Revolutionary War Antique Discovery Propels War Between States

Monday, 02 May 2011 08:35 AM

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A Minnesota coin collector has discovered just how seriously New Hampshire takes its motto of Live Free or Die in a brouhaha over a Colonial-era antique that has sparked its own revolutionary war of sorts. Gary Lea stumbled across a money-printing plate that some experts say could trace to the days of Paul Revere and could be worth six figures, according the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune.

Paul Revere, British are coming, Minnesota, antique
Paul Revere sounds the alarm: The British are coming! The British are coming! But the money isn't coming (yet) for a Minnesota coin collector who discovered a rare printing plate.
But the profit isn't coming, the profit isn't coming for Lea because the state of New Hampshire contends that there's no such thing as a free antique and it's dying to get its relic back. The state claims it is the rightful owner, even though the coin collector happened upon the copper printing plate during an estate sale in the Gopher State, the Tribune reports. The artifact traveled through several states before Lea found the treasure.

Lea sleuthed the background of the memento, which carried a date stamp of 177-, with the final numeral obliterated from age and grit. He discovered that the plate probably had been used to print money used to pay New Hampshire's share of the Revolutionary War, according to the Tribune.

After buying the plate for a price Lea won't disclose, he told the Tribune, "I knew I couldn't afford to keep it. I was happy just to have known that I was the owner of it at one time, and part of its rediscovery."

He contracted to sell it at an auction, until the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office intervened and said the state wants its heirloom back. Lea canceled the sale, even though the auction house said it was obvious that he had clear title.

Lea sued New Hampshire in Fillmore County, Minn., a maneuver that the Tribune notes raised legal questions such as whether a person can sue one state in another; whether a state can demand to reclaim items it contends are part of its history and treasury; and which state might have jurisdiction over a plate that was crafted in New Hampshire and found its way to an estate sale in Minnesota, after stops over the centuries in Maryland and Michigan, at least.

But Fillmore County Judge Robert Benson recently ruled that Minnesota has jurisdiction to decide the rightful owner, and the court has three months to render its final decision, the Tribune reported.

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