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ANS v. Naftzger court case-- does anyone know more about it?

Sorry for the long post, but does anyone here have more background on this case, or were any board members involved, such as providing expert testimony, etc.? It seems like an interesting issue, and I had never heard about this before. The information below is an excerpt from the appeals court, but it gives enough of the background information.


Court of Appeal, Second District, California.
Roy E. NAFTZGER, Jr., Plaintiff, Appellant and Respondent,
AMERICAN NUMISMATIC SOCIETY, Defendant, Respondent and Appellant.
No. B118699.

June 17, 1999

In Naftzger v. American Numismatic Society (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 421 ("Naftzger I'), we held the three-year limitations period for seeking the return of rare copper coins stolen from a New York City museum, The American Numismatic Society (ANS), commenced running when ANS located the coins in the possession of Roy F. Naftzger, Jr., and not when the theft occurred. In Naftzger I, we concluded Naftzger had failed to establish his statute of limitations defense, reversed the summary judgment and order sustaining demurrer, and remanded. Following a bench trial, the superior court entered judgment for ANS, which recovered both the stolen coins in Naftzger's possession and monetary damages for those he had sold. Both Naftzger and ANS appealed from the judgment.

Naftzger challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's findings that: (I) the coins in Naftzger's possession had been stolen from ANS; and (II) ANS timely filed its cross-complaint within three years of locating its stolen property in Naftzger's possession. In addition, Naftzger contends: (III) ANS' cross-complaint is barred by the statute of limitations because of its lack of due diligence in locating the stolen property; (IV) ANS' cross-complaint is barred by the equitable doctrines of laches and unclean hands; (V) Naftzger acquired title to the stolen property by adverse possession; and (VI) the trial court erred in calculating ANS' monetary damages. In its cross-appeal, ANS contends (VII) the trial court should have granted leave to amend the cross-complaint to seek treble damages under Penal Code section 496. For the reasons that follow, we direct the trial court to permit ANS to amend its cross-complaint to conform to proof on the Penal Code section 496, subdivision (c) issue and devise a procedure for resolving that claim. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.

This appeal concerns 58 coins minted by the United States Mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, between 1793 and 1857. The 58 coins were part of a 1,000-plus copper cent (sometimes referred to as large cents) collection donated by George H. Clapp to ANS in 1937. ANS took physical possession of the Clapp collection in 1947. At some time after ANS' receipt of the Clapp collection and before 1973, a number of coins were surreptitiously stolen from the Clapp collection by someone who replaced the Clapp coins with coins of the same variety but of inferior grade.

Using circumstantial evidence, ANS presented the following scenario of how the theft by substitution was accomplished. The late William Sheldon, a preeminent classifier, cataloguer, and collector of large cents, lived near the ANS until 1973. [FN1] During that time, Sheldon spent much time at ANS, unguarded, examining the Clapp collection. In 1973-1974, the ANS catalogued its Clapp collection and discovered that some of the coins had been switched for inferior coins of the same variety. In 1988, Delmar Bland, a leading scholar of large cents, began studying ANS' Clapp collection to determine which specific coins were missing. Bland delivered his report to ANS on December 17, 1990. Bland's report identified 129 coins as missing from the Clapp collection, 128 of them having been stolen by substitution.

FN1. Sheldon devised the cataloguing and grading system for large cents that is still used today.

*2 In February 1991, ANS made the Bland report public. In July 1991, the Bland report was disseminated to members of Early American Coppers, Inc. (EAC), an organization of dealers and collectors of early American copper coins. Naftzger, an EAC member, presumably received a copy of the Bland report in July 1991.

In August 1991, William C. Noyes published a book of pedigrees and photographs of prominent large copper cents. (Noyes, United States Large Cents 1793-1814 (1991).) Pictured in Noyes' book were certain coins listed as belonging to Naftzger, which he had acquired from Sheldon. Upon seeing those photographs, ANS identified Naftzger's coins as among those missing from the Clapp collection.

By letter dated December 12, 1991, ANS notified Naftzger that some of his coins pictured in Noyes' book appeared to be among those determined to be missing from ANS' Clapp collection. Naftzger's reply, dated January 20, 1992, denied any knowledge of ANS' missing coins.

On March 1, 1993, Naftzger filed suit against ANS in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeking declaratory relief and to quiet title to the disputed coins in Naftzger's possession. On May 24, 1993, ANS filed an answer and cross-complaint seeking to recover and quiet title to the disputed coins.

The trial court sustained, without leave to amend, Naftzger's demurrer to ANS' first amended cross-complaint. The trial court reasoned that the three-year limitations period of Code of Civil Procedure section 338, subdivision (c), [FN2] as it read before the 1983 amendment to that section, had accrued on the date of the theft, which was more than three years before ANS filed its cross-complaint in 1993. [FN3] Naftzger moved for summary judgment on his complaint. Based on the adverse statute of limitations ruling, ANS could not effectively oppose the motion. The trial court granted the motion and entered summary judgment for Naftzger.

FN2. Unless otherwise indicated, all further statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure.

FN3. Before section 338, subdivision (c) was amended, the subdivisions were designated numerically rather than alphabetically. What is now subdivision (c) was previously called subdivision (3). For the sake of convenience, we will refer to subdivision (3) by its present alphabetical designation.
The pre-amendment version of section 338, subdivision (c) consisted of only the first sentence of the present version of subdivision (c). The first sentence imposes a three-year limitations period on actions "for taking, detaining, or injuring any goods or chattels, including actions for the specific recovery of personal property." (§ 338, subd. (c).)
The 1983 amendment added a second sentence imposing a discovery rule in certain theft cases. The second sentence added by the 1983 amendment reads: "The cause of action in the case of theft, as defined in Section 484 of the Penal Code, of any article of historical, interpretive, scientific, or artistic significance is not deemed to have accrued until the discovery of the whereabouts of the article by the aggrieved party, his or her agent, or the law enforcement agency which originally investigated the theft." (§ 338, subd. (c).)
In this case, both the theft of the coins from ANS and the sale of the coins to Naftzger occurred well before the 1983 amendment to section 338, subdivision (c). Accordingly, ANS' action against Naftzger is governed by the former version of section 338, subdivision (c). In Naftzger I, we concluded there was a discovery rule implicit in the former version of the statute. We stated: "In this opinion, we hold, as a matter of law, that there was a discovery rule of accrual implicit in the prior version of section 338, subdivision (c) for the return of stolen property. We conclude that under the prior version of the statute, the cause of action accrued when the owner discovered the identity of the person in possession of the stolen property, without regard to the owner's diligence or lack thereof in ferreting out that information." (Naftzger I, supra, 42 Cal.App.4th at p. 425.)

Naftzger I dealt with ANC's appeal from the summary judgment and order sustaining demurrer. Regarding the demurrer, we concluded, based on the facts alleged, that the three-year limitations period of section 338, subdivision (c) did not commence until ANS discovered the missing coins were in Naftzger's possession. We reversed the order sustaining demurrer and the summary judgment as well.

Following remand and a court trial, the trial court, applying our statute of limitations ruling in Naftzger I, determined ANS' cross-complaint was timely under the former version of section 338, subdivision (c). The trial court found ANS first learned that its stolen coins were in Naftzger's possession when Noyes' book was published. ANS' cross-complaint, filed within three years of the publication of Noyes' book, was filed within the limitations period.

Regarding the parties' conflicting claims of ownership of the disputed coins, the trial court accepted ANS' circumstantial evidence that 58 of Naftzger's coins (38 of which were still in Naftzger's possession) were among those stolen by Sheldon from ANS' Clapp collection. Because a thief cannot convey valid title and withholding possession of stolen property is a crime (Pen.Code, § 496), the court ordered Naftzger to return the 38 stolen coins in his possession to ANS, and reimburse ANS $229,500 for the 20 other stolen coins that Naftzger had sold. Both parties appealed.

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    MarkMark Posts: 3,522 ✭✭✭✭✭

    There was a thread about this issue several years ago. I recall that not everyone thought the ANS was on the side of the angels. (Though that was my opinion, colored perhaps by the fact that I am a member of the ANS.) When the court first ruled, the ANS had a long announcement about it, but I cannot find a link. However, here is a link I just found that seems to have some interesting information, especially about William Sheldon. It's not as in depth as the ANS's initial announcement, but it's interesting nonetheless, especially if you do not already know of Sheldon's "research" project that involved nude photographs of college men and women...including Hillary Rodham....


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    1jester1jester Posts: 8,638 ✭✭✭
    Shouldn't all of the coins be returned? After all, title doesn't pass on stolen items.


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    Nocerino18Nocerino18 Posts: 1,572 ✭✭✭
    But that does not address the coins that were not found? Should Naftzger be liable on those coins?
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    The Horrible William Sheldon - Fraud, Liar and Thief

    If everyone in numismatics understood who William Sheldon was, the Sheldon scale would be boycotted. In numismatics, he is strongly believed to have stolen coins from the ANS's Clapp collection of large cents while studying for his famed book, "Penny Whimsey." Later, when entrusted with the collection of a dying man (Clarke), he found some coins better than those he hd stolen from Clapp, so he pulled the switcheroo again. When he sold his collection to Roy Naftzger, it contained coins stolen from the ANS ex Clapp, as well as coins stolen from Clarke. The ANS was left wtih Sheldon's inferior coins, and Clarke was left with some of the lesser Clapp coins (which also went to Naftzger).

    But what is more shocking is that this was the SAME William Sheldon who argued that skull sizes and shapes proved that African-Americans and Mexicans were intellectually and evolutionarily inferior. (His pseudo-scientific theories have since been thoroughly discredited, as have been his methods of data collection and analysis.)

    As if that were not enough, this is the very same William Sheldon who developed the theory of somatotype (body type), including the three classes ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. In order to "study" body types, he somehow conned all of the nation's top universities into allowing their incoming freshmen of both genders to be photographed NUDE. Students were coerced to cooperate. The practice went on for over a decade. In today's world, this would immediately generate a firestorm of protest and lawsuits. The New York Times Sunday Magazine section did a retrospective exposé of the nude photography scandal a few years back. I remember reading it and being appalled. I imagined that I would ahve had the guts to refuse, and would have told the "doctors" to go to hell.

    Numismatics should abandon Sheldon's legacy. Sheldon's reputation should join him in Hell, where he shall undoubtedly reside for a long time.

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    dtkk49adtkk49a Posts: 2,484 ✭✭✭
    Isn't it strange that two of the most respected numismatists that ever lived, Sheldon and Breen were disgraced late in thier lives ?
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    Isn't is a shame that many people who have achieved positions of power have abused them?
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    BillJonesBillJones Posts: 33,481 ✭✭✭✭✭
    There are those in the Early American Coppers Club who have a different take on the Naftzger case. They view the ANS as a 600-pound gorilla that is taking advantage of the fact that Sheldon and all the other people who were involved in this case are dead and unable to testify as when did transpire at that time. Just because a coin or group of coins is in a museum collection does not mean that the material will stay there forever. Deals have been made in the past.

    As for Mr. Naftzger, he has had a very good reputation among collectors and dealers for many years. The worst that can be said about him is that he might have duped into buying stolen merchandise. His reputation should be damaged by this situation.
    Retired dealer and avid collector of U.S. type coins, 19th century presidential campaign medalets and selected medals. In recent years I have been working on a set of British coins - at least one coin from each king or queen who issued pieces that are collectible. I am also collecting at least one coin for each Roman emperor from Julius Caesar to ... ?
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    It sounds like you are suggesting that Sheldon might have made a deal with ANS to swap out the coins. I highly doubt that. These were coins pedigreed to the Clapp estate, each in its own presentation box with descriptive notes and details. Sheldon apparently took the coins, and substituted lesser-grade examples in the Clapp boxes. You can't convince me that ANS made a deal to allow him to do that. If there had been such a deal, they would have sold him the coin IN the Clapp boxes, and properly catalogued the replacements. Furthermore, Sheldon apparently repeated the exact same crime with the James Clarke coins. Fairly incriminating, I would say.

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    BillJonesBillJones Posts: 33,481 ✭✭✭✭✭
    The EAC people not really out to defend Sheldon per say. They are just not very happy with the ANS, which has a reputation of being a high-handed, very exclusive organization that does not have the best of public images with some people. And naturally those who purchased some of these coins in good faith now stand a chance of losing all the money they spent.

    I’m glad that I was too poor to bid on these coins when they came up for auction. Sometimes being a little fish has its advantages. image
    Retired dealer and avid collector of U.S. type coins, 19th century presidential campaign medalets and selected medals. In recent years I have been working on a set of British coins - at least one coin from each king or queen who issued pieces that are collectible. I am also collecting at least one coin for each Roman emperor from Julius Caesar to ... ?
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    When I was publishing The Score (national early date census) the ANS approached me and wanted me to turn over all of my records to them so they could see who had very nice early dates so they could go after them as well (fishing expedition. You might have one of our coins so lets see your collection.) I refused. But because of actions like that there were several superb collections that I was unable to list in the census. The owners didn't want to run the risk of potentially having to defend themselves against the ANS. (Not to mention the invasion of privacy even if you didn't have any Clapp coins.)

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