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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (03/2008) Headlines (01/2008) Headlines (10/2008)   Vol. 42 March 2008 
Treasure In The Headlines
As seen in the March 2008 edition of W&ET Magazine


A 710-year-old copy of the declaration of human rights known as the Magna Carta was auctioned recently for $21.3 million, a Sotheby's spokeswoman said.

The document, which had been expected to draw bids of $20-30 million or higher, was bought by David Rubenstein of The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, the spokeswoman said.

The document was owned by The Perot Foundation, created by Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, since the early 1980s.

The recent sale price included the auction house's commission.

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


George Washington's commissioned gold medal that was given to Marquis de Lafayette, the French revolutionary who supported the American Revolution, was sold recently at auction for $5.3 million, Sotheby's announced.

La Fondation de Chambrun, a foundation in Chateau La Grange, Lafayette's home 30 miles east of Paris, beat out two other bidders.

The medal, shaped like an eagle, is expected to be displayed in Lafayette's bedroom.

After Washington's death, his family presented Lafayette with the medal made to Washington's specifications; it was consigned to auction by Lafayette's great-great granddaughter.

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


A platinum coin estimated to be worth more than $1,000 was donated to a Salvation Army bell ringer.

An unidentified person donated the coin outside the Belk department store at University Mall.

"The man who donated the coin tried to put it in the kettle, but it wouldn't fit," Salvation Army spokeswoman Yvonne Warthen said. "So he just handed it to the bell ringer."

The coin's face value is $100, but the Salvation Army had it appraised, and initial estimates put the coin's value at about $1,300. It is from 2006 and stamped with an image of the Statue of Liberty.

The coin isn't the only unusual one dropped in the organization's donation kettles. One gold coin, a one-ounce South African Krugerrand worth about $800, turned up this month in Washington.

Salvation Army officials also have reported getting an Indian head gold coin in Barre, VT, one-ounce American Eagle coins in Prescott, AZ, and Fargo, ND, and a Lady Liberty coin in Grand Island, NE.

A $20 Liberty Eagle gold coin also was donated in Florida with a label attached saying, "In memory of Mimi." The Salvation Army said it was the second year they had received a coin in Florida with that label attached.

From The News Herald, submitted by Doug Amundson, Cambridge, MN.


Quick: Name the most famous battles of the American Revolution.

What did you come up with? Lexington and Concord, where the Revolutionary War began? Bunker Hill? Saratoga? And certainly Yorktown, which secured America's independence when a British army surrendered to George Washington.

Chances are, the list did not include the Battle of Pelham.

The Bronx may be known for its zoo, the Yankees and a certain kind of cheer, but it was also the scene of a little-known yet important fight during the dark days of 1776, when the young country looked like it was heading for a quick demise.

A National Park Service historian recently led a group of 11 history buffs on a tour of the battlefield, where a heavily outnumbered force of Americans clashed with British troops on Oct. 18, 1776- 231 years ago.

Such a tour would have been impossible in most places in the densely developed New York metropolitan area, but the field where the two sides fought is now the Split Rock Golf Course, part of New York City's Pelham Bay Park in the far northern reaches of the borough.

"Battlefield tour?" exclaimed one duffer as the group walked past. "Who won? The good guys or the bad guys?"

Not to be rushed, David Osborn, the historian, explained that in the fall of 1776, the British had already won several victories on Long Island and Manhattan, forcing Washington's army to retreat to the northern tip of Manhattan. With a force of 32,000 British and German troops, British commander Lord Howe seemed well on his way toward destroying the rebel force.

Early on the morning of Oct. 18, some 4,000 British troops landed in the Bronx, aiming to cut off Washington's escape route from Manhattan. But from atop a hill where a large electronics store stands today, Col. John Glover, the American commander in the area, spotted the redcoats and ordered his 750 men forward.

"He knows the invasion he had feared is coming," said Osborn, who manages the park service's St. Paul's Church National Historic Site in nearby Mt. Vernon, a New York suburb.

In the 18th Century, the Bronx was largely farmland, crisscrossed with country lanes and stone walls. The British started marching down one of those lanes. Glover's men crouched behind the stone walls that lined the road.

Today, that road runs down the middle of Split Rock's front nine holes. Abandoned since the 1920s, the road is largely overgrown with bushes, but standing in the middle of the road, it's easy to imagine how carefree the British soldiers might have felt, marching along on a crisp fall morning with no enemy in sight.

In several places along the road, the stone walls still stand, and it's equally easy to imagine the anticipation of the American troops, awaiting the order to open fire.

When the order came, the musket volley caught the British by surprise. At one point, Osborn told the group, an American private jumped over a stone wall, ran up to a wounded British captain, and grabbed his hat and canteen. Back behind the wall, the daredevil private waved the hat for all to see, and a great cheer went up from the Americans.

The captain, Osborn added, later died of his wounds.

About noon, Glover ordered his men to withdraw. He later reported that 21 of his men had been killed or wounded. American estimates of British casualties ran as high as 400, but Osborn said the British probably suffered about the same number of casualties as the Americans.

More important, the British march slowed to a crawl. As author David McCullough wrote in "1776," "With stone walls lining every road and adjacent field, more deadly fire could be waiting at any turn." Washington and his army escaped from Manhattan through the Bronx.

A small sign at the sixth tee, close to where the heaviest fighting took place, calls the Battle of Pelham "the battle that saved the American Revolution."

"We don't go that far," said Osborn, who noted that it is also known as the Battle of Pell's Point and the Battle of Eastchester. A Park Service description of the clash settles for "the battle that saved Washington's army."

Still, as James Gagnon, a retired New York City civil servant who took the tour, pointed out, "If we'd lost the army, it wouldn't have mattered what they were doing in Philadelphia," where the Continental Congress had recently issued the Declaration of Independence. "The revolution would have been over. You need good fortune in was, and luckily we had a lot of it."

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


Hurricane Dean's rampage over Mexico's Caribbean coast recently unearthed three rusted 18th century cannons that had lain buried under a sandy beach for decades.

The cannons, around 1.80 meter (5.9 feet) long, were spotted poking through the sand on a beach near the arty resort of Tulum after Dean hit on August 21, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said recently.

Believed to be from a shipwrecked European galleon, the badly corroded cannons will be put back in to the sea to protect them from faster corrosion onshore and for scuba divers to enjoy, it said.

"People started working to clear up the beach and they found three artifacts that were uncovered when sand was torn away by the strong winds that hit the region," INAH's director in the region, Adriana Velazquez, said in a statement.

She could not be reached directly because of damage to telephone lines from Hurricane Dean.

The cannons appeared just south of the clifftop Mayan ruins at Tulum, which INAH said were left intact by the Category 5 storm's 160 mph winds and lashing rains.

Lying on what is now a bar-lined tourist haven, the cannons were a flashback to the centuries following Spain's 1521 conquest of Mexico, when fleets of Spanish galleons loaded with gold, silver and other New World plunder crossed the Caribbean, often with English, French or Dutch pirates in pursuit.

The cannons are similar to others discovered in past years along Mexico's Caribbean coast and they appear to be more than 200 years old, Velazquez said.

Their bad state of corrosion suggests they were taken out of the sea many years ago and left out in the salty air, she said.

From Reuters, submitted by Jeff Kehl, Avon, MN.


Even in the hyperbole-prone world of fine art, antiques and documents, there is the "rare," there is the "important" and there is the Magna Carta.

As rare as it is important, a 13th Century original copy of this medieval template for modern laws upholding human rights and freedoms will be sold to the highest bidder at Sotheby's here. I could be yours for an estimated $20 million to $30 million.

Such a chance may never come again, according to David Redden, Sotheby's vice chairman, who showed off the vellum manuscript at a preview. He described the document as the most important ever to be sold at auction.

"I guess the most astonishing thing is it's here and it's for sale," said Redden. Only 17 original copies of the Magna Carta are known to survive. English archives and libraries hold 15 of them and Australia has one, none of which is likely ever to be sold, he said. He noted there are no restrictions on who may bed on the Magna Carta or where they may take it.

The document is being sold by The Perot Foundation, a philanthropy founded by Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, which purchased it for $1.5 million in 1984. For approximately five centuries before that, the document belonged to the wealthy English Brudenell family of Deene park in Northhampshire, although it is not certain how they acquired it.

Sotheby's is auctioning the only original copy of the manuscript that has been held primarily in private hands since it was produced by a royal scribe in 1297. That was the year the Magna Carta, originally written in 1215 and revised through the 13th Century, finally was entered into English common law by King Edward I. Handwritten copies were made for distribution around the kingdom.

Written in ink on a 710-year-old sheet of animal skin vellum and bearing the wax seal of King Edward, the manuscript has held up surprisingly well. Although it is marred by some staining and missing words, Sotheby's Magna Carta, or Great Charter, is about 14 inches wide by 16 inches high and features 2,500 Latin words densely packed into 68 lines of text. Most of it is legible, particularly if you use a magnifying glass. The now-sepia-colored handwriting is exquisite, in an elegant chancery script with flourishes on perfectly formed letters that are only about one-eighth-inch high.

"Quite frankly, the reason it's called Magna Carta is it's big," said Redden, noting that because the document was long and vellum was valuable, scribes had to write in the most economical manner possible.

But, he added, "In a very important way it doesn't matter what it looks like because what one is offering is one of the most important symbols of world history."

Beyond England, the Magna Carta provided the foundation for legal systems throughout the world, Redden said, including those of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, former British colonies in Asia and Africa and, of course, the United States. Many of the ideas and language used in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence find their roots in the Magna Carta.

These include the right to a speedy trial before a jury of one's peers; no taxation without representation; the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people; the idea of government drawing power from the consent of the governed; the right of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful imprisonment; and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.

Most important, the Magna Carta established the revolutionary concept that no man is above the law, even the king. In 1215, it was forged out of outrage against the abuses of King John, a cruel sovereign who ran roughshod over his subjects. After a rebellion by barons, he hammered out the first version of the Magna Carta with them and signed it at Runnymede, a meadow alongside the Thames. Although it was revised over the years, the document did not become part of common law until 82 years later. The catalyst was rebellion against another abusive king, John's grandson Edward I, who exploited his subjects, seizing goods, extorting loans and raising taxes to finance his wars of expansion.

After The Perot Foundation purchase of the document, it spent most of the last 23 years on display at the National Archives in Washington. It was removed this fall. Proceeds of the sale will fund medical research, education and aid to wounded soldiers.

"It wasn't our copy. It belonged to The Perot Foundation. We always knew it was on loan to us. That's the nature of a loan, it's not permanent," said National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper. When asked if they would like to get it back on loan from the next owner; she declined to speculate.

But Redden was not as shy on their behalf. "The National Archives would like it back," he said, crisply. "They very much, explicitly, would like it back."

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


One of the most famously flawed stamps in U.S. history sold for $825,000 to a New York man who bought it slightly cheaper than the record price another "Inverted Jenny" copy fetched at auction last month.

The rare 1918 24-cent stamp, depicting an upside-down Curtiss JN-4 biplane known as "Jenny," was sold privately this week to a Wall Street executive who did not want to be identified.

Heritage Auction Galleries president Greg Rohan, who brokered the sale, said the buyer is the same collector who lost an auction last month in which another "Inverted Jenny" sold for $977,500.

The stamp is one from an original sheet of 100 misprints bought at a post office in 1918.

From the Napa Valley Register, submitted by Jerry R. Hallett, Napa, CA, and Bob Bolek, Hometown, IL.

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