Treasure in the Cellar
More trouble than riches
by Frederick N. Rasmussen
The story of two
Baltimore teenagers and their random discovery
of a cache of gold coins in a copper jug while
digging in the dirt cellar floor of a
three-story rowhouse at 132 S. Eden St. became a
national story during the height of the
Theodore Jones, 16, and Henry Grob, 15, both
from fatherless families who were on relief, had
formed a club, the "Rinky-Dinky-Doos," and were
busy digging a hole on the warm afternoon of
Aug. 31, 1934, in the floor of the Eden Street
tenement where Jones and his mother resided.
Newspaper accounts from the time described the
booty the boys were probably burying as "secret
club papers" or "cards, dice and chips."
Suddenly, while digging, Jones' shovel struck
something. He reached into the hole and pulled
out a round medal coin.
"Look!" he exclaimed to Grob, "here's a medal,"
The Sun reported at the time.
Grob replied, "You're crazy. That's a $20 gold
The boys began to furiously excavate the corner
of the cellar.
"I was digging in that hole - hands, elbows,
knees and everything," Jones told a Sun
"After more than half the hoard had been
scratched out, they found the container it had
been in - a gallon can - now more than
half-rotted away. With the coins, glittering
through their gold mold, scattered around them,
they sat on the dirt floor and dreamed dreams of
what they would do with their wealth," the
What the boys had unearthed in two separate pots
were 3,558 gold coins that dated from the 1830s,
1840s and 1850s, worth a face value of $11,200.
Today, their discovery would be worth more than
After splitting the find and reporting it to
their families, they thought they would deposit
their newly found fortune in a bank.
Grob's brother-in-law advised them that the U.S.
Gold Act in 1933 gave the federal government
title to the country's gold, which was to have
been turned in by May 1 of that year.
If Grob and Jones had attempted to deposit the
gold coins in a bank, they would have faced
arrest, so they went instead to the city police.
Hours after their discovery, the two youths
walked into the Eastern District police station
carrying the fortune, which had been stashed in
cigar boxes and leather bags.
Officers at the station were "incredulous" at
the sheer volume of what the boys had brought in
to show them, The Sun observed.
Grob told reporters later that evening that he
wanted to use his share to buy a house for his
mother and open a bank account "if there is
anything leftover." Jones said he wanted his
mother to have a washing machine while he hoped
to buy a new suit. "But when the youths will get
any of the $11,200 treasure remained undecided
last night," The Sun reported.
The money - in denominations of $20, $10, $5,
$2.50 and $1 gold pieces - was locked up in a
vault at the police station. As to ownership,
lawyers told the newspaper that "in such cases
anything found on the property usually belongs
to the owner."
How the fortune had come to rest beneath the
dirt floor of an old rowhouse instantly became a
topic of discussion.
Longtime residents told reporters that the
neighborhood had once been the home of seafarers
and ship captains and that perhaps the gold
coins represented the handiwork of a seafaring
"Scores of claimants are expected to appear, and
before the fight is over, the two youths who
found it may have nothing left but the memory
and the thrill which comes with owning - if only
for a few minutes - thousands of bright gold
coins," The Sun observed prophetically.
Claimants were obviously not in short supply,
and they flooded Baltimore Circuit Court #2,
presided over by Judge Eugene O'Dunne.
The estate of Isaac Chenvin, an East Baltimore
jeweler, made a claim but it was later
More substantial claims were made by heirs of
Andrew J. Saulsbury, who owned the Eden Street
house from 1865 until 1889, and by Mary P.
Findlay and Elizabeth H. French, two
semi-impoverished genteel Bolton Hill sisters,
who held the ground rent on the house at the
time of the discovery.
Litigation dragged on for several years with the
Findlay-French sisters not going quietly into
that good legal night as their lawyer, Emory H.
Niles, later a judge, continued to mount legal
In 1935, the 3,558 coins, divided into 438 lots,
were auctioned off on May 2, 1935, at the Lord
Baltimore Hotel, realizing a sale of $20,000.
When all was said and done, the two youths were
awarded $6,000, though the money would not be
available to them until they were 21 years old.
However, Henry Grob never saw a dime. In 1937,
he was working for the Panzer Packing Co. as a
mayonnaise worker for $16 a week. He went
swimming in the harbor even though he had a
cold, and developed pneumonia. He died at South
Baltimore General Hospital.
A year later, his mother filed a claim with the
Circuit Court to assume her son's share from the
sale of the gold.
Theodore Jones, who later used his legal name on
his marriage certificate and became Theodore
Krik Sines, worked as a shipyard machinist for
Bethlehem Steel Corp. He died in 1977 at age 57.
The Great Baltimore Gold Rush of 1934 and the
woeful tale of its two instigators is the
subject of a new book, Treasure in the Cellar: A
Tale of Gold in Depression-Era Baltimore by
Leonard Augsburger, published last week by the
Maryland Historical Society.
Augsburger, 45, a Chicago telecommunications
software engineer who lives in Vernon Hills,
Ill., has been a lifelong coin collector.
Augsburger, in a recent telephone interview,
said he had been searching old coin magazines
looking for a book topic when he stumbled upon
the saga of Jones and Grob.
The story of the gold find, resultant court
battles over ownership and coin auctions had
long faded from public memory.
"I thought, there's got to be more here, and
that's how I got it going," he said.
The book took Augsburger five years of research
as he traveled back and forth between Illinois
and Baltimore, checking out leads and census
records, locating family members associated with
the case, reading old microfilmed newspapers and
"One thing that struck me, was how little people
know about the case today," he said. "When I
contacted Harry O. Levin's daughter, who lives
in Florida and whose father was the attorney for
Grob and Jones, she said she never heard of the
As to the coins, Augsburger said, "the
whereabouts of only a handful of them is known
As the Evening Sun editorialized in 1936: "Back
in September, 1934, when two East Baltimore boys
unearthed a hoard of gold in an Eden Street
cellar, we ventured the solemn prediction that
the finding was more likely to lead to trials
and tribulations than joy."
Augsburger will speak about Treasure in the
Cellar at 4 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Baltimore Book