Something wasn’t quite right about the pewter flagon on the auction block in front of Donald Herr.
The antiques expert knew it was authentic, and the “1762” marking in front attested to its age. But something about the pitcher’s feet — tiny cherubs’ heads — jogged Herr’s memory.
Normally, the flagon would have two feet in front and one in back to make the container easier to tilt forward for pouring Communion wine into goblets. But this flagon was different: It had one foot in front and two in back.
Just like a flagon that was stolen from the Historical Society of Frederick County 30 years earlier.
Herr rushed home to look at pictures of the stolen decanter. He had collected the images long ago while writing a book about pewter church antiques, and he found that the two flagons were identical, down to the dents and the initials of its creator, Johann Christoph Heyne, an 18th-century German craftsman in Lancaster, Pa.
Donald Herr is my father-in-law.
The Post article leaves out most of the story, but he went to some pretty remarkable lengths to make sure that nobody unknowingly bought a stolen item, and that the decanter got back to its rightful owners. Due to staff turnover, nobody at the historical society even remembered that it had been stolen. Neat stuff.