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10 Acre Estate, 7 Safes, 45 Pounds of Gold, and 14,500 Silver Dollars
(July 16, 2007) We received a very excited phone call the other week from the owner of a local estate service. His company had been hired by a bank to sell an estate, and while opening the seven safes that were in the main house, a fortune in gold and silver coins had been found…
First of all, you might wonder exactly what is an estate service? Here in Arizona, which has a substantial retirement community, many such outfits are in business. Their job is to sell off the effects when someone passes away. Typically, the offspring come in after the funeral, and the items named in the will are divvied up, personal papers are removed, and then one of these companies is called in to liquidate the various possessions accumulated during a lifetime, from furniture to collectibles, right down to the kitchen utensils.

If the estate is a modest one, an estate sale or ‘tag’sale is held for the household items, any automobiles are sold off, and finally a realtor is engaged to dispose of the house itself. Our company works with several of these estate firms here in the Phoenix area when an appraisal or sale of coins, bullion, or currency is involved. Every estate seems to have some of this material, though usually it’s a modest accumulation.

But sometimes it’s not so modest. And in this particular case, the value of the gold and silver came to over $700,000. The estate service owner told me that there was also an enormous stash of jewelry, including some multi-carat diamonds, museum-quality turquoise jewelry, large Navajo rugs, Western art, and other treasures, all of which were being appraised by various experts in those fields.

The coin appraisal was scheduled for a Tuesday afternoon. The trustee for the estate was a bank in Chicago, and the timing had to be coordinated so that the bank representative, two employees from the estate service, and myself all had to be present.

Coming up the winding driveway, my vision of a virtual palace was quickly dashed as I saw that the ten acres of desert property contained three very modest single-story houses of 1950s vintage clustered around a circular drive.

Inside, over 14,000 silver dollars were laid out on card tables: both vintage Morgan and Peace dollars by the rolls, and green Mint boxes of silver Eagles from the 1980s and 1990s. Plus, there was the usual multi-generational assortment of ‘odd and curious’ old coins and currency in envelopes.

But we started with the gold. I was led off to a pantry between a dressing room and bathroom. In this locked pantry was a small safe, and in it some 650 ounces of gold Krugerrands, Maple Leafs, and US Eagles. With all eyes upon me, I made a quick inventory of this gold bullion, and then we returned to the main room that held all the silver.

Quantity was the byword with the silver – the dollars and silver Eagles were common dates and didn’t take long to catalog. From the packaging, it seems that everything was purchased by a very wealthy couple from 1977 through the year 2000, and had been squirreled away at the house since then. The majority of the silver had resided in a 6 foot by 3 foot safe built into a closet off the den.

Later, from my notes I typed up a fair market liquidation value appraisal with an inventory and valuation letter and submitted it through the estate service company to the bank handling the estate.

The bank's goal was to liquidate the holding, and I and two other dealers were asked for a bid. I submitted a bid, but then there was a glitch – the bank then decided that they wanted to hold off on the decision while they researched my appraisal and inventory to satisfy themselves that it was thorough and fair.

This took a few days, and finally I heard back that they wanted one more round of bidding. The terms were that bids had to be submitted that would be honored for a 24-hour period, and the highest bid would then pay for and haul off the loot.

Tendering a 24-hour duration bid in an ever-changing market is a tricky thing, as gold and silver prices fluctuate so. For instance, a week after I submitted my original appraisal, the market value of this stash had gone down about $25,000. By the time the second bid period was established, it had gone back up by $20,000. Yet the bank wanted 24 hours, a period spanning two days' markets, in which to consider bids.

So, what to do?

On Monday, July 9th, at 9:00 AM, I submitted a bid of $701,000, good until noon Tuesday. But to encourage a quick decision by the bankers, I told them that if they could decide in 6 hours, I would offer $707,000 for payment and pickup that same day.

About an hour after lunch, I heard back that they accepted my bid of $707,000 (we had topped the nearest under-bidder by less than 1%). They wanted a bankwire sent to a trust account in Chicago immediately, and we could meet to pick up the goods after confirmation of receipt of funds. The wire was sent, and at 4:00, three of us drove out to the estate grounds in two cars to make the pickup.

We were met there by the woman representing the bank, and a security guard who had been posted on the premises. We duly signed in with the guard, and then had a bit of a wait for the fellow from the estate service. Just to get out of the heat, the banker gave us a brief tour of the house, and were able to see some of the rugs and antiques, plus the Western art and Kachina dolls. Finally, the estate service man showed up. I am my crew waited outside while they went inside to open the safes, and after some delay they invited us in and shared with us the bad news – the keys to the cabinets which housed the safes were in the custody of someone else at the bank downtown. Not only that, but it was now after 5:00 PM, and no one at the bank could be reached to fetch those keys.

Thankfully, the fellow from the estate service wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Realizing that getting the paid-for deal into our hands was the important thing, and that the house was slated for demolition anyway (the ten acres itself is worth over a million dollars per acre, and no doubt ten new McMansions will be planted there in pretty short order), we proceeded to help him in prying open the cabinet doors with a crowbar. He had the combinations to the safes themselves, but getting access to the safes did leave those cabinets a little worse for wear.

It took about 45 minutes to line up and verify the contents, and all the treasure was accounted for. In loading up our cars, we were joined by the security guard, who was of course curious about the whole operation. Naturally that meant we had to assign one guy from our crew just to keep an eye on the guard. So they made small talk while we did the heavy lifting, and then we drove off to our office to secure all these goods in our safes.

And that’s the story of some of the Specials that you see offered today on this website.

-Richard Smith


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