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The Case of the Gold $20s
By Dr. R.S. "Bart" Bartanowicz, Coins Magazine
June 06, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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She was absolutely stunning. Her long golden tresses and gown were flowing in the wind. The gown was pure gossamer and clung to her shapely frame. He was trembling as he examined her. His concentration was interrupted by the stark words, “Well, what do you think?” Sears raised his hand, implying he wanted quiet as he slowly turned the coin over and examined the reverse, which was an equally brilliant work of art in the form of an American eagle.

The coin’s owner, Barton Rheinolds, was increasingly annoyed by Sears’ silence. Undaunted, Sears continued his examination of the Saint-Gaudens gold $20.

Raising his hand had only served to agitate and infuriate the wealthy Rheinolds. Sears finally put down his loupe and looked up at the redfaced Rheinolds.

“This is by and far the finest Saint-Gaudens I have seen in my 25 years in the coin business.” Rheinolds wasn’t impressed by the verdict and grew increasingly annoyed as the dealer continued.

“I’ll go over the technical merits of the coin and then, based on that, I can give you an idea of the market value.”

Rheinolds, who was not a collector, snapped back.

“Spare me the details, Sears. How much is the coin worth? A ballpark estimate will do.”

All Sears could do was sigh as he thought, “It’s all about the money. This is an extremely rare and beautiful coin and the owner has no appreciation for either.”

Looking at Rheinolds, he recited the specifics. “The short and sweet of it is that you have a 1920 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece. This one was minted in San Francisco and it has a technical grade of at least Mint State-65. There are only a few of these coins in this lofty grade.”

Rheinolds snorted. “The price, man. What is it worth?”

Sears was not to be put off, as he continued. “Coins in this grade can sell in the $300,000+ range. My opinion is that this coin is exceptional and that the right collector will pay more for it.”

Having received the verdict, Rheinolds appeared satisfied and even suffered Sears a small grin. “You can’t be pushed around. Can you, Sears? I came to you because of your reputation for honesty as well as being discrete. By the way, did your parents really name you Sears?”

At this Sears chuckled.

“I spent some time in the military and with my last name being Robuck it was inevitable that someone would nickname me Sears. Of course, I don’t spell Robuck the same as the department store, but this didn’t bother or dissuade my military friends. Over the course of some 30 years I’ve come to like the nickname, as it’s a great opening conversation with clients.”

Both men chuckled.

“Sears, I do have more of these gold pieces. Would you mind coming to the house this evening? I live over near Wolfeboro.

“From Nashua you can take the Daniel Webster Highway over to the Everett Turnpike and exit at Concord. It’s an easy ride.”

Sears hesitated, then responded.

“No problem, I’m a New Hampshire native and know the roads well. I can certainly do it, and I’m anxious to see what you have.”

Rheinolds nodded, saying, “I thought you would. Here’s an envelope with detailed directions as well as cash payment for your services.”

And at that the conversation ended.

It was obvious that Rheinolds had no intention of keeping the coins. Sears hoped he might be employed to help dispose of the collection.

It was a nice day. It was late afternoon as he left his modest downtown Nashua shop. He decided to take a leisurely drive along the New Hampshire back roads up to the Lake Country, as summer visitors called it.

Arriving at the entrance to a trendy residence with a water view, Sears announced himself and entered the code that Rheinolds had written down in his directions.

He let himself in as specified in the instructions. The instructions indicated that the help had the evening off and he was to come right in. He stepped into the foyer and after waiting a minute or two, he shouted out his presence.

“Mr. Rheinolds, it’s Sears. Which way do I go?”

Still no answer, he decided to walk down the entry hall a bit.

Perhaps Rheinolds hadn’t heard him call out.

Looking into a room that appeared to be a study, he knocked on the slightly askew door and called out again. He decided to venture farther into the room.

On the floor, adjacent to a large desk, a body came into view. It was Rheinolds. Perhaps he had fallen or stroked out.

He knelt down on the floor and found that there was no pulse. Rheinolds was dead, and scattered on the floor there were at least a dozen $20 Saint-Gaudens gold pieces.

Oh, oh, he thought, this is big trouble—a dead man and a fortune in coins strewn on the floor. A closer look stunned him. Among the coins was a fabled 1933 Saint-Gaudens.

Sears mentally reprimanded himself—a dead man lying on the floor and the first thing you focus on is the Saint- Gaudens. Regaining his composure, he flipped out his cellphone and called 911. He was told not to touch anything.

Waiting for the authorities, he was once again staring at the 1933 Saint-Gaudens. He fought off the urge to pick it up and examine it. His numismatic curiosity and urges were strong, but he told himself not to be stupid. This might be a crime scene.

He carefully backtracked to the front door so as to let the authorities in. Maybe, he thought, they would let him examine the coin. No doubt about it, this was another stupid thought.

It wasn’t long before the sheriff’s office arrived, along with the New Hampshire State Police. The burly police officer who appeared to be in charge was right to the point.

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“So, Mr. Robuck, tell me how you discovered the body, and we’ll get to the rest of the story along the way.”

The officer seemed like a friendly fellow, as Sears quickly made the point. “There’s a $7.5 million coin lying on the floor along with other valuable coins. You need to tell the folks to wear cotton gloves and only to pick the coins up by the edges, lest they damage them. I’ll be glad to assist you in gathering up the coins.”

The officer looked at Sears in disbelief.

“There’s a dead man on the floor and we haven’t determined the cause of death and you’re worried about some coins.

“Did I hear you correctly? You say there’s a $7.5 million coin? I can see this is going to be a long evening.”

Sears was relieved when he was asked to go down to the police station to make a formal statement. He could hardly stand the thought of the crime scene people handling the 1933 gold $20 and the other valuable coins. He had provided the detective who remained at the house a short discourse on the proper care and handling of rare coins.

The detective acknowledged his advice with a raised eyebrow, which did not give Sears any level of confidence. As he was escorted out the door, he glanced back and saw the detective talking in an animated manner and thought he heard himself being referred to as a nutcase, or some other uncomplimentary term.

His interview at the police station was a more pleasant experience. The detective was a woman, who had a definite New Hampshire accent as she spoke using shortened “As,” as the linguists called it. The accent reminded him of his old neighborhood in northern New Hampshire. Nashua was his home now, but occasionally he was nostalgic for the “woods.”

He started to ask the detective where she lived but decided that this wasn’t the time or the place. He recounted the entire story from the time he was first contacted by Rheinolds to his discovery of the death scene and the 1933 gold $20.

He was delighted when he was asked about the coins. The detective also seemed interested in the coins and how to properly handle them, as well as to how value was determined.

“So, Mr. Robuck, you indicate that the coins are incredibly rare and valuable and one of them may be worth as much as $7.5 million. How does one dispose of expensive and rare coins such as these?”

“I wish you would call me Sears.”

The detective shook her head no.

Too bad, he thought, he just wanted to be friendly.

“Coins such as these are incredible rare and don’t come up for sale very often. The numismatic community pretty much knows when fresh coins of this caliber come on the market that no one was aware of. In the case of the 1933 double eagle, it would be too hot to handle in that up to this point only 13 are known to exist.

More importantly, the government considers it is illegal to have one. There is one exception, a 1933 from the King Farouk collection was legally sold for over $7 million, $7,590,020 to be precise. There are also two in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Ten other 1933 double eagles were recently discovered in a safe-deposit box in the Philadelphia area. They’ve been confiscated by the government. So legally selling the 1933 would be impossible.

Of course, there may be darker elements who might well want the coin. I’ve read about people who acquire stolen art pieces and such for their private collections. I’ve never heard of such cases when it comes to coins. So this is speculation on my part.”

The detective looked at him in a manner he didn’t like. “How is it Mr. Robuck that a wealthy and prominent citizen such as Mr. Rheinolds would go to a small businessman such as you? It seems to me that he would have consulted someone who was perhaps preeminent in the business.”

The alarms were going off in Sears’ head. First he had been dissed. The detective was more or less calling him insignificant or second rate.

Did the detective think he was capable of thievery or even murder?

The whole interview seemed to have shifted from a friendly chat to an accusatory tone.

He thought, “Is this where I ask to call my lawyer, or do I continue to help the detective?” He decided to continue talking.

“I deal with clients who are wealthy, as well as regular collectors of very modest resources. I have a reputation for being discrete.

“Many collectors love to talk about and exhibit their collections. There are also coin collectors who worry about their collections being stolen and as such don’t want or need dealers who talk about them.

“A man with a modest collection of say silver Roosevelt dimes can be as discrete about his collection as an individual with a very expensive collection. People who collect let folks know who is discrete and reputable.

Mr. Rheinolds was not a collector, and he didn’t give me the details of how he acquired his collection. He called, asking for an appointment, and didn’t care to say who had recommended me. If he was going to dispose of his collection, the best I could do was probably put him in contact with the preeminent dealers you refer to.”

At this, the detective excused herself, leaving the room, saying that she would be back in a minute. This didn’t make Sears feel any better.

His mind raced as he thought of scenarios. This might be a change from the “good cop” to the “bad cop” coming in to continue the interview. He decided that he was not going to cooperate any further and would ask for a lawyer.

His interrogator entered the room with another detective. The new detective spoke, “Mr. Robuck, we’re done for now. The interview is over. We’ll stay in touch and you, of course, should let us know your whereabouts in the event we need to get in touch with you. By the way, is there any reason why you didn’t mention that your brother Steve is on the Nashua PD?”

Feeling relieved, Sears felt the need to ask the question. “I’m sure that people are always telling you they know somebody important. I figured it would aggravate you if I started dropping my brother’s name. Anyway, can you tell me if you’ve reached any conclusions as to what happened? Was it a robbery, or something else?

“Did you protect the coins. They really need to be put in holders. Don’t let anyone handle the coins with bare hands, and don’t put the coins in envelopes as that might damage the coin surfaces.”

The detectives looked at each other in disbelief. “Mr. Robuck, we have a dead man, and no we don’t have the cause of death yet. I know that Mr. Rheinolds was not a personal friend of yours but you seem more preoccupied with the coins.”

Robuck promptly put his foot in his mouth when he said, “Do you know how many people have actually seen a 1933 double eagle up close? It is incredibly rare and prized. Seeing one of these in person would be the highlight of any numismatist’s life.”

Realizing he wasn’t making a good impression, he continued, “I’m sorry about Mr. Rheinolds. I’m a coin wonk. This has been my lifetime hobby and business. I know you guys think I’m odd. I do apologize.”

“For what it’s worth, when we contacted the Nashua Police Department to ask about you, the individual I talked to seemed to know a lot about coin collectors. I told him that I was taken aback by your preoccupation over the coins vs. being in the presence of someone who was recently deceased. I was informed that while your actions might be over the top, it was on the other hand not uncommon for some collectors to behave as you do. He told me he would contact your brother.

“I don’t deal with many enthusiastic hobbyists such as you. On the other hand, I have a brother-in-law who is into fly fishing and can talk about fishing lures for hours—particularly his own hand-tied flies. To each their own, I guess.”

Raising his eyebrow, he continued, “Anyway, the interview is over and you’re free to leave.”

At this Sears fought off the urge to run out the door. He took his time, picking up his reference books that he had taken to Rheinolds’ residence, and slowly sauntered down the hall. He was pretty sure he heard the detectives talking about him.

Sears glanced over to the female detective, who was standing in the hallway. She was obviously suppressing a grin.

He decided it was time to get out of Dodge as they say. He nodded goodbye and walked briskly down the hall of the police station toward the door.

He was thinking, “Good grief, I may be a murder suspect. They may be coming after me any minute.

He shuddered as he stepped through the doors into the chilly air. He thought, I’m free.

Then his heart stopped as a hand reached over from behind, grabbing him by the shoulder.

“Wake up! You need to get out of the chair and go to bed.” His spouse released her grip on his shoulder. “You were mumbling something about coins.”

Our numismatist smiled. “Yep, I dreamt I was a coin dealer and discovered a rare coin.”

His spouse countered, “And I bet we became rich and famous?”

Our numismatist sadly nodded. “Perhaps. Or I might be going to jail for murder. I didn’t get to finish the dream.”

His spouse grimaced and said “You amaze me. Go to bed.”

As he rose, his wife still had a quizzical look on her face. “Are we going shopping at Sears tomorrow?”

Before he could answer, his spouse said, “Forget it. I don’t know if I want to hear any more of your musings this evening.”

Perhaps the next dream will have a happy numismatic ending?

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