SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) – Nearly $40,000 in historical artifacts were stolen Wednesday night from a Quonset hut near Lodi.
Some of the items, dating back to the mid-1860s, were set to be sold in an estate sale this weekend.
“And then she said, ‘we’ve been robbed!’” Nancy Schmer recounted. “Everything, all the little stuff is gone!”
The collector, Schmer’s father Ralph Lea, spent a lifetime collecting the items. The World War II veteran worked in the city of Lodi for three decades. He kept his collection of coins, tokens, tickets and old photos inside of an old Quonset hut tucked away in a hidden vineyard east of Lodi.
“He collected a little bit of everything,” Schmer said. “He always remembers loving history, loving old things.”
It started when Lea was just 6 years old with a cigar box under his bed.
“I think he had marbles and just whatever caught his eye,” she said. “He was buying all of this silverware and I said, ‘what are you gonna do with that dad?’ And he said ‘oh you know, I like to have it, it’s shiny!”
She was planning on hosting an Estate Sale this weekend, as her father is in declining health. But Wednesday night, she says someone broke in and took more than 750 items.
“Ugh, I was in shock,” she said.
Silverplate flatware, his collection of coins, buttons, buckles, ribbons and swords all gone.
Schmer believes the thieves broke in through the back window and opened the back doors from inside. She thinks the thieves knew about the estate sale and the valuable items that were inside.
“They just had a straight shot out into the vineyard,” she said.
San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department is investigating what happened. They found one empty display case outside in a nearby vineyard and hope to recover the items taken from inside.
And as Schmer reflects on what to do next, she’s hoping authorities can recover at least some of the collection her father spent decades putting together.
“It’s time that they get shared with other history collectors,” she told CBS13.
The estate sale has been postponed for now. The family says they’re hoping to try again in a few months.