18 Aug 2010

High value coins

It was nearly ten years ago when prominent British coin dealer Stephen Fenton of Knightsbridge Coins purchased five rare coins at a Sotheby's auction in New York. Post-sale, Fenton entrusted FedEx to ship the coins overnight, and as promised, the box arrived next day at Knightsbridge Coins in London.

Imagine Fenton's surprise when he opened the package to find it stuffed full of white packing paper but no coins. Law enforcement and FedEx officials were immediately notified. Investigators later determined that the coins had never left the U.S., on the basis that the green-and-white striped tape used to reseal the box after it was looted was exclusively used at Newark Airport's FedEx warehouse in New Jersey.

Though police questioned a former FedEx employee, the thief was never caught. Fenton proceeded to register all five coins on the Art Loss Register's international database of stolen and missing art, a resource that champions due diligence checks prior to good faith purchases of artworks and decorative objects.

A decade later, three of the five looted coins appeared at auction-a German East Africa, 15 Rupien Coin (1916), a 16 Japanese, Mutsuhito, 1867-1912, 20 Yen Coin, gold, Meiji 3 (1870) and a British Colonial Proof Trade Dollar Coin, struck in gold (1902). Today, the three coins are collectively valued at over £30,000 GBP. Fenton enlisted in the ALR to contact the three auction houses involved, and the coins were pulled from their respective sales. Another major coin dealer from the United States who had consigned all three lots, claimed he had purchased the coins in good faith from another dealer.

With the help of Detective Robert Medaglia of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police (whose name in Italian translates to "coin"), the case was reopened and a release was negotiated with the consignor by the ALR. The coins were then returned to Fenton by the ALR on behalf of his insurer. When it came time to ship the coins from New York law enforcement back to London, the ALR allowed FedEx a second chance, and thankfully this time the box arrived safely in London with its valuable contents inside.