Transporting a $1.9M Rare Coin
Excellent story of security by obscurity:
Feigenbaum put the dime, encased in a 3-inch-square block of plastic, in his pocket and, accompanied by a security guard, drove in an ordinary sedan directly to San Jose airport to catch the red-eye to Newark.
The overnight flight, he said, was the only way to make sure the dime would be in New York by the time the buyer’s bank opened in the morning. People who pay $1.9 million for dimes do not like to be kept waiting for them.
Feigenbaum had purchased a coach ticket, to avoid suspicion, but found himself upgraded to first class. That was a worry, because people in flip-flops, T-shirts and grubby jeans do not regularly ride in first class. But it would have been more suspicious to decline a free upgrade. So Feigenbaum forced himself to sit in first class, where he found himself to be the only passenger in flip-flops.
He was too nervous to sleep, he said. He did not watch the in-flight movie, which was “Firehouse Dog.” He turned down a Reuben sandwich and sensibly declined all offers of alcoholic beverages.
Shortly after boarding the plane, he transferred the dime from his pants pocket to his briefcase.
“I was worried that the dime might fall out of my pocket while I was sitting down,” Feigenbaum said.
All across the country, Feigenbaum kept checking to make sure the dime was safe by reaching into his briefcase to feel for it. Feigenbaum did not actually take the dime out of his briefcase, as it is suspicious to stare at dimes.
This isn’t the first time security through obscurity was employed to transport a very small and very valuable object. From Beyond Fear, pp 211-212:
At 3,106 carats, a little under a pound and a half, the Cullinan Diamond was the largest uncut diamond ever discovered. It was extracted from the earth at the Premier Mine, near Pretoria, South Africa, in 1905. Appreciating the literal enormity of the find, the Transvaal government bought the diamond as a gift for King Edward VII. Transporting the stone to England was a huge security problem, of course, and there was much debate on how best to do it. Detectives were sent from London to guard it on its journey. News leaked that a certain steamer was carrying it, and the presence of the detectives confirmed this. But the diamond on that steamer was a fake. Only a few people knew of the real plan; they packed the Cullinan in a small box, stuck a three-shilling stamp on it, and sent it to England anonymously by unregistered parcel post.
Like all security measures, security by obscurity has its place. I wrote a lot more about the general concepts in this 2002 essay.