangchenjunga, a Boeing 707 flying from Mumbai which crashed on the southwest face of Mont Blanc on January 24, 1966.

The crash killed 117 people including the pioneer of India's nuclear programme, Homi Johangir Bhabha.

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


In the shadow of James Madison's Montpelier, archaeologists and metal detecting hobbyists are teaming up to unearth the history that lies beneath the 2,650-acre Virginia estate.

Armed with high-tech equipment and age-old tools, these oft-rivals are rediscovering land belonging to the nation's fourth president and using history to bridge the gap between their communities.

"There's always been kind of a disparity. They think we're grave robbers, we think they're overeducated," said 52-year-old Ron Guinazzo, a firefighter from Chicago who has been metal detecting for 30 years. "But to learn we have the same love of history and to find a common ground where we can work to try and retrieve the artifacts from the ground and put them where they belong, that's the big thing."

Guinazzo is one of about 40 people who have participated in a program that began last year that specifically welcomes metal detector specialists and hobbyists to help uncover areas of historic significance dating to the 18th century.

The Montpelier Foundation also invites members of the public to work side by side with its archaeological staff through a separate program.

For $750, participants spend a week getting hands-on experience digging at artifact-rich sites while staying at an antebellum plantation house on the Orange County property.

"It's the thing about digging an item out of the ground and realizing the last person to touch that was 200, 500, 2,000 years ago. It's crazy," said Guinazzo, who has been featured on a recent Travel Channel show called "Dig Wars" and a special on National Geographic Channel. "It's cool to see the big picture."

Amid the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the pastoral landscape is marked with red and blue flags and tied with pink tape as square grids of land are systematically checked using metal detectors.

Their blips and beeps identify artifacts such as nails, bits of iron and slag from a blacksmith. The detectors help reveal the type of metal under the ground as well as its size and depth.

The items are then dup up through small holes called plugs that get replaced, leaving little trace the ground had been removed. Later, in a lab, brushes are used to gently clean off the revealed relics.

The use of metal detectors has assisted in uncovering several historic sites at the plantation, including elusive slave quarters, Civil War camps, a blacksmith's workshop and old tobacco barns, often found faster than traditional archaeological methods.

For example, identifying the area used to cure tobacco would've normally taken three years. It took three months using metal detectors.

Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, spent his childhood at Montpelier and retired there with first lady Dolley Madison in 1817 until his death in 1836.

The property changed hands after Dolley Madison's death in 1849. It was bought by the duPont family in 1901 and transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1984.

In 2000, the Montpelier Foundation became steward of the site, and restoration and archaeological work continues today.

Matt Reeves, director of archaeology and landscape restoration at Montpelier, designed the program to help with surveying the property and help foster the idea at other historic sites worldwide.

Reeves said some archaeologists are opposed to metal detectors working alongside them. They worry the hobbyists will come back to the site and dig. But Reeves said he hopes to change the view of metal detectors and encourage users and hobbyists to become advocates for site preservation.

"They're already interested in that, they just approach it from the artifact, whereas archaeologists approach that whole in-the-ground business from the site," Reeves said. "What we're after is not just the artifacts on the sites but the human activity that took place there."

From the AP, submitted by Marty Maher, Langlois, OR.


Fog was swallowing his ship's bow, the winds were picking up and undersea explorer Barry Clifford figured he needed to leave within an hour to beat the weather back to port.

It was time enough, he decided, for a final dive of the season over the wreck of the treasure-laden pirate ship, Whydah, off Cape Cod.

That dive at a spot Clifford had never explored before uncovered proof that a staggering amount of undiscovered riches- as many as 400,000 coins- might be found there.

Instead of packing up for the year, Clifford is planning another trip to the Whydah, the only authenticated pirate ship wreck in U.W. waters.

"I can hardly wait," he said.

The Whydah was built as a slave ship in 1716 and captured in February 1717 by pirate captain "Black Sam" Bellamy. Just two months later, it sank in a ferocious storm a quarter mile off Wellfleet, killing Bellamy and all but two of the 145 other men on board and taking down the plunder from 50 vessels Bellamy raided.

Clifford located the Whydah site in 1984 and has since documented 200,000 artifacts, including gold, guns and even the leg of a young boy who took up with the crew. Clifford only recently got indications there may be far more coins than the roughly 12,000 he's already documented.

Just before his death in April, the Whydah project's late historian, Ken Kinkor, uncovered a Colonial-era document indicating that in the weeks before the Whydah sank, Bellamy raided two vessels bound for Jamaica. "It is said that in those vessels were 400,000 pieces of 8/8," it read.

The 8/8 indicates one ounce, the weight of the largest coin made at that time, Clifford said.

"Now we know there's an additional 400,000 coins out there somewhere," he said.

The final dive may have provided a big hint at where. Diver Rocco Paccione said he had low expectations when Clifford excavated a pit about 35 feet below the surface and sent him down. But his metal detector immediately came alive with positive, or hot, readings.

"This pit was pretty much hot all the way through," he said.

The most significant artifact brought up by Paccione was an odd-shape concretion, sort of a rocky mass that forms when chemical reactions with seawater bind metals together.

X-rays this week revealed coin-shaped masses, including some that appear to be stacked as if they were kept in bags, which is how a surviving Whydah pirate testified that the crewmen stored their riches.

Clifford doesn't sell Whydah treasures and said he would never sell the coins individually because he sees them as historical artifacts, not commodities. But he has given coins away as mementos. Two have been sold at the Daniel Frank Sedwick LLC auction house in Florida, with the highest going for about $11,400. The price per Whydah coin would plummet if tens of thousands hit the market, but a retail price of $1,000 each is a reasonable guess, said Augi Garcia, manager at the auction.

Ed Rodley, who studied Whydah artifacts during graduate studies in archaeology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said the Whydah site keeps producing treasure decades after its discovery partly because it's so tough to work.

The site is on the edge of the surf zone, where waves start breaking toward shore. Clifford needs seven anchors to hold the boat in place and the murky ocean bottom is just as active underneath him. Rodley said any pits dug by archaeologists would collapse within hours.

What Clifford has gradually gotten to, three centuries after the Whydah went down, is impressive, Rodley said.

"It's crazy the stuff that's come out of that site and keeps coming out of that site, year after year after year," he said.

From the AP, submitted by Karen Zejnullahu, Brockton, MA.

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