CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - A former Virginian got the surprise of a lifetime, thanks to the hard work of our state employees.
An extremely valuable collection of Byzantine coins were bound for the auction block. On Monday, they were returned to their rightful owner who thought he'd never see his collection again.
It took decades for Fred Howard to amass his collection of coins.
"The designs, the inscriptions, the history behind them...," Fred explained why he started collecting.
He kept them secure in a safe deposit box at the bank, adding new coins every few months until he realized one of the boxes was missing. Maybe he had taken it home? Maybe it was under the seat of his car?
"Racking my brain to wonder where they were. It was sometime in late 2007. I inadvertently left, apparently left this box on the viewing table at the bank," he said.
For the past two years, the coins have been in downtown Richmond in the vault of the Virginia Treasury's Unclaimed Property, turned over by the original bank who housed them. However, the Treasury had no way of knowing of whom they belonged to.
They caught the eye of The Department of the Treasury's Alex Baker.
"Certainly not your typical collection of coins. That drew my attention immediately," Baker said.
Tangible items in unclaimed property eventually get auctioned -- the proceeds held for a claimant. Alex knew the coins were too special to be auctioned. He enlisted the help from the experts at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
"Some of them are 1,800 years old. Some of them come from, what today, a little-known kingdom Axum that was in Ethiopia," said Peter Schertz, the Jack and Mary Ann Frable Curator of Ancient Art at the VMFA.
But how would they find the owner? Many of the coins came with detailed descriptions, and several had the original place where they had been purchased.
Peter knew many of them personally. "Because the auction house and dealers have very careful records, they said, 'Oh! So and so bought this coin. Would you like us to put them in touch with him?' "
After almost 10 years of wondering, Fred finally found an answer, plus the priceless museum quality collection he'd worked for years to collect.
"Put it back in their hands and make that whole again. That's a great feeling. That's a job accomplished right there," said Baker.
"Even more than the value of the coins to me is the restoration, to some degree, in humanity," said Howard, as he packed to take his lost collection home.
Given the extremely high value of the coins, the Treasury went out of their way to find the owner.
One in four Virginians have some sort of property or money being held, but it's up to you to check. Click here to find out.
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