Business: Bunker Hunt's Comstock Lode

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While bullion buffs have been ringing up spectacular profits, Dallas Megamillionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt, 53, should have been quietly humming Silver Threads Among the Gold. As the nation's paramount silver hoarder. Hunt and at least one brother, William Herbert Hunt, have amassed a new Comstock Lode. Over the past nine months they have earned an estimated $2 billion to $4 billion, and one former business associate sets the Hunts' silver holdings at 100 million oz. Even for a man who could play Monopoly with real money, the silver boom is stunning.

Bunker Hunt, as friends call him, is one of ten children of Texas Oil Billionaire H.L. Hunt. Bunker inherited millions and a penchant for controversy from his father, who before his death in 1974 promoted far-right political causes and crawling as an exercise. The family could be a model for the Swings on TV's Dallas. Bunker leads the six children from his father's first marriage in business deals and feuds with the four children of the patriarch's second family.

In 1975 Bunker and Herbert were tried in federal court on charges of having tapped the phones of their father's business associates as part of an alleged attempt to stop him from bequeathing too much to the last four heirs. The two brothers were acquitted, although a pair of private detectives working for them went to jail. A federal judge ruled 2% years ago that the same brothers and five of their children had illegally exceeded the limits on purchases on the nation's soybean market. Bunker also directs first-family control of Hunt International Resources Corp., one of the nation's largest beet-sugar processors and owner of the Shakey's pizza chain. Brother Lamar, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, is a partner in the first family's petroleum company, Placid Oil. The second family owns Hunt Oil.

Bunker Hunt ventured into silver in 1973 after Libya nationalized his 8-million-acre oil holdings. Says Hunt: "Silver looked safer than overseas oil concessions the way things were going. And precious metals were a good hedge against paper money." In late 1973, when the price was around $3 an oz., Bunker and Herbert went into silver Texas-style, buying an estimated 35 million oz. of silver futures. The brothers waged a bitter fight in 1977 to buy control of Sunshine Mining Co., which owns the nation's largest silver mine. In a rare defeat, their offer was rebuffed as too late and too low. Last year the Hunts went in even deeper, increasing their holdings by an estimated 23 million oz. Rumors spread that the family was out to corner the world silver market.

Bunker Hunt has also used his silver touch on horse breeding. He reputedly owns more thoroughbreds than anyone else in the world; 600 horses wear his light and dark green racing silks. Exceller, a horse he bought for $25,000, later earned more than $1.5 million in prize money. After Hunt became the first American to win both the French and English derbies, in 1976, Baron Guy de Rothschild, president of the French Breeders Association, restricted many French races to horses bred in European Community countries.

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