U.S. couple finds rare gold coins buried under tree

The most valuable buried treasure coin discovery in United States history has gone public, a hoard of almost 1,500 coins possibly valued at $10 million US. The coins were discovered in February 2013, by a couple while they were walking on their northern California property near a hill they named Saddle Ridge, because of its shape. According to Don Kagin, of the California numismatic firm Kagin’s, they were taking their dog for a walk when they noticed a partially buried can.

Using a stick, they were able to dislodge the can and decided to carry it back to their house. Once they opened the can and discovered gold coins they returned to the site and located the remains of another can. Later trips to the site using a metal detector eventually turned up 1,427 coins buried in eight, rusty metal canisters. They later contacted Kagin’s senior numismatist, David McCarthy, who did the initial evaluation and inventory of the treasure trove. The couple prefers to remain anonymous, but according to an interview transcript provided by Kagin’s the couple, going by the names “John and Mary,” described their excitement.

“Of course, it was a very surreal moment,” John stated. “It was very hard to believe at first. I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear.” The coins were found under an old tree which had a metal can hanging from it which the tree had grown around. Exactly 10 paces to the south of the hoard was an unusual angular rock. “It wasn’t until we made the find that we realized it might have been a marker: starting at the rock, if you walk 10 paces towards the North Star, you wind up smack in the middle of the coins,” Mary said. Not trusting banks, the couple decided to hang on to the coins at home; stashing them the way the previous owner did, by burying them.

“I dug a hole under the wood pile and got a slab of green board to cover it, put the coins in plastic bags, then put them in a box inside an old ice chest and buried them,” John said. Don Kagin speculates that, based on the dates of the coins, their condition, and the condition of the can, the coins were buried in the late 19th century.

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) has authenticated, graded and certified the coins, which are dated from 1847 to 1894. The majority of them are $20 denomination liberty double eagles struck at the San Francisco Mint between 1855 and 1894. The breakdown is 1,373 $20 gold pieces, 50 $10 gold pieces, and four $5 gold pieces. Some of this treasure made its public debut at the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) recent National Money Show in Atlanta. Kagin’s estimates the current market value at more than $10 million. Described as the “Saddle Ridge Hoard,” the gold coins have a combined face value of about $27,000.

According to PCGS, more than a dozen of the discovered coins now are either currently the finest known or tied for the finest known examples in the PCGS Population Report. Among them is an 1877S no motto double eagle, PCGS MS-66, estimated at $1 million. Other great finds include an 1866S $20 no motto, PCGS MS-66; and 1877S $20, PCGS MS-65; two 1889S PCGS MS-65; an 1873 closed 3 $20, PCGS MS-63; four 1880S $20, PCGS MS-64; and an 1894S $20 PCGS, MS-65, all tied for finest known.

“One of the great things about being involved with PCGS is the occasional discovery coins we get to grade. This is one of those fantastic discoveries!” said David Hall, PCGS co-founder. “This is the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” said Don Kagin, president of Kagin’s. “What’s really significant about this find is that this treasure combines a great quantity of pristine coins along with a great human interest story.” The coins have been encapsulated with gold-coloured foil “Saddle Ridge Hoard” insert labels. “What is really special about this discovery is the incredible quality of many of these coins. This group of coins will definitely change the PCGS population numbers for many issues. It’s a remarkable feeling to hold these coins in your hands. I’ve always called rare coins ‘history in your hands’ and the Saddle Ridge Hoard is a historical time capsule of immense numismatic importance,” Hall emphasized.

The previous largest reported buried gold treasure in the United States was the 1985 discovery by construction workers in Jackson, Tenn., of gold coins with an estimated face value of $4,500 and market value of about $1 million. Although not “buried” treasure, more than 400,000 silver dollars were found in the home of Lavere Redfield of Reno, Nev., after he died in 1974. The coins were sold as a group for $7.3 million in 1976. While the couple may keep some coins, most will be sold online through an exclusive arrangement with Amazon.com. This will be the first major numismatic treasure to be sold through Amazon.

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