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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (06/2014) Headlines (04/2014) Headlines (08/2014)   Vol. 48 June 2014 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the June 2014 edition of W&ET Magazine


When a scrap metal dealer from the Midwest in the U.S. bought a golden ornament at a junk market, it never crossed his mind that he was the owner of a multi-million dollar Faberge egg hailing from the court of imperial Russia.

In a mystery fit for the tumultuous history of Russia’s ostentatious elite, the 8-cm (3 inch) golden egg was spirited out of St. Petersburg after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and then disappeared for decades in the United States.

An unidentified man in the United States spotted the egg while searching for scrap gold and purchased it for approximately $14,000, hoping to make a fast buck by selling it to the melting pot.

But there were no takers because he had overestimated the value of the watch and gems tucked inside the egg.

In desperation, the man searched the Internet and then realized he might have the egg that Russian Tsar Alexander III had given to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, for Easter in 1887.

When the scrap metal man approached London’s Wartski antiques dealer, he was in shock.

“His mouth was dry with fear - he just couldn’t talk. A man in jeans, trainers and a plaid shirt handed me pictures of the lost Imperial egg. I knew it was genuine,” Kieran McCarthy, director of the Wartski antique dealer, told Reuters.

“He was completely beside himself - he just couldn’t believe the treasure that he had,” said McCarthy, who then travelled to a small town in the U.S. Midwest to inspect the reeded yellow golden egg in the man’s kitchen.

Wartski acquired the egg for an unidentified private collector. McCarthy said he could not reveal the identity of the man who found the egg, its sale price or the collector, though he did say that the collector was not Russian.

Reuters was unable to verify the story without the identities of those involved and when questioned whether the story was perhaps too fantastic to be true, McCarthy said:

“We are antique dealers so we doubt everything but this story is so wonderful you couldn’t really make it up - it is beyond fiction and in the legends of antique dealing, there is nothing quite like this.”

Rich Russians, who before the revolution once dazzled European aristocracy with their extravagance, have since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union returned to stun the West by snapping up treasures, real estate and even football clubs.

Metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg bought a collection of Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs for $90 million from the Forbes family in 2004. The eggs were brought back to Moscow and put on exhibition in the Kremlin.

A Russian businessman with a passion for Tsarist treasures, Alexander Ivanov, said he was behind the $18.5 million purchase of a Faberge egg in London in 2007.

Peter Carl Faberge’s lavish eggs have graced myths ever since they were created for the Russian Tsars: Only royalty and billionaires can ever hope to collect them. Current owners include Queen Elizabeth and the Kremlin.

Tsar Alexander III asked Faberge to make one egg a year until his on, the next Tsar Nicholas II, ordered him to make two a year - one for his wife and one for his mother. The tradition ended in 1917 when Nicholas was forced to abdicate and he and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.

As Russia’s rich rushed to the exits, treasures were sold off under Vladimir Lenin and his successor Josef Stalin as part of a policy known as “Treasures into Tractors.”

The mystery golden egg, which opens to reveal a Vacheron Constantin watch set with diamond set gold hands, was last recorded in Russia in 1922, two years before Lenin’s death.

“It is nothing but wonderment and miracle - a miracle that the egg survived,” said McCarthy. “The treasure had sailed through various American owners and dangerously close to the melting pot.”

Peter Carl Faberge made some 50 imperial eggs for the Russian Tsars from 1885 to 1916. Forty-two have survived, according to Faberge. Some others were made for merchants.

From Reuters, submitted by Lisa Lommasson, Martin Maher, Ben Myers, Gary S. Mangiacopra, and many other readers.


The United States mint in San Francisco will soon produce an unusual coin in honor of the nation’s favorite pastime.

Like so many great pitches in baseball, the new coin will feature a curve.

The bowl-shaped coin is the product of a 2012 law- the National Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative Coin Act- and it commemorates the hall of fame, which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2014.

According to the law, the coin’s striking shape is intended to be similar to one produced by the French Mint in 2009.

From the Napa Valley Register, submitted by Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA.


A South Florida woman unknowingly dropped an envelope containing $1,500 while putting stamps on letters at the Tamarac post office. But she got the cash back, thanks to a good Samaritan couple from Jupiter.

“It’s very beautiful. It’s amazing. I want people to know about it,” Yan G. Van Heel told The Palm Beach Post. “They’re such amazing people.”

Tiina Purin and her boyfriend Jon Raskin were looking for a house recently when they stopped by the post office.

Raskin stepped on the envelope while they were in line. They picked it up, but no one around them claimed it.

By the time they’d finished their business, no one had claimed the envelope, so they went to their car.

“I got a scrap piece of paper, and I wrote ‘Found envelope’ with my phone number on it and brought it inside,” Purin said.

The couple went back to house-hunting.

Meantime, Van Heel realized the money was missing when she stopped by the bank.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, where’s my money?’” Van Heel said.

She retraced her steps back to the post office, which was about to close. After hearing her story, the workers gave her the paper with Purin’s phone number. She called Purin and the couple met her to give back the money.

“We left the house with a smile on our face,” Purin said of the meeting.

Van Heel, who moved to South Florida from China 10 years ago, is starting a business.

She says every penny counts.

“I was very glad to see what a difference it was going to make in her life and how thankful she was to not only have the money but to see that there were people who were willing to return the money,” Raskin said. “I’ve always heard that you should be the good that you want to see in the world.”

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


Lost for centuries, a rare bronze statue of the Greek god Apollo has mysteriously resurfaced in the Gaza Strip, only to be seized by police and vanish almost immediately from view.

Word of the remarkable find has caught the imagination of the world of archaeology, but the police cannot say when the lifesize bronze might re-emerge or where it might be put on display.

A local fisherman says he scooped the 1,100-pound god from the seabed and carried it home on a donkey cart, unaware of the significance of his catch.

Others soon guessed at its importance, and the statue briefly appeared on eBay with a $500,000 price tag- well below its true value. Police from the Islamist group Hamas, who rule the Palestinian territory, swiftly seized it and say they are investigating the affair.

To archaeologists’ great frustration, they have not been able to get their hands on the Apollo and instead must pore over a few blurred photographs of it.

From what they can tell it was cast sometime between the fifth and first century B.C., making it at least 2,000 years old.

“It’s unique. In some ways I would say it is priceless,” said Jean-Michel de Tarragon, a historian with the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem. “It’s very, very rare to find a statue which is not in marble or in stone, but in metal.”

The figure’s apparently pristine condition suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.

“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea... it is very clean. No, it was (found) inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no telltale signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.

Palestinian fisherman Joudat Ghrab tells a different tale. The 26-year-old father of two said he saw a humanlike shape lying in shallow waters some 300 feet offshore, just north of the Egyptian-Gaza border.

At first he thought it was a badly burned body, but when he dived down to take a closer look he realized it was a statue. He says it took him and his relatives four hours to drag the “treasure” ashore. “I felt it was something gifted to me by God,” the bearded Ghrab said.

The discolored green-brown figure shows the youthful, athletic god standing upright on two muscular legs; he has one arm outstretched, with the palm of his hand held up.

He has compact, curly hair and gazes out seriously at the world, one of his eyes apparently inlaid with a blue stone iris, the other just a vacant black slit.

Ghrab said he cut off one of the fingers to take to a metal expert, thinking it might have been made of gold. Unbeknown to him, one of his brothers severed another finger for his own checks, and it was later melted down by a jeweler.

Family members belonging to a Hamas militia soon took charge of the statue, and at some stage the Apollo appeared on eBay, with the seller telling the buyer to collect the item from Gaza.

That would have been easier said than done, however, as Gaza is virtually sealed off from the outside world, with Israel and Egypt imposing rigid controls on access to the impoverished enclave and its 1.8 million inhabitants.

Whether any potential buyers stepped forward is not clear, but when Hamas’ civilian authorities found out about the artifact, they ordered police to seize it.

Officials at Gaza’s Tourism Ministry said the statue will not be shown to the public until a criminal investigation is completed into who tried to sell it.

However, Ahmed Al-Bursh, the ministry’s director of archaeology, said he had seen the Apollo statue and promised that Ghrab would receive a cash reward once the issue was resolved.

“It is a precious treasure, an important archaeological discovery,” Al-Bursh said. Once police release the statue, his ministry plans to repair it and put it on display in Gaza.

Like Ghrab, Al-Bursh said the statue was found at sea.

The historian Tarragon said it was vital to know the true location of its discovery. Statues such as the Apollo case would not have been held in isolation, meaning that it might prove the tip of a historical iceberg, Tarragon said.

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


arlene Curley and her 16-year-old daughter never got to take that final dip in the Atlantic Ocean before heading back home to Tennessee. They were too busy doing the right thing.

As mother and daughter were about to enter the water on their last day of vacation here behind the Super 8 motel, they spotted a purse, a bank bag, shoes and a towel on shore, the items washed up by the tide.

Mother and daughter grabbed the objects and peeked inside the purse only to see a lot of cash stuffed inside, exactly $13,087.88.

“We thought someone may have drowned or something,” Curley said from her residence in Tennessee. “We called the police because we wanted to make sure that the person (the owner) was all right.”

The belongings were taken by Beach Safety Ocean Rescue officers and placed in a bay at the Ormond Beach lifeguard station so they could dry, an incident report shows. When officers realized how much money the purse and bank bag contained, they locked the bay and two officers were assigned to watch over the cash and other belongings until the owner could be found.

Mary Self of Maryland, responded to the lifeguard station and gathered her belongings after first counting the money, the report shows. Self could not be reached for comment. Aside from the cash, Self also had various pieces of jewelry in the $400 brown leather Coach purse, as well as several credit cards, the report states.

Curley said she received a telephone call from Self after she retrieved her items.

“She tanked me and said she wanted to meet me in person,” Curley said.

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


Time has just about run out to get your bid on Craigslist for a real live gold mine and the ghost town surrounding it.

Bidding, which began last fall and did not exactly spark a rush, has reached $240,000, according to the owners of the 12-acre town in northeastern California, complete with a bar and rundown cabins. And since they were hoping for just $10,000 more than that, they figure it could be time to shut it down.

“We initially asked for $250,000 but didn’t get many bites,” Jeff Potter said. “But then we lowered the price to $225,000 and the emails started rolling in.”

Potter’s uncle, Tim Ten Brink, and a friend have owned the parcel known as Seneca, CA, since purchasing the land for $60,000 after discovering it on a hunting trip in 1975. It sits along the Feather River, which was used by gold miners and fished on by President Harry Truman.

“These agents thought it was the most harebrained idea they ever heard,” Potter said.

They decided to take matters into their own hands and try to strike gold in a more modern way, by posting the property on Craigslist.

The media picked up on the story and the calls began to pour in. Since November, they vetted bidders and now have four potential buyers within the $240,000 range.

“It’s difficult to say good bye, but my uncle is ailing and can’t take care of it anymore,” Potter, who lives in Michigan, said. “He used to make some income from the bar.”

The bar is perhaps as mysterious as the land around it. It was there gold miners would count their riches or curse their luck.

“You’ve never felt anything so heavy,” he said.

The Craigslist ad touted the property as “possibly THE last private acreage within a National Forest,” and called the northern road leading to the property “darn scary,” which features 1,000-foot drops into a gorge. The southern access road, meanwhile, is easier trekking in winter or poor weather conditions.

The deal includes all rights to minerals and timber from the land and boasts waterfront footage on both sides of the Feather River, the principal tributary of the Sacramento River, which saw a major influx of prospectors and settlers to the region during the 1849 California Gold Rush.

Gold was reportedly found in the region in 1851, prompting the boom of a wild mining town that once boasted a dance hall, livery, blacksmith and a hotel with solar-heated showers.

Potter said his uncle hopes the buyer will preserve the land and cringes at some of the ideas for the place (which include a haunted house tour). But he said his uncle and his partner will likely take the highest bidder.

“It has tremendous publicity value, and I hope the new owner fixes up the place,” Potter said.

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


For about 15 years, Warwick Vincent has visited what he calls Canada’s most remote spot.

The average temperature there is -18C. The nearest human settlement is 800 kilometres away.

Ward Hunt Island, the Canadian soil closest to the North Pole, is not exactly a hub of communications.

But this past summer, Vincent and his fellow scientists were in precisely the right spot in the middle of nowhere to get a message from somebody they really needed to reach.

The two were exploring an area near the edge of a glacier.

“So we started to pull apart this cairn, and in the cairn was a bottle, and we opened the bottle and there was a piece of paper.”

On the ruled white paper, one edge torn, was a message pencilled in neat cursive.

“To Whom It May Concern,” Paul Walker, a young Ohio geologist, had begun.

He and other scientists had built another cairn nearby and had measured the distance from there to the glacier: four feet, he wrote.

“Anyone venturing this way is requested to remeasure the distance and send the information” to his address in Ohio and to Albert Crary, a colleague in Boston, Walker wrote.

“Thank you very much.”

The letter was signed with a date in 1959.

“For me, it was an incredible thing to hold this in my hands, because these two people, these are very famous names,” said Vincent.

A hill on Ward Hunt Island, Nunavut, is named after Walker, he said. He found out more about the scientist when he got home from the field.

“He was a young person, he was in his 20s, a very accomplished, young, brilliant geologist,” said Vincent.

Walker died the same year he wrote the note.

“Because in the ’50s, it was unthinkable that this would melt.”

The 1.2-meter gap between the cairn and the glacier in 1959 has widened to 101.5 meters today because the glacier has shrunk, said Vincent.

Having a point of comparison from so long ago is extremely valuable, and rare in such an isolated place, he said.

But the dramatic change did not surprise Vincent.

He has watched the Ward Hunt ice shelf, the biggest such shelf in the Arctic, as thick in places as a 33-storey building and probably more than 4,000 years old, break up.

“The changes are extraordinary, particularly the last 10 years, and especially the last two years.”

Ian Howat, a glaciologist at Ohio State, said he was surprised to hear about the message in a bottle and wanted to ask some older colleagues if they remember any historical connection with Walker.

“I’m sure folks here would be interested in seeing it,” Howat said.

He won’t get his wish very easily, except in photo form. Vincent and Denis Sarrazin, who found the bottle, left in the cairn with the letter inside.

But they added their own note, asking the next person who finds it to measure the distance to the glacier and report back to Quebec City.

From The Chronicle Herald, submitted by Daniel Finch, Halifax, N.S.

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