Golden Owl Quest
La chouette d’or (the golden owl) was buried in a secret location somewhere in France by Max Valentin. Valentin buried the owl at 3:30 am on 24 April 1993. It is buried about 80 inches deep and is covered with stones and earth. Valentin provided a series of eleven clues to the statue’s location which were accompanied by illustrations created by the sculptor Michel Becker, who also created the prize.
To date the clues are unsolved and the owl remains hidden. Should the sculpture be found, it may be exchanged for a more valuable piece, originally valued at 1 million francs. Max Valentin died in a car crash with his mystery still unsolved on April 24, 2009, 16 years to the day after the burial of the owl.
Max Valentin was a pseudonym for Régis Hauser. The name was chosen at random out of a phone book “on the third attempt because the first two were ridiculous.”
Valentin was asked to provide clues to a treasure hunt by his then boss during 1978. He had written several treasure hunts before. Valentin said he spent 450 hours writing the clues. They remained unused, however, until he met Michael Becker. Together they planned the game and agreed that Becker would provide illustrations for the images and would craft the prize. However only Valentin knew the exact location of the cache; Becker never knew the solution. Valentin originally estimated that the puzzle would be solved within eight to fourteen months.
Shortly after the burial of the countermark, the pair published their book Sur La Trace de la Chouette d’Or (In Search of the Golden Owl) which contained the eleven clues.
La Chouette d’Or – front and back – is a sculpture by Michael Becker of an owl with approximately 50 cm wingspan, weighing about 10 kg in gold and silver and accented with diamonds. This unique object was initially estimated at one million francs (approximately €150,000) but a Swiss collector contacted Valentin to propose that it should be valued at three million French francs (over €450,000). It is not this prize that is buried but a replica in bronze. The person who finds this countermark may exchange it against for the real Golden Owl.
The original Chouette d’Or was set in the summer of 1993 under the care of Master Llouquet, a bailiff in Paris, and was kept in a vault. Llouquete himself was personally responsible for delivering the original to the winner in exchange for the bronze countermark. Upon his death, the responsibility was passed to his successor. In 2006, the owl was found in receivership after the company responsible for the rental of the safe went bankrupt. Following a ruling on January 15, 2009 by the Court of Appeal of Versailles, the owl was returned to Becker and remains in his possession, ready to be exchanged for the countermark.
Each clue consists of a title, text and visual. These visuals are a reproduction of original paintings by Becker. They were composed according to specifications written by Valentin.
Solving the eleven clues will isolate an area the size of a small town located in France. To locate the exact place of burial within this zone, players have to solve a twelfth and final puzzle hidden within the previous eleven.
The first clue is marked B and shows the reader that the first challenge they face is to organise the clues into the correct order. It reads:
Il n’est de pire aveugle que celui qui ne veut pas voir (The blindest man is the one who refuses to see)
1=530 | 3=470 | 5=600 | 7=420 | 9=650
Clues: (in original French)
In numerical order:
Suggested order of clues:
Clues: in translated English
In numerical order:
Suggested order of clues:
Note: I could not find English versions of the clues anywhere so I have translated badly from the French (and occasional snippets of Latin) using Google translate and my own rusty skills. The translations are far from perfect but I hope you’ll appreciate that this is a labour of love and I tried my best.
Valentin provided several addition clues to the search over the years. He noted that the owl was not located in Mont Saint-Michel, the Dark Forest, Paris or Versailles. This was to prevent people from ransacking historical places. He also added that that it is 100 miles from the ocean and is not hidden in a private plot or in private property open to the public.
There were also several other pieces of additional information, some given by Valentin on his Minitel website, some printed in the press and some mentioned by Valentine on television appearances. These featured a couple of visual clues, including a heart saying opening to the heart is born. All these additional clues are available on the official website here.
Valentin frequently checked on the location of the owl. He noticed that the ground had been disturbed near it one time, showing that someone had come close to solving the mystery. Valentin received a great volume of correspondence regarding the puzzle via Minitel and said he had received nearly 1,000,000 messages, half of which contained “solutions”. He said that Dr. Gerald Gay, an immunologist and prolific treasure hunter, came closest to the correct answer.
A treasure hunter burned down a chapel in a small town located somewhere in the middle of France, believing incorrectly that the owl was buried underneath it.
In October 2012 , an octogenarian claimed to have discovered the location of the owl, saying it was hidden in the park of Versailles Palace, specifically in an enclosure located in the eastern part of the Girandole grove with statues of Hercules and Flora Minerva (see image here) “I was lucky to find [the solution] because the last riddle is very complicated. The visual is very important. There is much talk of light. Everyone thinks it is impossible that the owl is at Versailles because it is forbidden to bury anything there either. However, it is simply written it in a public place. I think the creator of the game was illegally buried at night,” said the player, who wished to remain anonymous. However, this solution does contradict Valentin’s pointed notes about where the owl is not located.