By Rick Bretz for CoinWeek….
On a winter day like any other winter day in February 2012 in the village of Les Riceys, France, a common laborer of simple means awoke and headed to work at the Lanson Winery. Upon arrival, he was dispatched to help prepare a barn for the upcoming grape harvest.
Once inside the barn and busily cleaning and removing debris, the laborer noticed an old bag above his head and started to poke at it. Suddenly the obstacle broke loose and 497 U.S. gold double eagles rained down upon him. The hidden treasure of double eagles included both Liberty and Saint-Gaudens varieties, with dates ranging from 1851 to 1928. It isn’t known how long the coins were in the loft or how they got there, but the theory is they were hidden during World War II.
The day laborer showed his character and integrity by taking the coins to his supervisor. After seeing the find and its potential worth, efforts were made to find the original owners but they were futile. As the story goes, like most of France the Les Riceys area incurred tremendous losses from the Nazi’s during World War II and complete families disappeared. Property records were lost, which included lawful ownership and operations of local businesses. Search efforts were unsuccessful and the double eagles remained in the hands of the Lanson Winery.
Representatives from the Lanson Winery smartly realized the collecting value of the find and contacted Bonhams, a well-respected and internationally-recognized auction house, to manage the auction release of the coins. Bonhams was delighted to have the opportunity to make this collection available to collectors and termed the find the “Champagne Lanson Bonnet Vineyard Collection”. Professional Coin Grading Service’s (PCGS) European Submission Center provided authenticating and grading services and applied the appropriate pedigree to the label.
The coins were brought to public auction in Los Angeles, CA on June 3, 2013, and the collection sold for approximately $1 million. Private collectors, investors and coin dealers participated in the purchases and Monaco Rare Coins was successful in acquiring many of the coins and offered them in sets.
The day laborer was rewarded for his honesty by receiving half of the proceeds from the auction under French law and is planning on purchasing a home for his family.