Dr. Leonard Kapiloff, a dentist and publisher whose lost collection of rare stamps sparked a favorable state appeals court decision that rejected the old adage of "Finders keepers, losers weepers," died Nov. 25 of cardiopulmonary failure at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.
The Rockville resident was 78.
He and his brother, Bernard Kapiloff of Baltimore, lost a rare collection of stamps they had purchased in 1976 from a New York dealer for $150,400. The stamps were placed in the drawer of a dresser that was later sold to a secondhand furniture store where Robert L. Ganter, a Baltimore clinical psychologist, purchased it and found them.
In 1983, the brothers were astonished to see the stamps advertised for sale in a stamp catalog. They asked for them to be returned and when Dr. Ganter refused, they sued.
In the decision, Chief Judge Richard C. Gilbert of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals said that "finders keepers" was "an alloy of 'hot air,' folklore and wishful thinking," and that since the 1600s, finders of lost property can hold it "against all but the
original owner." He said that the stamps rightfully belonged to the Kapiloffs.
Dr. Kapiloff was the publisher of the Washington Jewish Week newspaper, which be purchased in 1983. He was the former publisher of the Sentinel Newspapers in suburban Maryland.
In the 1960s, he and his brother took over operation of the 107-year-old Montgomery Sentinel and in 1967 started the Prince George's Sentinel in Hyattsville. In 1987, Dr. Kapiloff transferred his interests in the Sentinel papers to his brother.
The papers were known for their crusading efforts during the civil rights era and exposed and attacked the formation of a White Citizens Council in Montgomery County.
In the 1950s, the Kapiloff brothers were among the first landlords in Montgomery to desegregate apartment houses.
A New York native, Leonard Kapiloff graduated in 1937 from City College of New York and was a 1941 graduate of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. During World War II, he was a Navy dentist. After the war, he moved to Rockville, where he established a dental practice in 1946. He retired from dentistry in 1962 when he launched his publishing career. He also operated a land development company that built homes for low- and moderate-income families.
He was involved in the sale of Israel Bonds since the beginning of the program in 1950. He was presented the Rosalie and Leon Gerber Award by the Jewish Council for the Aging and was a member for many years of the Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase.
His wife, the former Dorothy Oxman, died in 1983.
Services were held in Washington Nov. 26.
In addition to his brother, survivors include a son, Jonathan Kapiloff of Washington; and a daughter, Elizabeth Kapiloff of Reno, Nev.