Three valuable antique coins given to Richard M. Nixon by King Hussein of Jordan were found this week in a box at the National Archives.
The Dominican Fathers at the Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francaise in Jerusalem had been trying to locate 53 of the coins which were originally found in jordan with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The dominicans wrote to the Smithsonian for assistance because they believed three of the coins, which date back to the third century, B.C., were given to Nixon by King Hussein in "1967 or a little after."
It was not known that three of the coins were in the United States until Doiminican antiquities scholars in Jerusalem wrote to the Smithsonian for assistance in their search.
The coins were found in box 19, one of almost 200 crates and boxes full of gifts from foreign dignitaries which were seized as the Nixons were leaving office. The three coins found at the National Archives are thus the property of the U.S. government.
The Ford administration embargoed shipment of the boxes to San Clemente because all foreign gifts to public offiicials which are worth more than $50 are defined by law as government property.
But the letter written to the Smithsonian by the Dominican Fathers says they believe the coins were given to Nixon around 1967. if the date is correct Nixon may not yet have been in public office and may be eligible to challenge their embargo.
Nixon's attorney, R. Stan Mortenson, said it was his understanding that all of the gifts embargoed were sorted out and personal ones were returned. "If they [the coins] were received before Nixon was a public official we would have to think about taking action."
The coins, which were weighed and photographed by the Smithsonian Monday, are valuable because of their connection to the Dead Sea scrolls, the earliest Hebrew version of the biblical texts, which were found in a cave in Qumran near the Dead Sea in 1947.
The three coins given to Nixon were found packed in a small box inlaid with mother-of-pearl, according to Gus Van Beek, curator of Old World archeology at the National Museum of Natural History. A note was enclosed in the box, identifying them as coming from Qumran about the time of Jesus.
Numismatists at the Smithsonian will study the coins and hope to display them here. All three were "fairly worn" which means they were in circulation "for some time," Van Beek said. Their value has been tentatively placed at several thousand dollars apiece.
Still unaccounted for are 50 similar coins also found with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those coins toured here and in Great Britain and Canada in 1965 on loan from the Jordanian government.
The Dominican Fathers, who were the rincipal excavators of Qumran, wrote the Smithsonian that they thought those coins were stolen while on tour.
But Van Beek said he knows that isn't true because he received a letter on June 18, 1966, from an official in Jordan reporting that all the coins had returned home and were accounted for.
Scholars here believe 50 coins may have been stolen during the 1967 Six Day War. Before the war, the coins and the Dead Sea Scrolls had been in the Rockefeller Museum in what was the the Jordanian side of Jerusalem. When the Israelis captured East Jerusalem, they moved the scrolls to the Israel Museum across town, and constructed an edifice to display them permanently. But the coins haven't been found, Van Beek said.