The Crown Jewels

Many countries have crown jewels, that is, valuable gems, swords, pearls, orbs, crowns, and jewelry belonging to their monarchy.  Iran is believed to have the world’s largest collection after many centuries of Persian royalty.  Russia is thought to have the most elaborate crowns ever crafted.  However, when it comes to famous jewels, I think most people think of “the crown jewels,” that being those in the Tower of London.

When I was watching the Olympics recently there was a segment on NBC about the Tower.  The oldest security tradition in the world is the evening daily regime of the Yeoman at the Tower of London taking the “keys” to lock up the doors and gates of the famous castle.  Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress is almost 1000 years old, and has housed the monarch’s jewelry since the early 14th century. 

The Tower has so much history attached to the historic castle, as well as the jewels to make for a compelling story.  William the Conqueror initiated construction in the 11th century.  Famous kings such as Richard the Lionheart expanded the building.  Over two million people visit the site annually.  The Tower is an absolute treasure to the British people.  I think it is a treasure to all of mankind. 








China Pot O’ Gold

Chinese pocelain vase in China museum

China porcelain in Chinese museum

   An 18th century porcelain Chinese vase auctioned on Nov, 11, 2010 in London for 83 million dollars.  An article by Jill Lawless of the Associated Press called it a “pot o’ gold.”  The auction house noted that the buyer wished to remain anonymous as did the sellers.  As for the buyer, the auction house hinted that it is difficult to gauge the Asian market.  Asian pottery and art from past centuries has been bringing in higher than expected prices at auction for some time.  The market for such works does not look like it will cool down for now.  The sellers were a sister and a niece of a deceased lady who lived in a modest London suburb.  It is unknown how the vase came into the family which had passed it down for generations. 

              The article mentioned that the sixteen inch vase was made for Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty when Chinese porcelain making was at it’s zenith.  British troops looted artifacts from Beijing’s Summer Palace in 1860 in one of the Opium Wars.  It is speculated an event such as this might explain how it came to be in London.  It reminded me of an episode of Antiques Roadshow I saw several months ago.  A lady brought in some Chinese porcelain that her father had purchased shortly after World War II when he was stationed with the American occupation forces in Japan.  She had four pieces and together they were valued at possibly over one million dollars.  She had no idea they were valued at that price. 

      I had heard of a pot o’ gold at the end of a rainbow but had never believed it, even as a child.  However, if someday I find myself in possession of an 18th century Chinese porcelain vase, I promise I will become a believer in a such a thing as a pot o’gold.

Roman Coins


        News reports the last few days report of a remarkable recent discovery in Britain by a lone treasure hunter.  A cache of thousands of Roman coins was found in April by the use of a metal detector that picked up metal objects under about a foot of soil.  The treasure sleuth handled the find very professionally by immediately contacting the proper authorities after digging up a portion of his discovery. The find is worth millions and is also one of valued historical significance.  

            Hundreds of the coins have the inscription of Marcus Aurelius Carausius, a Roman ruler of Britain during the 3rdcentury.  They may be some of the first coins minted on the island of England.  This will generate renewed interest in the history of Roman Britain.  In 2009 another treasure find occurred in England of gold artifacts also discovered by an treasure seeker.  These artifacts are presently referred to as the Staffordshire Hoard.   The numerous images on the artifacts of the Staffordshire find shed light on the early Anglo-Saxon history of Britain.  The Portable Antiquities Scheme(PAS) of the British Museum is tasked with handling the treasures from discoveries such as these.  England passed the Treasure Act in 1996 which allows compensation to the finders of such discoveries.  As for the Roman coins, they are valued at over $1 million dollars.

           The purpose of the PAS is to encourage the public to voluntarily report findings that may have archaeological value.  Each year chance discoveries are made by gardeners, farmers, and sleuths using metal-detectors.  The sooner any find is reported the greater the ability of professional archaeologists to evaluate the value of the find and the historical circumstances of the culture relating to the found artifacts or treasure.  The Treasure Act states:  “All finders of gold and silver objects, and groups of coins from the same findspot, which are over 300 years old, have a legal obligation to report  such items.”      

The individual who found the Roman coins did just as authorities had hoped these measures would encourage.  The man stated:

“I knew the find was important and I needed archaeological help, so I contacted my local Finds Liaison Officer. I have made many finds over the years, but this is my first coin hoard and it was a fascinating experience to take part in the excavation of it.”

English museums are currently raising the money to compensate not only the individual with the metal detector but also the owner of the land where the coins were found.  This process strives to make everyone a winner in the hunt for lost treasure.  It seems to be working. 

            When I created the board game TreasureTrove in the late 1980’s one of the sixteen treasure pieces on the board is called Roman Coins.  I placed the treasure finding in Central Europe on the game board.  The following description within the game’s instructional booklet reads as follows:

Faux Roman coins fabricated for Game

                     The Mediterranean Sea is full of sunken ships.  Find a  Roman galley laden with coins. 

Value: 10 Million   



  I had read about occasional findings of Roman coins in Europe.  When I lived in Germany in the early 1980’s Roman coins were found underneath a bridge in a city called Trier which at one time housed a Roman garrison.  Trier was about a 20 minute drive from where my wife and I lived.  I believe it was only a few dozen coins here and there, nothing of the magnitude of hundreds, much less thousands of coins as was recently unearthed.   Little did I envision that my imagined treasure for the game would actually come true for someone.

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Art Sleuths

Example of Art that was stolen

      In May of 2010 art thieves stole a handful of paintings from a Paris museum and a residence in Southern France.  Their value is estimated at over 100 million dollars.  Video surveillance showed the heist in Paris to have been a lone intruder.  The security system was not working leaving investigators to suspect the culprit may have had some inside help.  After hearing the news I asked myself, “How does one ever sell stolen art?”  I also wondered, “How do art detectives recover such lost treasures?”

          Occasionally art is stolen by a disgruntled employee or someone who has a passion for a particular piece of art: painting or sculptor.  Maybe some rich control freak with an obsessive compulsion drive to collect art hires and plans such schemes.  Who knows?  I think the reason is usually greed: the money.  But that’s the problem.  This type of art is big money.  You cannot just transfer a bunch of money from one country to another, including Switzerland, without authorities being able to track it.  It is also probably hard to exchange large sums of cash without a high risk of being detected.  I suspect this type of theft was well planned and with more than one person involved.  It is also probable that the stolen pieces will be sold for a fraction of their worth to crime syndicates such as large drug smuggling outfits.  The paintings could be hidden away for many years before they are found.  For example, art stolen in World War II continues to occasionally surface.  Those who try to sell such works at some point in the future hopefully will be caught.  Unfortunately, there always seem to be those individuals who are willing to risk the stealing and selling. 

Art Frames left behind from the heist

Thomas Crown Affair movie poster

Movies to a certain degree even glamorize the thieves:  The Thomas Crown Affair, with Steve McQueen; Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief; The Pink Panther with Peter Sellers, are several that come straight to my mind.  However, what about those individuals that attempt to recover stolen art and catch the thieves?   There have been numerous detective and mystery shows for decades where the bad guys are caught but what is it like for a real art detective? 

A book review article in the New York Times by Velma Daniels (I think it was May 30, 2010) covered this very subject.  The article highlighted the fact that a book was just recently published, The Art Detective, subtitled, Fakes, Frauds, and Finds, and the Search for Lost Treasures.  The timing could not have been better.

Peter Sellers

        The author, Philip Mould, owns a London art gallery, is an art consultant to British Parliament, and is an art sleuth.  To those who work within art communities he considered by many to be, “The Art Detective.”  The New York Times article pointed out that Mr. Mould often appears on Antiques Roadshow, which I thoroughly enjoy watching.  The BBC is currently making a film about his exploits titled, “Art Sleuth.”  I will be on the lookout for this production and I hope to see him at some point on Antiques Roadshow.  I also hope he is helping with the investigation in the Paris heist.  Since Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is no longer with us, we need all the help we can get.  Go get ‘em Inspector Mould.

On the board game Treasure Trove one of the situation cards rewards the player drawing the card 10 million for helping to retrieve stolen art.  I encourage you to take a moment and investigate the website displaying the game.         

Situation card from the game

Black Gold



     The recent oil spill in the Gulf is certainly unwanted news.  It is tragic news for those in the region whose livelihood depend on the coastal waters for fishing and tourism.  I still recall back in 1979 a ruptured oil pipe on a derrick off of Mexico’s shores.  My kids and I have been going to the Texas coast annually since 1985 and it seemed for years we had tar balls.  They were a mess to get of your feet and the oil stains were impossible to get out of our beach clothing.  Unfortunately, it looks like the dreaded tar balls will be coming back.  I do not know of any bright side to this story.  I was happy it did not happen during hurricane season thus hampering any repair and recovery efforts. 

     I have always been impressed with American ingenuity in creating technologies that can explore for oil in difficult terrain such as the deep ocean.  I was also pleased with the ability of American oilmen to cap all the wells that were set ablaze by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War.  I therefore was a little disappointed when the oil industry implied it had not totally prepared for a blowout this deep in the ocean.  I suspect they had some contingency plans but now wish they had available more plans with which to try.  I think they waited until disaster struck before giving it too much thought.  Probably being a corporation they chose not to invest the necessary money in order to research such scenarios.  Most big cooperations need to make money: now and fast.  Research often does not immediately produce money so I suspect not a lot of financial resources were put towards that.  If 10 million, even 50 or 100 million had been used to study how to react in this type of situation it probably could have saved billions in the long run.  I admit I do not know much about the oil industry or corporate America but my perception is they could do better.  They waited until there was a big problem before dealing with it.  Most of us buy all kinds of insurance in case the unexpected accident happens and it actually takes a noticeable portion of our incomes.  Would it not be prudent for large companies to spend money preparing for the unexpected, just like you and I?

       I wish British Petroleum the best.  They will be going through some rough times.  Do I want offshore drilling stopped?   

North American portion of the game board

       No, I still need to drive my car and I cannot afford an electric car yet.  I actually do look forward to the day when we need less oil.  However, at the present time I still need the oil industry.  I hope they can clean up their act though.

     When I created the board game Treasure Trove I included a number of ways to acquire wealth: lost pirate treasure, sunken ships, gold crowns, diamonds, coins, and secret libraries.  I also included the search for oil( black gold).  I hesitated to include oil in the game because it can have a negative image, yet the truth is that oil is the greatest natural treasure ever known.  I kept oil limited in the game as it is only one of many ways to find treasure.  The monetary reward a player receives for getting black gold is not due to finding oil but for inventing technology to help the oil industry.  The player who lands on the Black Gold space on the game board receives the miniature pump jack valued at 10 million.  The instructional booklet for the game gives a brief description of each of the 16 treasure spaces.  The description for Black Gold reads as follows:

 ” Your engineering skills and concern for the environment are rewarded when you develop and    patent technology to  help oil pipelines withstand rupturing during earthquakes.  The royalties are as good as gold.”           Value:  10 Million

Black Gold treasure piece


       I live in West Texas, land of the pump jacks.  I have often wished I could say I owned just one of them.   I don’t think it will ever happen.  I also think it would be cool to have the mind of an engineer that can create or in this situation fix something.  Their services would easily be worth 10 million.  I’m assuming British Petroleum is in search of a few good engineers at the moment.  We all would be indebted for the   help of a few good engineers.

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