Dispute in the ownership of a 1775 currency plate from New Hampshire

I read an interesting story in yesterday’s [St. Paul] Pioneer Press about a Minnesota man, Gary Eldon Lea, who made a purchase at an estate sale in Fillmore County. “It was a 13-by-8-1/2-inch copper plate created in 1775 to print currency for pre-Revolutionary War New Hampshire.

According to the story, he subsequently put the item in an auction but the New Hampshire state attorney general asked that it be removed from sale because “Once it is state property, it’s always state property, unless the state disposes of it properly in some way,”

The state found details about when the work was contracted for but not when the plate was disposed of. I know that governments don’t always keep every single piece of paper created. And in many cases, especially in early years, paper trails weren’t even created. Many newspaper stories over the years have told the stories
of items being found in dumpsters. Was there a paper trail at one time for this plate or was it simply discarded?

I am a firm believer in history being preserved and also in things being returned to owners if there is proof that it was taken under false pretenses. But then I am also aware of governments disposing of a whole lotta “stuff.” State historical societies and archives are also known to pay large amounts to obtain documents and artifacts. The amount of money they spend today to purchase a piece of sheet music that belonged to a famous musician or a desk on which a specific document was signed is staggering.

This situation is already the focus of lawsuits. It will be interesting to learn about the outcome. Mr. Lea’s attorney stated ““New Hampshire declared statehood in September 1776,” Lea’s attorney wrote in his brief to the appeals court. “Therefore, it is unknown whether the copper plate was ever the property of the state of New Hampshire.” The full story can be read here.

© 2011 – 2014, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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