Reading of the American Numismatic Association’s announcement of the recovery of its “Holey dollar,” one can’t help but remember the audacity of the former ANA employee who stole it.
2007 was a big year for Wyatt E. Yeager. He joined the ANA as its collections manager in January and promptly began pilfering rare coins, likely realizing quickly that the ANA did not even know what it had in its numismatic collection. At that time the ANA did not have a complete inventory of its collection and lacked appropriate security.
As Beth Deisher asked in her Jan. 30 Coin World Editorial, “How does one person steal at least 338 rare and historic coins from a museum vault in 73 days?” She added, “Yeager’s obvious audacity in brazenly selling the coins right under the noses, so to speak, of ANA staff and elected leaders provides some clues to beginning to answer our initial question.”
Yeager wasted no time in cashing in on his ill-gotten goods, consigning some of the stolen coins to three public auctions, in Baltimore in May, St. Louis in June and Melbourne, Australia, in July 2007.
He even made a holiday out of the Australia auction, watching the Holey dollar sell at auction for nearly $200,000 in U.S. dollars.
The ANA reported the missing items in October 2007.
Yeager eventually pleaded guilty to the theft of the coins and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and two years supervised release, and ordered to pay $948,505 to the association in restitution.
As a result of the theft, the ANA is now taking steps to inventory and photograph its collection. It’s taking additional security measures to protect its holdings, but to potential donors it may be too little, too late.
After all, would you trust a bank that lost your deposited funds, even if it was just once and they made an ongoing effort to recover them?
The coin field is a high-trust field and inside thefts seem relatively rare, although I’m not aware of any statistics to prove or disprove this. Considering the size of the industry, and the high value and small size of the objects in it, the temptation to steal for those predisposed to such activities seems great. Yet it happens rather infrequently.
While the hobby can applaud the ANA for recovering some of its stolen coins, one hopes that the memory of this theft lingers at the ANA and other institutions. The theft, and the audacity of the thief, should serve as a reminder of the importance of documenting and securing collections that are held by nonprofit institutions in the public trust.