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Treasure Hunters search Summit County

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
summit daily news

Last week, Treasure Hunters Roadshow buyer Grant Miller handed over $800 for a penny. But Tuesday, the first day Treasure Hunters hit Frisco, Cyndie Burgess wasn’t as lucky; she presented plenty of coins, but Miller only offered her $5 for one 50-cent piece, simply for its silver content.

As Miller explained, he’s looking for rare coins. Those minted in 1964 or earlier are often worth only their weight in silver (they’re 90 percent silver), especially if they’ve been circulated. Last week’s find brought a pretty penny because it was the 1909 VDB; that year, Victor David Brenner, the designer of the Lincoln cent, stamped his initials on about 400,000 pennies before the Feds figured it out and shut him down.

Treasure Hunters Roadshow, a company out of Springfield, Ill., originated in 1996 and has stopped in more than a thousand cities throughout the United States and Canada. Now, it’s expanding into Europe.

People who step into the Best Western room this week have a 75 percent chance of dealing with a buyer from the United Kingdom, such as Miller, who hails from Scotland (please don’t suggest he’s from England; he’s a bit touchy, in a friendly kind of way). Miller makes it his mission to ensure people walk away from his desk happy, whether he buys items or not. He gives the example of someone who brought in what looked like a silver trinket box, but upon further study turned out to be a wax seal from 230 B.C. It took hours of research to pinpoint exactly what it was because the Chinese language on the seal had changed so many times. No one was able to ascribe a value to the item because it was the first time they’d seen anything like it. And, as it turned out, the owner didn’t want to sell it anyway.

In a similar fashion, buyer Craig Cardall spent time in Spokane, Wash., last week helping identify a woman’s photos her grandfather had given her of World War I battlefields. He and the U.K. team not only helped her identify the locations, but also put her in touch with the regiment in which her grandfather served.

Tuesday, at least two Summit County residents walked away with more money than they expected – and Treasure Hunters Roadshow buyers were impressed. One man came in with his fighter pilot helmet and goggles from World War II and racked in $600 – about six times as much as he thought they were worth, said buyer Ryan McCracken. The man also brought in a German youth dagger and unused artillery belts, worth $400 and $75, respectively. But the story behind the products fascinated McCracken even more than the memorabilia; the veteran spent six months as a prisoner of war, and when the Germans released him, he was walking through the streets of Germany and found an old warehouse. He and a few POW buddies broke in and stole a few things, including the dagger and belts. McCracken couldn’t believe he had the gall to do such a thing, and the man responded, telling him he would have gotten more, but he was so weak, he couldn’t carry more.

Another Summit County resident who wanted to remain anonymous sold a sword from the Civil War for $6,000. Its worth resided in the fact that it was a Confederate officer’s sword, of which very few were issued.

But some people, like Chas Plasse, weren’t as impressed with the Treasure Hunters Roadshow. He presented 1960’s rock art posters and autographed Brooklyn Dodgers cards, which buyers had no interest in purchasing. He also wanted more information on gold chains he obtained in Central America and hoped they could enlighten him. But, as he described it, the buyer jumped on the Internet to evaluate dollar worth, but Plasse said he could have given them more informative websites.

“I’ll do better going to art shops and rock shops,” he said about selling the posters. As far as the gold chains, he didn’t want to “give them away for a couple hundred” bucks.

John Jackson also decided to hold onto his great-grandfather’s war collectibles.

“I’ve found out in my life just to hold on to the stuff,” Jackson said, adding that he’s been ripped off in the past.

Treasure Hunters Roadshow works with about 10,000 collectors, such as people like Kevin Bright, producer of “Friends,” who loves old, unused toys, said Matthew Enright, vice president of media with the company. Often, before the Roadshow buys an item, it already has collectors committing to pay for it. For example, buyers sent the $6,000 Civil War sword off to a collector the same day they purchased it.

At any given time throughout the year, about 45-50 crews travel throughout the nation, Cardall said. The company only has been to Colorado four times, other than its Frisco stop. The shows usually start slow and steady, but toward the end of the week can draw a 2-1/2-hour wait. He said about 60 to 80 percent of people who visit accept buyers’ offers.

Nicole Campbell was surprised buyers took her costume jewelry, but she didn’t go for the buyer’s bid for a 1932 ruby ring; instead, she went with her friend’s offer to pay $50.

Burgess intended on returning with her antique china so buyers could take photographs and determine whether or not any collectors wanted the pieces. While Campbell came in without researching how much her items might be worth, Burgess arrived armed with an appraisal of her china. However, as Miller explained it, appraisals are “always higher” because they’re based on what it would cost to replace the items.

Most people, including those in Summit, trade in old gold and silver for cash. Between the U.S. and Europe, Cardall said most of the items are similar, though Americans bring more vintage guitars.

But every so often, buyers find truly unique possessions, such as Johnny Cash’s bed and a first-edition “Huckleberry Finn” book, both of which buyers acquired in the last few weeks, Enright said.

Perhaps the most interesting treasure the hunters found was a vampire killing kit from the 1800s.

“It actually had stains on the blade,” McCracken said. “It looked like it could have been used.”


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