Sunday, July 24, 2005


Ownership Dispute Flares Over Coin


The Ledger
By Jason Geary
July 21, 2005

The S.S. Central America.

BARTOW -- The small gold coin's strange odyssey didn't end when it was plucked from an 1857 shipwreck off the coast of the Carolinas.The coin -- with an estimated value of about $8,000 -- now rests in safekeeping in the Lakeland Police Department's evidence room. Whom it belongs to remains unclear.

Both a Maryland coin-seller and a Lakeland jewelry shop are claiming ownership. If they can't reach a compromise, the Police Department filed paperwork Monday to have a Polk County judge make a final decision about who should pocket the rare coin.

"We feel these individuals should come to an agreement," said Lakeland police spokesman Jack Gillen.

Julian Leidman, 58, of Silver Spring, Md., says the coin was stolen from his shop, Bonanza Coins, on Oct. 26, 2004.

Munchel's Fine Jewelry on South Florida Avenue says it purchased the coin Oct. 28, 2004, according to court records filed by the Police Department. Representatives from the store declined to comment.

Police reports state that Bill Munchel bought the coin from a person who came to the store seeking to sell it.

Gillen said police don't know the identity of the person who sold the coin to Munchel's because the name and address on the receipt appear to be false.

Gabe Elton, a gold and rare coin specialist, said the coin is moderately rare, but its true value is in its history.

The coin and thousands of others like it were cargo on the ill-fated voyage of the S.S. Central America, said Elton, who works for Austin Rare Coins in Austin, Texas.

These coins were created after the 1849 gold rush at the United States branch mint in San Francisco, Elton said.

While on its way to New York from Panama, the S.S. Central America sank in 1857 during a hurricane, Elton said. More than 400 people perished in the tragedy, he said.

In the late 1980s, a salvage expedition recovered treasure from the wreckage, Elton said. For years, the coins couldn't be sold because they were tied up in lawsuits and legal wrangling between salvagers and insurance companies, he said.

Leidman said he got three coins from a trade with a Texas dealer. He sold two and kept the third in a display case.

Leidman said a customer came into his store to look at some coins, and slowly opened the display case while he wasn't looking.

Later that day, Leidman said he reached inside for the coin. "Bingo, it's gone," he said.

Leidman filed a police report and conducted an ongoing search on the Internet auction site eBay in case someone attempted to sell it.

In late January, Leidman said, he spotted his coin on eBay. He said he knew it was the stolen coin because of a distinctive "streak" or imperfection found between the forehead of Miss Liberty's face and the stars surrounding its perimeter.

"There isn't another coin exactly like it," he said.

Leidman said he learned that a fellow coin dealer had bought the coin from Munchel's and put it up for auction.

When the coin dealer learned there were questions about ownership of the coin, he returned it to the Lakeland jewelry shop and got his money back, Leidman said.

Leidman said he is willing to buy the coin back from Munchel's for $1,200.


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