Thursday, October 09, 2008

Treasure Found in 19th Century House


"I finally found my treasure!" my brother said into the phone. For the past 20 years he has lived in a 19th century house wondering if one day he might find hidden treasure. Maybe a stash of silver certificates hidden in a wall or a coffee can full of gold coins buried in the dirt floor of his cellar.

It's not that he's never found anything in the house. He's found things before, like a 50 year old toy in his cellar. But he's never found a single coin in the house . . . until now.

It's not too far fetched to live in an old house and dream of finding treasure. Stories have appeared in the news this year reminding us of the possibility. There was the story earlier this year of the workmen who found a depression era stash of currency while remodeling an old house. More recently, Baltimore newspapers have retold the story of two teenage boys that found a stash of 19th century gold coins while digging in the cellar in 1934. That stash, known as The Baltimore Hoard, is estimated to be worth over $10 million if it were found and auctioned today.

My family isn't without our stories too. My mother once told me that her father used to bury money in coffee cans in the backyard. He raised his kids during the Great Depression and had little faith in putting his money in the bank. I remember at the time thinking how ridiculous it was when I tried to picture my grandfather putting his money into the ground. With today's bank failures and stock market crash, it doesn't seem so ridiculous anymore.

My grandfather had an old 19th century house that had many little nooks and crannies in which to hide things. That included a large old cellar that you entered through a trap door hidden under a rug in a closet. I've always wondered if he ever dug up all the money he stashed away or is it still there? My parents sold the house over 20 years ago after my grandmother died. One day I'd like to buy the property back and scour it with a metal detector. I can imagine what treasure lies a few feet under the back yard or buried in the cellar.

My own house has its secrets too. My wife and I had been living in our house for a couple of months before I found a hidden crawl space behind a wall in our basement. And guess what was there? - no, IS THERE? - An old black trunk covered in spider webs and dust. It has been eight years since I found the trunk. Most people don't believe me when I tell them I've never crawled in there and looked into that trunk. It has not been disturbed since I found it.

The trunk looks more like something out of a Stephen King novel than a pirate's treasure chest filled with gold, which may be why I haven't been in a hurry to open it. Maybe some day I'll invite Geraldo over and throw a trunk opening party.

But my brother finally found his treasure. And it was money! He found it hidden in a wall in his cellar. . . . but it was a treasure only a true numismatist could value.

My brother found a first year of issue 1859 Indian Head penny and it was holed - twice (see photos below). One hole at 12 o'clock and the other at 6 o'clock. The one hole obliterated the 5 in 1859, but he knew the date without a doubt as any good numismatist would know. You see, the 1859 Indian Head penny is the only year that features a laurel wreath reverse. In 1860, the design was changed to an oak wreath.

Below are pictures of my brother's treasure. The holes go all the way through the coin. I'd love to know people's opinions as to what they think the holes were for. Possibly a braclet? Maybe the coin was nailed to a wall? Hmm, maybe the answer lies in my black trunk.

Click photos to enlarge.