The Iowan

Kens Korner

News & Views From The World of Antiques & Collectibles

By Ken Hall

Man may own only 1912 buffalo nickel

In 1960, Chuck Wachob, then 17, was working in a bank when he came across a buffalo nickel that looked a little odd. It was dated 1912, but how could that be? The first buffalo nickels weren’t minted until the following year, 1913. Wachob, now 70, kept the coin all these years but only recently began researching it. And what he thinks is, he may have a rare prototype coin that, if it can be authenticated, could be worth a small fortune to numismatists. But the jury’s still out, as specialists examine the coin and offer their opinions.

The buffalo nickel was designed by American artist James Fraser, who used actual American Indians to pose for his drawings. Wachob thinks Fraser created a prototype coin in the fall of 1912, and that’s the coin he owns. On Wachob’s coin, there is no mound underneath the buffalo (later on, Fraser depicted the buffalo standing on a mound; that rendering was used for the 1913 minting). A Florida coin specialist told Wachob it can’t be real because it doesn’t have a mound, and that the 1912 date is “an optical illusion.”

Art bought for $2,500 is worth $30 million

When Thomas Schultz and Lawrence Joseph bought a house on Long Island, N.Y., in 2007 for $300,000, they decided to pay an extra $2,500 for some paintings, drawings and journals found in the garage. They then restored and framed the paintings and went to have them appraised. They were in for a shock. The paintings are worth an estimated $30 million, all of them having been done by a little known Armenian-American artist named Arthur Pinajian. One of the paintings has already been sold, for $500,000.

Pinajian painted every day, but few ever saw his work. He rarely got reviews, and not one of his paintings or works on paper was ever shown in a New York gallery or museum. In fact, it was Pinajian’s request that, upon his death, all of his artwork be dumped in the local landfill (fortunately, his family did not follow those instructions). Schultz and Joseph, who say they aren’t “big art people,” are showing the abstract impressionist’s work at a gallery opened by Schultz, as well as in Manhattan’s Fuller Building.

Queen Elizabeth I portrait from 1592

An oil on oak portrait of an aging Queen Elizabeth I that hung in a modest garden gift shop on the Outer Banks of North Carolina has been dated to 1592 (when the Queen would have been about 60 years old) by an East Carolina University conservator. Now that it has officially been authenticated, the work has been whisked to Washington, D.C., to be part of an exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library called Nobility and Newcomers in Renaissance Ireland. Queen Elizabeth I ruled over Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.

For years a debate raged over how old the painting is, who painted it and how much it is worth. The question of age has been answered and most art experts agree the painting can be attributed to the school of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, an artist of the Tudor court. As to its value, that will be discussed on an episode of CNBC’s Treasure Detectives, which will feature it in a segment. The painting was donated to the Elizabeth Gardens in North Carolina in 1950 after a collector bought it from an art gallery in New York City.

Court halts sale of ’59 Augusta jacket

The Augusta National Golf Club was recently awarded a preliminary injunction blocking the sale of the coveted green Masters jacket won by Art Wall, Jr., in 1959. The jacket was bought at auction last year by Stephen Pyles, an Ocala, Fla.-based anesthesiologist and collector of golf memorabilia who has been displaying the jacket in his office. He paid around $62,000 for it then, and he recently contacted Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Tex., with the idea of reselling it to make a profit. Heritage readily agreed to take on the consignment.

Not so fast, said officials in Augusta, who heard of the pending sale and came forward with the claim that the jacket had been stolen from club property in 2010. Further, they asserted, all of its green jackets ever won remain the property of Augusta National (the club allows each Masters champ to remove his jacket from club property for one year, but then it must be returned). Pyles’s attorney said that’s not true, pointing to Gary Player, who took his Masters jacket home to South Africa in 1961 and never returned it.

Book may be the world’s smallest

A Japanese book of flowers titled Shiki no Kusabana (Flowers of Seasons) has been submitted to Guinness World Records to be recognized as the smallest book ever printed. The book’s 22 pages measure just 0.75 millimeters across (that’s 0.03 inches) and are impossible to read with the naked eye. The book’s publisher, Toppan Printing, has been making “micro-books” since 1964. The firm creates letters a minuscule 0.01 millimeter wide, using the same technology that money printers use as a way to prevent forgeries.

Shiki no Kusabana contains names and monochrome illustrations of Japanese flowers, such as the cherry and plum. The book is not only on display, at Toppan’s Printing Museum in Tokyo, it is also for sale — for 29,400 yen (about $300). The price includes the book itself, a magnifying glass and a larger version of the book. The current title-holder for world’s smallest book, according to Guinness, is a 0.9-mm, 30-page Russian volume titled Chameleon. It was created by Siberian craftsman Anatoliy Konerko in 1996.

Violin from Titanic is declared genuine

After seven years of testing at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, a water-stained violin has been declared the very one played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley on the deck of the Titanic moments before the ill-fated ocean liner plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in April 1912. Within minutes of the ship striking an iceberg, Hartley was instructed to assemble the seven other musicians and play music in order to maintain calm. The band gallantly complied, with the last piece of music they played being Nearer, My God, to Thee.

Hartley perished that night, along with 1,500 others, but before going into the water he strapped his large leather valise (luggage case) to his body. The case contained some jewelry items (like a silver cigarette case and gold signet ring), plus his cherished violin, which had been given to him as a present by his fiancée (and eventual widow), Maria Robinson. But original accounts of what was found on Hartley’s body ten days after the tragedy made no mention of a violin, so it took research and testing to confirm it was Hartley’s.

Zippo pulls lighters from neo-Nazi website

The German distributor of Zippo Manufacturing Co., based in Pennsylvania, has pulled a number of lighters bearing certain militaristic designs after they turned up on an extremist German website that sells neo-Nazi (and anti-Semitic) items and clothing. One lighter shows the image of a soldier and the word “Landser” (German for infantryman, but also the name of a neo-Nazi rock band whose members were convicted of hate crimes ten years ago). Another shows an iron cross, a symbol that Adolf Hitler embraced.

Nazi imagery is illegal in Germany. Zippo said it had no idea the designs carried a negative message and apologized for seeing them to market. The lighters were being sold on the website Versand der Bewegung (“Distributor of the Movement”), an online retailer based just south of Munich. Other items on the site include a T-shirt that says “Nazis Out — Out of Jail,” an anti-Jewish shirt bearing an obscenity, racist music and anti-Semitic literature. Zippo produces more than 10,000 designs a year, sold worldwide.

‘Papal Continental’ on view in Tacoma

A shiny black 1964 Lincoln Continental stretch limousine — better known as the “Papal Continental” because it famously carried Pope Paul VI during his historic visit to New York City in 1965 (the first time a reigning pope had ever come to the United States) — has gone on view at the LeMay American Car Museum in Tacoma, Wash. It was loaned to the LeMay by its owner, a car collector who does not want to be identified but who purchased the Lincoln in 2011 for about $220,000. It was customized by Lehmann-Peterson of Chicago.

The car features a removable roof, bullet-resistant upper windshield, extra lighting, a PA system and external step plates and hand rails for the Swiss Guards protecting the pontiff. It also sports four small flags along the hood (including ones for the U.S. and the Vatican), and special tube lighting to illuminate them. After being used for the papal visit, the Continental was on loan for years to the city of Chicago. It took astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell for ticker-tape parades in Chicago after the Apollo moon missions.

Class rings turn up in Vietnamese stores

A pair of 1970s high school class rings has turned up in Vietnamese jewelry stores and they have been obtained by Americans and brought home to be reunited with their owners (or the families of the owners, if the soldiers were killed during the Vietnam war). So far, no luck. One of the rings was spotted in a store in Thai Binh City in Feb. 2012 by Rick Dunn of Easton, Pa., a U.S. contractor working in that city. The ring was from Montgomery High School in Kentucky, class of 1970. It didn’t have any identifying initials.

Dunn bought the ring for $30, then brought it back to the U.S. and turned it over to the Montgomery County school system, which is searching for the owner. The other ring was given to Don Cherry, a retired Air Force brigadier general, by Nguyen Hong My, a friend and former Vietnamese war pilot who bought it because he liked the way it looked. The ring is from Mackin Catholic High School in Washington, D.C., class of 1972. Cherry has it at home in Bowling Green, Ky. That ring has no name initials either.

Bowl bought for $3 sells for $2.2 million

In 2007, a New York family paid $3 for a small bowl at a garage sale, brought it home and placed it on the mantel, where it remained for years. Curious, they began to make inquiries about the bowl’s age and potential value. An appraiser at Sotheby’s told them it was a Northern Song dynasty bowl (or “Ding” bowl), from 10th or 11th century China, one of only two known in the world (the other one is in the British Museum). Sotheby’s recently auctioned the bowl, and London art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi paid $2.2 million for it.

House used in Rocky II for sale

Attention film buffs and fans of the Rocky movies: the unassuming Philadelphia row house that was used in the Rocky II movie from the 1970s is for sale. Asking price: a reasonable $133,900. Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) and Adrian (Talia Shire) “bought” the three-bed, two-bath, 1,300-square-foot home as part of the story line in the movie. The house is available now because the woman who had lived there since the filming of Rocky II recently passed away. Filmmakers picked the house because they liked the way it looked.

Only the outside of the house was shown in the movie. Another residence was used for interior shots. Today, the home has its good points (it’s a quaint city home with an eat-in kitchen and a large back yard, on a tree-lined street), but it also needs some work (which might explain the low asking price). To this day, fans of the movie still stop by to peer in the windows or take photos outside the house. During filming, streets had to be blocked off and police were called in, because Stallone’s appearance in the area caused such a commotion.

Violin virtuoso owns a 1713 Stradivarius

Famous violin virtuoso Joshua Bell said he paid “several million dollars” for his 1713 Stradivarius instrument (he estimates it’s worth up to $10 million now) and, despite the violin’s age, Bell describes it as a piece of technology. He told USA Today: “Every little curve has a reason — it acts as a sophisticated speaker system, and no one has been able to improve on the design.” Bell became a YouTube sensation in 2006 when he was recorded playing for tips at a Washington, D.C., metro train station. The clip got over 4 million views.

Museum of Aviation is forced to downsize

The Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Ga., has been forced to get rid of 29 planes and three missiles — about one-third of its collection — because it doesn’t have the personnel to maintain the aircraft. In 2011, Air Force cuts eliminated eight civilian positions at the museum. Among the planes gone or soon to be gone: a B-52 Stratofortress (shown; a relic of the Cold War and one of the museum’s largest aircraft) and an EC-135 Stratotanker (used by General Norman Schwarzkopf during the Desert Storm operation).

Ancient burial sites in Egypt being looted

Since the fall of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, gangs of looters, many of them armed and violent, have been systematically robbing the country’s ancient burial sites and, in the process, its very history. Tomb sites were well-guarded for decades under Mubarak, but since his ouster the country’s police services have done practically nothing to stem the tide. The gangs typically dig at night, and by day one can see fresh motorcycle tracks and evidence of illegal excavation. What’s found gets sold on the black market.

Fortunately, most of what these looters retrieve does not carry great monetary value — a piece of pottery here, some beads there, maybe a coffin. But occasionally they’ll hit the jackpot, finding a statue or other item that could easily fetch $600 or more (a small fortune in Egypt). Archaeologists believe there are still hundreds of tombs waiting to be discovered in Egypt, although it is doubtful any would be as grand as those in the Valley of the Kings, near Luxor, where Pharaohs were buried in tombs crammed with gold.

Works by ‘Banksy’ pulled from auction

Two spray-paint murals by the enigmatic British graffiti artist “Banksy”(a pseudonym; his real identity is a closely guarded secret) were pulled at the last minute from an auction in Miami because of the controversy surrounding one of them. That one, a 40 inch by 60 inch work titled Banksy: Slave Labour, had been ripped from a wall at a building owned by Poundland Stores, a London retailer. It later turned up in Miami. The seller’s name was not revealed, but theft has not been ruled out so it was pulled from auction.

The other mural was a piece titled Wet Dog (valued at between $600,000 and $800,000; Slave Labour had been estimated at $500,000-$700,000). It is owned by Stephan Keszler, a New York gallery owner and fan of Banksy. The work shows a silhouette of a dog shaking water out of its fur. It had been painted in the West Bank around 2007 and salvaged in 2010 by Keszler on behalf of the property’s owner. It was to be sold alongside Slave Labour at Fine Art Auctions but Keszler pulled Wet Dog out of respect for Slave Labour.

Jersey show cow garners $170,000

We realize that real-life cows aren’t collectible, but we just had to report on the recent sale of a prized Jersey show cow at auction — for $170,000. That’s a lot of money for a cow, and it’s the most ever paid for a Jersey show cow raised in Duchess County, N.Y. (the previous record was $92,000). The cow just sold, named Karlie, was purchased by Arethusa Farms in Bantam, Conn. The auction was held in March, just outside Syracuse, N.Y. Karlie is a breeding cow that had one calf herself and others born by surrogates. 

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