11 March 2014

The Saddle Ridge Hoard - updated

I do dearly love treasure stories.  This one is absolutely stunning:
The bonanza emerged last year as the man and woman were walking their dog on their property in the Gold Country [the area in California where gold was discovered] and noticed the top of a decaying canister poking out of the ground.

They dug it out with a stick, took it to their house and opened it up. Inside was what looked like a batch of discs covered in dirt from holes rotted through the can.
They weren't just discs.

A little brushing revealed nearly perfectly preserved $20 gold coins with liberty head designs on the front, dated from the 1890s. They ran back to the same spot, and when they were done digging, they'd found a total of eight cans containing 1,427 coins - with a face value of $27,980.

 You can read more about the coins at the SFGate article:
The oddest of the bunch are an 1866 $20 coin minted in San Francisco without the words "In God We Trust" on the back - the words were added to those coins, called "Double Eagles," later that year - and an 1849 $5 coin struck in the short-lived Dahlonega, Ga., mint.

Professional Coin Grading Service of Irvine, one of the world's foremost coin-assessment firms, evaluated the hoard and certified that 13 of the coins are either the finest-preserved known examples of their kind, or tied for that rating...
I found more information at the website of the American Numismatic Association's National Money Show, where some of the coins are on display this week.
The find comprises almost 1,400 $20 gold pieces, 50 $10 gold pieces and four $5 gold pieces, all of which were struck between 1847 and 1894.  Highlights of the cache include at least 13 finest known specimens, among them an 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle valued at close to $1 million.

Other highlights include finest example or tied for finest example certified by PCGS: 1875-S graded MS64 (tied); 1877-S PCGS MS65 (tied for "top pop"); four 1888-S PCGS MS64 (tied for "top pop"); two 1889-S graded PCGS MS65 (tied for new "top pop"); and 1894-S PCGS MS65 (tied for "top pop").

When you consider that a coin fresh off the production line at a mint is graded MS70, these coins are truly remarkable.

Every time I read a treasure story, I think about the person who originally accumulated and hid the material.  What was their story, and what did they think as they were dying?  I found this information in a StarTribune/AP article:
The coins, in $5, $10 and $20 denominations, were stored more or less in chronological order in six cans, McCarthy said, with the 1840s and 1850s pieces going into one can 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.
Fascinating and tantalizing.  And meanwhile the nice metal detector in my closet still hasn't found enough treasure to pay for itself.  Perhaps I should dust it off this summer...

Addendum:  About a week after I posted this, several news sources reported that there might be complications to the discoverers' rights to the gold:
'The coins may have been stolen during a heist at the San Francisco Mint in 1899. Roughly the same amount of gold was stolen,' Good Morning America reports. A coin collector dug up an old newspaper article about the heist. According to the article, the amount stolen was $30,000 in gold coins... if the coins are found to be those stolen from the government, the couple probably won't be able to keep the coins, but they might be entitled to a finder's fee. 
An article at The Guardian offers a rebuttal:
Even if the mint had coins on hand covering a span of 47 years, which is unlikely, those in the hoard include some so badly worn that they wouldn’t have been there, said David McCarthy, a San Francisco numismatist.

Another coin, dated 1876, was in such pristine condition that it wouldn’t have been there either. “It doesn’t have a single marking on it,” McCarthy said. “That coin couldn’t have sat in a bag in the San Francisco Mint and looked like that. It would have had what we call ‘bag marks’ all over it.”
I wonder if the couple who found the coins and reported them are wishing that they had quietly negotiated private sales slowly over a few decades.


  1. Let's see:
    1400 Double Eagles @ 0.9675 troy oz Au → 1354.5 oz Au
    50 Eagles @ 0.516 troy oz Au → 25.8 oz Au
    4 Half Eagles @ 0.242 troy oz Au → 0.968 oz Au
    1381.268 oz Au

    I just searched for a gold spot price and got ~1,330 USD per oz Au. Which would give a melt down value of: 1,837,086 USD.

    So the melt value is about 76.5 times the face value and the numismatic value is about 5.5 times the melt value.

  2. Replies
    1. Oops. Thank you. And, curiously (from your link), my slipup seems to be uncommon: "Curiously, the confusion seems to work only in one direction: there's no evidence of hordes being used where hoards might be expected."

  3. As they were dying, the original hider was probably thinking "Goddernit, where in heckfire did I bury all my coins?"

  4. Uh oh, might need to bump this one back up to the top; might be trouble in paradise.


    I would guess they wouldn't, but government may have claim to the coins. They'll get half the value anyways...

    1. Yes, my wife forwarded me a similar article today. I'll plan to update the post tomorrow. I'll bet that couple is wishing they had chosen to sell the coins privately, one at a time.

  5. Remember Scrooge McDuck rolling around in his money room?

    The couple who found the coins are already wealthy, they own many acres of land. However, it is too bad that the U.S, does not have a "treasure policy" similar to that of the U.K. where the landowner and the treasure finder share the money with the country.

    I remember when we first purchased our metal detector (many, many years ago), one of the tips for searching was to run the detector around the bases of fence posts -- evidently those who hid their money/valuables could more easily remember "the third fence post" rather than burying stuff out in the open or lining it up with a tree or a structure. We ought to get new batteries and go out searching again!

    1. "too bad that the U.S, does not have a "treasure policy" similar to that of the U.K." - I absolutely and vehemently agree with you on this. I've blogged a number of times how enlightened the UK policy is compared to the (lack of) one in the country.

      Re fenceposts - when the U.S. changed the design of the Lincoln penny, my father (wrongly) assumed that an investment opportunity was at hand. He got a $50 canvas bag of pennies from the bank. We put that in a box, sealed the box with wax, and buried it... under the second fencepost at our lake property.

      About 30 years later our family, with the kids grown up, my parents had to sell the cabin and that property, so he dug up the hoard, realizing it hadn't increased in value, but wanting now to just cash it in. Water had found its way into the container, so most of the pennies were fused into a corroded mass of copper. Not sure what he did with it...

    2. Too bad he didn't invest in silver dollars instead!

  6. Time Magazine Article Dated March 5th 2014 : "Adam Stump, a spokesman for the U.S. Mint, says officials there have reached the same conclusion after reviewing records. Stump says officials found no connection to the so-called Saddle Ride Hoard and the government is not pursuing any connection."

  7. "the couple probably won't be able to keep the coins, but they might be entitled to a finder's fee"

    Loose lips sink ships. They should have kept it a secret ;)


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