For the week of January 13, 1999   thru January 19, 1999  

Gold coins awarded to Wenner

Express Staff Writer

Magazine mogul Jann Wenner has won a court battle over possession of 96 old gold coins found by a workman on his property near Bellevue.

Wenner is publisher of Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal magazines.

In the fall of 1996, court documents say, Wenner contracted with Anderson Paving, a local company, to construct a driveway on his property. During the course of the construction, Anderson employee Greg Corliss found a buried glass jar containing the coins. The $5, $10 and $20 gold coins had dates of between 1857 and 1914.

In an interview, Andrzej Derezinski, a local rare coin dealer and owner of Sun Valley Precious Metals, estimated the value of the coin collection at between $50,000 and $100,000. He emphasized that his estimate was very general since it was based only on a description of the coins and not on a view of them.

Anderson and Corliss initially took possession of the coins, but later handed them over to Wenner. However, Corliss subsequently contended they belonged to him, and brought suit to reclaim them. He said in an interview Monday that he did so upon the advice of several attorneys who told him he may be legally entitled to them under a "treasure trove" doctrine, which awards possession of buried treasure to the finder, not to the landowner.

In response to the suit, Wenner filed a motion for summary judgment, which can be granted when the court determines that there is no legal interpretation of the facts that could allow one party to win, and therefore no need to go to trial.

In his decision granting the motion, which was released on Jan. 5, Fifth District Judge James May decided that the common-law "treasure trove" rule should not apply to Idaho. May stated that although the rule has been adopted by many states, the current trend is to abrogate it in favor of a view that buried treasure should be treated as any other personal property.

Citing case law in other states, he stated that had the coins been "lost," they would belong to the finder. However, he ruled that the coins at issue were merely "mislaid," meaning that the owner had placed them there with the expectation of one day retrieving them. "Mislaid" property, he said, belongs to the owner of the premises upon which it is found.

Corliss said Monday that he will appeal the decision.

"If the (Idaho) Supreme Court says it goes to the landowner, I can live with that," Corliss said. "But it’s an undecided rule in Idaho. After this is all over, it will be decided."


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