BrianRxm Coin Stories 2/15
The World War II Hesse Jewel Robbery
Germany Prussia gold 1888 10 Marks
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The Coin:
 
Germany Prussia 10 Mark Coin
1. Germany Prussia 10 Marks 1888-A (Berlin) - Frederick III
 
Gold, 19mm, 3.98gm, fineness: 0.900
 
Obverse:
FRIEDRICH DEUTSCHER KAISER KONIG V. PREUSSEN
(Frederick, Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia)
 
Reverse:
DEUTSCHES REICH 1888 / 10 MARK
(German Empire / 10 Marks)
The Story:
 
Several years ago I read an account of the 1945 Hesse Jewel robbery, committed by three
American Army officers stationed in Germany.
 
The trio got away with several million dollars worth of jewels and gold belonging to
one of the royal families of Germany, the Hesse family.
 
The account was given in in Kenneth Alford's 1994 book The Spoils of World War II.
 
One of the minor items of loot was a "German gold ten-mark coin with Frederick III"
which was otherwise unidentified.
 
The Hesse robbery was the largest single act of looting done by American soldiers in Germany.
 
The American Army took over Kronberg Castle (Schloss Friedrichshof), a late 1800's palace
belonging to the Hesse family, located near Frankfurt.
 
The Army turned the place into an Officer's club and hotel, and put a Captain Kathleen Nash
(Women's Army Corps or WAC) in charge.
 
In November of 1945, one of Captain Nash's soldiers went into the basement and saw something suspicous.
He got some German civilans to knock down a wall and discovered hundreds of bottles of wine.
He also noticed that the cement floor had been patched.
He called Nash who had the floor dug up.
A crate containing the crown jewels of Hesse was found, including tiaras, bracelets,
and many other valuable items.
 
Nash called her boyfriend, Colonel Jack Durant, to show him what they found.
The pair and a Major David Watson decided to help themselves and began
separating the jewels from the settings and mailing the items to relatives the United States.
 
Princess Sophia was a member of the Hesse family, and in 1946 she was planning
to get married and wanted to wear her jewels. When she could not get them,
she complained and her complaints eventually reached US Army investigators.
Sophia was well connected, her brother Philip was also planning to get married,
to Elizabeth, the older daughter of Britain's King George VI.
 
Durant and Nash went back to the US while Watson stayed in Germany.
Army investigators followed the three and eventually arrested them.
Durant claimed that he sold some jewels to fences in Chicago, and buried some
near Falls Church, Virginia (attention metal detector fans).
 
During the investigation, it was discovered that Watson had a girlfriend in Belfast,
Northern Ireland.
He gave her some items and pawned some other items, including a
"German gold ten-mark coin".
 
The coin was the property of Princess Mafalda, daughter of the king and queen of Italy,
who had married one of the Hesse family members, Prince Philipp.
"The ten-mark coin bore the head of Emperor Frederick III,
grandfather of Princess Mafalda's husband, and had been given to her
by Queen Margaret of Italy"
.
 
The three officers were court-martialed in Germany, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms.
 
Most of the jewelry has not been recovered, and the thieves did so much damage to the
settings that the recovered items were worth 1/10 of the previous value.
 
Some of the loot ended up with various other US officials, including some generals,
but they were not prosecuted.
 
There was a 2009 film made of this story called "The Hessen Conspiracy",
but the film changed many of the details from the actual case.
 
I became curious about the "German gold ten-mark coin" and found out that it was a
one-year type because Frederick III was king of Prussia for only about three months in 1888.
 
Maybe something in the coin collector's psyche, but I had to have one.
 
I do now.
Visit to Kronberg and Frankfurt - March 2012
 
Hesse Palace
2. Kronberg Palace front
 
The scene of the crime, now a luxury hotel.
 
Hesse Palace
3. Kronberg Palace parking lot
 
Hesse IG Farben
4. IG Farben building, Frankfurt
 
US Army Headquarters in 1947; the jewels were kept here for exhibition.
 
Hesse Center
5. Masonic lodge on Finkenhof Strasse, Frankfurt
 
This was the Army's Community Center in 1947, the site of the court-martials.
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