LODI, Calif. -- Ralph Lea, 93, loved old things. So, much so, he began collecting them when he was just 6-years-old.
"He got a cigar box from an older relative probably and he started filling it with tobacco packages," said Lea's daughter, Nancy Schmer.
That love of history continued throughout his life, amassing an incredible array of Lodi, Stockton and small, San Joaquin County town artifacts.
With her father now in a care home, the family decided it was time to let it go through an estate sale that was set for this weekend. However, sometime between Wednesday afternoon and 10 a.m. Thursday, thieves broke into a large, corrugated metal, Quonset hut in rural Lodi, on the property where Lea lived. Because of the theft, the family has canceled the sale (click the link here to see photos taken before the theft).
Antique swords, fraternal ribbons and medallions, metal banks, belt buckles, silverware, toys, a coin collection and more were all stolen from dozens of tables setup by estate sales company Treasure Trove Antiques of Stockton.
"We were shocked. We were angry, very disappointed. It's not a matter we spent with staff and labor. We feel really bad for the family," said Eloy Lores of Treasure Trove Antiques.
He believes the thieves pried open a window and then slid a metal door open to commit their crime.
Lores says in the 22 years of doing estate sales, he has never come across a personal historical collection like this one. He hopes people will be on the lookout for the unique historical items if someone tries to put them up for sale.
If you have any information, contact the San Joaquin County Sheriffs Department at 209-468-4421.
Continue the conversation with Kurt on Facebook.