Early US penny sells for $1.38 million

An example of the first official US coin minted by the federal government on its own equipment and premises sold last month for a staggering $1.38 million.

Not bad, considering it represents a markup of nearly 140 million times over it original face value.

Heritage Auctions sold the 1793 Chain cent in January, likely the most money ever paid for a one-cent piece.

The 219-year-old coin is one of a relatively small number of Chain cents that survive, and one of the best examples, being classified in near-mint condition.

Called the Eliasberg specimen, the Chain cent auctioned by Heritage carries a provenance that dates back to 1864.

Heritage described it as having “a bold strike with excellent definition of the motifs, including the fine strands of Liberty’s hair. The rim is bold and the centering is excellent. Every aspect of this superlative Chain cent is remarkable. The rich olive and mahogany-brown surfaces are highly lustrous and virtually flawless.”

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Slave who served with Confederates honored

Some 100 people gathered earlier this month at a family cemetery in the South Carolina Upstate to honor a black man who served alongside Confederate soldiers from 1861-64.

Henry Craig, a slave, was born in the 1840s and served the Craig family, which lived in Pickens and Oconee counties.

When the Craig sons joined Orr’s First South Carolina Rifles in 1861, Henry went to war with them, according to the publication Easley Patch.

They fought together until Aug. 6, 1864, when John Craig was wounded at Gravely Hill, Va., and ultimately lost his arm, the publication added.

Henry Craig brought John back home to Pickens County and the two remained close friends, so close that Henry named one of his five children John.

On Feb. 5, more than eight dozen people gathered at the Craig Family Cemetery north of Seneca, SC, to honor Henry Craig’s service.

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Navy probing purported wreck of Revenge

Two centuries ago, the USS Revenge – captained by future American naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry – slipped into history when it sank off the New England coast.

Perry was bringing the ship from Newport, R.I., to New London, Conn., in January 1811 when it hit a reef in heavy fog. The area is noted for rocky, tide-swept reefs that lurk just beneath shallow waters.

Now, researchers from the US Navy are hoping to confirm what the men who discovered the ship’s remains believe: that the wreck lying a mile off the coast is indeed the Revenge.

“The Revenge was forgotten. It became a footnote,” said Charlie Buffum, a brewery owner from Stonington, Conn., who found the shipwreck while diving with friend Craig Harger. “We are very confident this is it.”

On Wednesday, Buffum and Harger braved the raw weather of Block Island Sound to accompany the researchers as they surveyed the wreck site. The Navy – with help from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution – is using high-tech sensor equipment to locate artifacts that might prove the ship’s identity, according to The Associated Press.

The venture, if successful, will illuminate a crucial episode in the life of Perry, one of the nation’s great naval heroes.

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Russia drills 2+ miles to reach Antarctic Lake

Russian scientists have bored down approximately 2.3 miles to reach a prehistoric lake that has remained untouched for tens of thousands of years.

The scientists announced this week that they had completed efforts to drill through Antarctica’s icesheet on Feb. 5 to reach the pristine waters of Lake Vostok.

“For me, discovering this lake is comparable to the first flight to space. In its technical complexity, its importance and its uniqueness,” expedition leader Valery Lukin told the Interfax news agency.

Lake Vostok lies in the heart of the Antarctic continent and is big as Lake Ontario, making it one of world’s largest freshwater lakes.

The lake has been covered by the vast Antarctic ice sheet for up to 25 million years, according to information found on a Columbia University website.

Lake Vostok, one of more than 145 lakes identified beneath the thick Antarctic ice sheet, was named for the Russian research station that sits above its southern tip – a place where in 1983 the temperature fell below minus 129°F, the coldest ever recorded on Earth.

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Organic cotton making inroads in US

Organic cotton continued a nearly decade-long growth trend in 2011, with approximately 16,000 acres planted, according to the Organic Trade Association.

That was up sharply from 2010, when nearly 12,000 acres of organic cotton were planted.

Last year’s total represented the largest number of acres planted since 1999, according to the 2010 and Preliminary 2011 US Organic Cotton Production & Marketing Trends report conducted by the OTA.

However, harvested acres and bales are expected to be down by 38 and 45 percent, respectively, due to a devastating drought in the Southern Plains, according to Southeast Farm Press.

Extremely dry conditions in Texas forced farmers there to abandon more than 65 percent of their planted crop in 2011, the publication added.

A modest acreage gain of two percent is forecast for 2012, bringing plantings of US organic cotton to 16,406 acres.

Organic cotton is cotton grown from non-genetically modified plants without the use of fertilizers or pesticides.

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Civil War graffiti found in Virginia structure

Brandy Station, Va., was the site of the largest predominantly cavalry engagement ever fought on American soil, when a total of 20,000 Confederate and Union men locked horns near Culpeper on June 9, 1863.

The so-called Graffiti House served as a field hospital for the South during the Battle of Brandy Station and other local battles during the war. It also served as a headquarters site for Federal forces during the winter encampment of 1863-64. 

Soldiers from both sides made drawings and signed their names and units on the walls. 

Then, at some point, probably years after the war ended, the owner of the house decided to cover up the graffiti – written mostly using charcoal – on the walls.

By then a layer of dirt and soot had built up on the white plaster walls, and that thin membrane was just enough to preserve hundreds of historical scribblings, according to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

Since the graffiti was rediscovered in 1993, conservationists such as Chris Mills have worked to preserve the Civil War-era signatures and drawings found throughout the circa-1858 structure.

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Noted U-boat ace dies in Spain at age 96

The last survivor among Germany’s top 10 U-boat aces of World War II died recently at the age of 96.

Korvettenkapitän (Lieutenant Commander) Georg Lassen sank 26 ships between March 1942 and June 1943, sending more than 156,000 gross tons to the bottom of the sea, making him the 10th most successful German submarine commander of the Second World War.

A native of the Berlin suburb of  Steglitz, Lassen joined the Kriegsmarine as a 20-year old in 1935. He died Jan. 18 in Mallorca, Spain.

Lassen commanded the U-160 during his career, making just four patrols. On his last patrol, to South African waters, he sank or damaged six ships in less than five hours.

During his career, Lassen and his crew sank or damaged ships from six different countries, including seven US ships and two Canadian vessels.

In mid-June 1943 Lassen was transferred from U-160 to duties as a tactics instructor in a training unit for future U-boat commanders.

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