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California couple finds $10 million in rare gold coins while walking dog

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A Northern California couple out walking their dog on their Gold Country property stumbled across a modern-day bonanza: $10 million in rare, mint-condition gold coins buried in the shadow of an old tree.

Nearly all of the 1,427 coins, dating from 1847 to 1894, are in uncirculated, mint condition, said David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Service of Santa Ana, which recently authenticated them. Although the face value of the gold pieces only adds up to about $27,000, some of them are so rare that coin experts say they could fetch nearly $1 million apiece.

"I don't like to say once-in-a-lifetime for anything, but you don't get an opportunity to handle this kind of material, a treasure like this, ever," said veteran numismatist Don Kagin, who is representing the finders. "It's like they found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

Kagin, whose family has been in the rare-coin business for 81 years, would say little about the couple other than that they are husband and wife, are middle-aged and have lived for several years on the rural property where the coins were found. They have no idea who put them there, he said.

The pair are choosing to remain anonymous, Kagin said, in part to avoid a renewed gold rush to their property by modern-day prospectors armed with metal detectors.

They also don't want to be treated any differently, said David McCarthy, chief numismatist for Kagin Inc. of Tiburon.

"Their concern was this would change the way everyone else would look at them, and they're pretty happy with the lifestyle they have today," he said.

They plan to put most of the coins up for sale through Amazon while holding onto a few keepsakes. They'll use the money to pay off bills and quietly donate to local charities, Kagin said.

Before they sell them, they are loaning some to the American Numismatic Association for its National Money Show, which opens Thursday in Atlanta.

What makes their find particularly valuable, McCarthy said, is that almost all of the coins are in near-perfect condition. That means that whoever put them into the ground likely socked them away as soon as they were put into circulation.

Because paper money was illegal in California until the 1870s, he added, it's extremely rare to find any coins from before that of such high quality.

"It wasn't really until the 1880s that you start seeing coins struck in California that were kept in real high grades of preservation," he said.

The coins, in $5, $10 and $20 denominations, were stored more or less in chronological order, McCarthy said, with the 1840s and 1850s pieces going into one canister until it was filed, then new coins going into the next one and the next one after that. The dates and the method indicated that whoever put them there was using the ground as their personal bank and that they weren't swooped up all at once in a robbery.

Although most of the coins were minted in San Francisco, one $5 gold piece came from as far away as Georgia.

Kagin and McCarthy would say little about the couple's property or its ownership history, other than it's in a sprawling hilly area of Gold Country and the coins were found along a path the couple had walked for years. On the day they found them last spring, the woman had bent over to examine an old rusty can that erosion had caused to pop slightly out of the ground.

"Don't be above bending over to check on a rusty can," he said she told him.

They are located on a section of the property the couple nicknamed Saddle Ridge, and Kagin is calling the find the Saddle Ridge Hoard. He believes it could be the largest such discovery in U.S. history.

One of the largest previous finds of gold coins was $1 million worth uncovered by construction workers in Jackson, Tenn., in 1985. More than 400,000 silver dollars were found in the home of a Reno, Nev., man who died in 1974 and were later sold intact for $7.3 million.

Gold coins and ingots said to be worth as much as $130 million were recovered in the 1980s from the wreck of the SS Central America. But historians knew roughly where that gold was because the ship went down off the coast of North Carolina during a hurricane in 1857.

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mrs.trip4daze March 25 2014 at 12:22 AM

I'm happy for them. At least it's getting put to use now, not hidden in the dirt somewhere. It would be cool if they kept their word & donate some to charity. But since it's their money now, they can do whatever they want. It does not matter what I, or anyone else thinks. I wish everyone could just be happy for them.

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lusine February 27 2014 at 6:13 PM

A numismatist's dream come true....

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csis3842 February 27 2014 at 2:06 PM

Yesterday I was out walking the day and right by an old oak tree I found roots and a yellow ribbon.

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turfam4 February 27 2014 at 10:12 AM

I'll put that right up there with stories of stopping into that neighborhood Saturday morning garage sale and finding a 1947 Martin 6-string acoustic guitar for $50.

1.) They did the right thing by remaining anonymous.
2.) They did the right thing by sending the coins to a professional coin restoration company. Certainly didn'twantto attempt to clean them with a toothbrush and white vinegar.
3.) And hopefully, they secured a lawyer to legally guide them through the whole ordeal, in order to avoid the cockroaches which will surface.

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grgarryciencia February 27 2014 at 5:11 AM

wooa nice more many ...

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ihuber1 February 27 2014 at 4:52 AM

Stolen from the SF Mint in 1901... they will have to give it back to the rightful owner... the government.
The guy was convicted, but the money never recovered. Google search and you will see.

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mrs.trip4daze March 25 2014 at 12:10 AM

“We do not have any information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility,” Mint rep Adam Stump tells CNN, and that determination follows a good deal of research, he adds to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We’ve got a crack team of lawyers, and trust me, if this was U.S. government property we’d be going after it.” Richard Kelly, who wrote a book on the San Francisco Mint, sees a further issue with the dates of the uncovered coins—they’re stamped 1847 to 1894, and he thinks ones taken from the mint would be dated nearer to 1901.

“We assume from the times and all the records that they were new coins [taken]. Back then, once coins were printed they flew out of the mint.”

And a coin dealer tells the Los Angeles Times that each of the six bags of Double Eagles (that’s a $20 coin) stolen would have held coins bearing the same date and mint mark. The buried coins feature “12 times as many permutations as we should have,” he says.

The Chronicle also takes a look at what one coin collector considers to be the smoking gun: an 1866 Double Eagle that had no “In God We Trust” motto on it; 1866 was the year that motto began gracing the coins, and Jack Trout told the paper that he believed the presence of the rare and valuable coin amid the buried haul signaled that it had to have come directly from the San Francisco Mint. But the Chronicle turns to the Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, which presents the coin as anything but one-of-a-kind: Per the encyclopedia, 120,000 “No Motto” Double Eagles were produced in San Francisco in 1866 before the changeover occurred.


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garbiss207 February 27 2014 at 4:15 AM

I've been looking for those for decades but gave up. However, I;m THRILLED that they will bring happiness to others! Enjoy my favorite Beatles' song - - - "Golden Slumbers'!

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turfam4 February 27 2014 at 10:16 AM

Don't forget Dan Fogelberg's "The Power of Gold" song from his 1978 Twins Son's of Different Mothers CD/album.

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marysown50 February 27 2014 at 2:17 AM

finders keepers loosers weapers. I wish all the luck the can possible obtain.

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HENSONCOWBOY February 27 2014 at 2:12 AM


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Qazer February 27 2014 at 1:59 AM

cooL gold is good fine I wish them the best luck :)

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