The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 9, March 2, 2014, Article 12


The big numismatic story this week was of course, the announced find of buried gold coins in California. I first saw an Associated Press story on Tuesday afternoon:

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.

To read the complete article, see:
California couple finds $10 million in rare coins while out walking dog (

About 60 seconds later I got a copy of the press release from Donn Pearlman, on behalf of PCGS and Kagin's. It had less information than the AP article, but more could be found on the Kagin's web site:

Saddle Ridge buried_gold In California’s gold country, the legend of buried treasure has become one family’s reality. While taking their dog on his daily walk across their property, a couple noticed a partially buried can jutting out of the ground.

Using a stick, they were able to dislodge the can and decided to carry it back to their house. The can was unusually heavy, but nothing could have prepared them for what they would find when they pried the lid open: mixed in with dirt and stones, they could see the edges of numerous U.S. $20 gold pieces—a literal pot of gold!

They returned to the site and immediately located the remains of another can, buried a bit deeper and about a foot to the left of the first can. Rust had consumed about half of the can’s sides, exposing another cache of gold coins. Repeated trips to the site (and the help of a metal detector) eventually uncovered a total of eight cans filled with over 1,400 rare U.S. gold coins.

To read the complete articles, see:
The Saddle Ridge Treasure of U.S. Gold Coins (
California Family Discovers Buried Treasure – Hidden Cache of 19th Century U.S. Gold Coins May Be Most Valuable Hoard Unearthed in North America (

The articles were all dated Tuesday, February 25th. One was in the form of an interview with finders "John" and "Mary":

John: We knew better than to go to any local pawn broker with the coins to put them on the market, we knew better than that.

Mary: What we really appreciated was that from the outset, David [McCarthy of Kagin’s Inc.] very much wanted us to know everything we could about our coins. He didn’t ever try to say, “These really aren’t anything.” He let us know right away that they were special and told us various stories about the different dates. One thing that he said that stuck with us was the idea of honoring the whole group, instead of selling a little bit at a time over time, even though it is more risky for us personally. The history of the coins as a hoard is important.

To read the complete article, see:
Hoard Interview (

Bill Rosenblum in Colorado was the first to forward the story to me. Dick Hanscom in Alaska had gotten a mailing from Kagin's and forwarded a link to a London Daily Mail article:

John and Mary are a self-employed couple in their 40s. 'The family and the attorneys researched who might have put them there, and they came up with nothing,' Kagin said.

'The nearest we can guess is that whoever left the coins might have been involved in the mining industry.'

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.

To read the complete article, see:
California couple strikes gold after finding $10million of 19th century coins buried on their property (

Choosing to remain anonymous, however noble the stated intention, is a form of deceit. And of course, "Oh what a tangled web we weave When first we practice to deceive." (Sir Walter Scott).

Questions of all sorts came to my mind immediately. Does the story hold water? I’ve seen far too many of these “found” hoard stories that later turn out to be a crock, like the Renoir “found at a flea market” that had been stolen from a museum and the Massachusetts paper money hoard “dug up in the backyard” that had been stolen by roofers working on a barn. I get suspicious when key details are left out and papered over with a story. In this case, the names of the finders aren’t even being released.

Is the condition of the coins consistent with having been underground for a hundred years? Do the canisters look authentic? I wondered if someone was trying to launder money or fence a stolen collection. I'm not questioning Kagin's, but the farther back you go in the chain of possession things get murkier and murkier. How did the hoard come to be?

And even if the find is legitimate, have the proper authorities been notified, legal procedures followed and taxes set to be paid? Journalists could file Freedom of Information Act requests to get certain information, even if identities have to be redacted due to privacy laws.

If the couple had found a stray puppy, they likely would have plastered posters all over their town seeking the owner. Find a wallet or bag of cash in a taxicab, you can and should report it and seek the owner. Are the laws different for items found on your own property? Of course, with the finders maintaining anonymity it can't be verified that they even OWN property, let alone found something there.

Here's where Britain's Treasure Trove laws are so great. As I understand it, find something anywhere and you have to report it. Archaeologists and scholars get to record, investigate and document the find, and the government gets an opportunity to purchase the material at market value for museums. Otherwise the finder is free to sell it, sharing half with the property owner; if you find it on your own property you keep it all, minus appropriate taxes. It's all above board and still a bonanza for the finder

Ralf W. Böpple of Germany saw the story in Der Spiegel. He writes:

What strikes me is the high state of conservation of the older coins. One would expect a hoard of coins buried in the 1890s to contain mint state coins from the 1890s, but circulated ones from earlier decades. Also, I couldn't find any complete listing of the coins found - they had them all restored, graded and slabbed, but can't (or don't want to) give details about just which dates were found in which quantity. One of the pictures shows many coins from 1892 and 1894 in mint state, I guess this should reflect negatively on the prices for these years, right?

The article in German describes the uncirculated coins as "unused". I remember it has been discussed several times in The E-Sylum how popular media tends to be rather imprecise with regard to numismatic terms and facts. But even in non-numismatic German the expression is plain wrong, because the coins have undoubtedly been used as storage of wealth, which is one of the purposes of money.

To read the complete article, see:
Kalifornien: Paar findet millionenschweren Goldschatz im Garten (

The topic came up in the Yahoo Colonial Coins group. Jeff Rock wrote:

Well, paper money was actually illegal in California for a long time, and gold was the medium of choice in the 1850's and 1860's, so it may have been someone's hoard that got buried and lost -- the cans they were buried in certainly showed some care in stacking the pieces.

Of course, could have been a bank heist or a Wells Fargo stagecoach robbery -- the coins were certainly mint state when they were put in the cans. The only thing that makes me think it wasn't a robbery was the wide range of dates and the systematic way they were stored -- it looks like someone just hoarded gold and every month or two got more coins fresh from the bank (or mint, since they are nearly all S mint coins), and just added them to the pile in a can, starting a new can when one was full.

The fact that they were pretty much in date order -- 1850's before 1860's before 1870's, etc -- isn't what you would expect if they were stolen in one robbery, since that would probably be all of the same date, or at most just a few different dates and not such a wide range.

Definitely interesting -- and I don't blame the people who found it for wanting anonymity. There would certainly be a new Gold Rush on their property.

One of the best things about The E-Sylum is access to top experts in the numismatic field. One E-Sylum regular is Bob Evans, Chief Scientist of the SS Central America Project which salvaged what has been called the greatest treasure find of all time, from the wreck of the Central America ship which sunk in 1857. Bob writes:

One of the joys and one of the burdens of being a treasure finder is that friends and acquaintances ask for opinions about other finds. So it has been an interesting few days for me with the announcement of the "Saddle Ridge Hoard" this past week. I regret that I could not shake free the time to attend the ANA National Money Show in Atlanta and see this wonder for myself. So I have had to rely on the press coverage, AP, newspapers and numismatic.

At least two of my correspondents have expressed concerns that this could be an attempt to fence a stolen numismatic collection, and I will admit that this was one of my initial reactions as well, particularly given the high grades of many of the coins. However, with what has been represented by established numismatic authorities, I think this find passes the smell test.

The problem is always that journalists write with deadlines, word counts and entertainment in mind. This is a great story, but people are correct to be cautious. This does not however mean that they need be overly suspicious. History teaches us time and again that folks have been squirreling away money for one reason or another for as long as there has been money.

Questions inevitably arise, and I always have a few. Some of these may have been answered, but as I indicated I didn't have a chance to go to Atlanta. Was a police/sheriff's report filed? Forensic examination of the find site would be interesting, and it would be optimal for authentication purposes. On the other hand, I do understand the couple's desire for secrecy.

This is a lot of money. The article reports that the family and attorneys researched who might have deposited the hoard. I would think so! $27,000 in the 1890s was huge. It could have used to build multiple houses or start a business. The numismatists involved are established sources, David Hall, Don Kagin and David McCarthy.

Suggestions that this was a "personal bank" are interesting, and the evidence that the coins were arranged roughly chronologically is certainly interesting, and possibly corroborative of this theory. David McCarthy makes the statement in the articles I read about the chronological arrangement, but what is his source for the information? Did Kagin's do the excavation, the unpacking of the canisters? Was the excavation videotaped? There is a photograph of one can, somewhat smashed, in the ground. Did this come from the couple? Was it "staged" afterward? Why would one photograph a rusty can in the ground? Maybe they had already examined a few, and this was another one. Maybe...

These are some of my questions. I want to make it clear that I am not judging. I am just curious, as we should all be. It is a great story!

Given a chance E-Sylum readers might have come up with the next clue, but "Jeff", commenting on a CoinUpdate article, noted a possible connection to a long-ago theft, He quoted text from the U.S. Mint site (without attribution):

Could it be that Chief Clerk Walter Dimmick had betrayed the trust placed in him? It certainly seemed that way when the San Francisco Mint discovered that six bags of gold coins were missing from one of the vaults, together worth $30,000!

Only someone who could open the vault and had free access to the building could have removed that many heavy coins without being detected.

The Chief Clerk, Walter Dimmick, was able to get into the vault at the time the money was stolen. He was also the last one to count the bags of coins every night before the vaults were closed. Yet he denied knowing where the money might be.

Since he had already been caught learning to sign the Superintendent's name (forgery), taking money from the pay envelopes of other Mint employees (theft), and stealing other government funds in his care, a jury eventually found him guilty of stealing the $30,000 in gold double eagles and of two other charges.

At 46 years old, Walter Dimmick began to serve his time (almost seven years of hard labor) at the San Quentin prison in California. The 1,500 gold coins were never found.

To read the complete article, see:
PCGS Certifies “Saddle Ridge Hoard” of Buried Treasure Gold Coins : In Sheep's Clothing (

To read the original article, see:
The United States Mint at San Francisco (

Apparently independently, the site Mashable was doing its own research. Thanks to Larry Dziubek for forwarding it. They started by speaking with Kagin's and the ANA's Doug Mudd. Here's an excerpt from their article:

As people look over the plastic-encased coins, each with a special gold-colored “Saddle Ridge Hoard” PCGS certification foil, they may wonder where such a hoard came from.

We may have found the answer.

“It’s extremely unusual to find this many U.S. coins, especially gold, all together in one place. It’s a very special and unusual hoard,” said ANA Director Douglas Mudd, who also served as collection manager at the Smithsonian Institution National Numismatic Collection for over a decade.

Mudd told Mashable that while stockpiles of paper and even coin U.S. currency have been found before, the next largest discovery was worth $4,500 in face value (not the market value of the gold, but the denomination total). According to the PCGS, the majority of these coins are $20 denomination Liberty Double Eagles struck at the San Francisco Mint. With approximately 1,400 gold coins, that gives them a total face value of roughly $28,000 — remember that number.

The coins were found in badly decaying, unmarked tins buried — some up to 1 foot deep — somewhere in Northern California. Safe to say that someone didn’t want them to be found.

“Was there a major theft or did something happen where these coins went missing at some point?” pondered Mudd.

Considering that these coins had probably been buried for more than a century, we dug through microfiche files from old California newspapers, ones that were in print in the 19th century, like the San Jose Mercury News. Luckily, Google has been digitizing a tremendous amount of dead-tree media, including out-of-print books, magazines and newspapers.

A search on for “stole,” “1000,” “gold,” “coins,” “from” “San Francisco.” brings up a curious note from an the Bulletin of The American Iron and Steel Association, an industry newsletter published every two weeks by an organization now known as the American Iron and Steel Institute.

Tucked into the Aug. 10, 1901 issue, between political and financial notes and the latest obituaries was this little tidbit:

“The sum of $30,000 in gold coin has recently been stolen from the vault of the cashier of the San Francisco Mint. No trace has been found of the missing gold.”

Obviously, the report of the theft comes six years after the latest mint date on the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins. Still, if the coins were taken from the Mint cashier, they may have pulled them from a certain area where similar denominations and mintings were all gathered together. The news was big enough that it made an industry trade sheet, but owing to how news traveled back then, it did not become legendary.

Perhaps the thieves did as Mudd imagined. They had their hoard, but were being chased and simply buried all of it with a plan to return, dig it up and live a very happy life.

When we contacted the U.S. Mint to see if they have any records of such a theft, Adam Stump deputy director, Office of Corporate Communications quickly deflated our balloon, “We have no information linking those coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility. Surviving agency records from the San Francisco Mint have been retired to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), under Record Group 104. Access to the records is under NARA’s jurisdiction:”

Apparently Stump forgot about Walter Dimmick. According to a post on the U.S. Mint’s own “H.I.P. Pocket Change” children’s website, Dimmick worked as a chief clerk at the San Francisco Mint between, according to AlteredDimensions, 1898 and 1901. In a post called “Thieves Among Us,” the U.S. Mint describes how the San Francisco Mint discovered that six bags of gold coins worth $30,000 had gone missing.

So Mashable arrived as the same possible suspect: Walter Dimmick. In a bit of a stretch, they headlined their story "The Crazy True History of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coins."

To read the complete article, see:
The Crazy True History of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coins (

For more from the site Altered Dimensions, see:
Saddle Ridge Hoard – couple discovers $10 million in old gold coins buried in backyard (

We'll wrap up with a short excerpt from the Daily Mail, which does a great job of tarting up their stories with photos. Be sure to check out the full version online.

The Northern Californian couple who found $10 million worth of gold coins on their land could have broken California Law for failing to report their stunning discovery to police, it emerged today.

They have so far managed to remain anonymous despite worldwide media attention and fascinated locals desperately searching to uncover their identity.

But, according to Californian Law, the couple should have declared their findings to the police within a ‘reasonable time’ of finding it.

The Californian Civil Code, sub-section 2080, also states that a notice must go in the local paper if the haul is worth more than $250.

It says: ‘If the reported value of the property is ($250) or more and no owner appears and proves his or her ownership of the property within 90 days, the police department or sheriff's department shall cause notice of the property to be published at least once in a newspaper of general circulation.’

The code goes onto say that if no one comes forward within seven days, then the property will be retained by the person who found it.

Usually, breaking the Civil Code isn’t an arrestable offense but punished with a fine. But, according to one Gold Country Sheriff’s Department, the matter is taken so seriously that the couple could be called in for questioning and ‘could face arrest’. The law is open to interpretation however. It only applies to 'lost' not 'abandoned' property.

In other developments, they could also face legal action from the US Government and the descendants of the original owner. Both the Treasury Department and the owner’s living relatives could stake a claim to the loot.

But the US Treasury could also demand a slice of any profits or even take the coins away. Treasure enthusiasts claim it could have been from a previously undiscovered bounty from an employee of the San Francisco Mint, who was convicted of stealing in 1901.

Walter Dimmick began working at the mint in 1898 and by 1901 was trusted with the keys to the vaults – until an audit revealed a $30,000 shortage in $20 Double Eagle coins, six bags in all.

The coins that Dimmick stole were never found, leaving some to now wonder if the Saddle Ridge Hoard is the very same set of lost coins.

Walter Dimmick

To read the complete article, see:
EXCLUSIVE: Couple who found $10m hoard of gold coins while walking dog could have broken law by not telling the police (

We've heard of client-lawyer privilege, but never coin dealer-client privilege. Can the law force Kagin's or PCGS to out the finders? Time will tell. And was it truly Walter Dimmick who stole and hid the coins? Perhaps, but we may never know for sure. Stay tuned - this story is far from over!

Thanks to Nick Graver, Arthur Shippee, Andy Singer, David Gladfelter, Pablo Hoffman, and others who also forwarded links to articles.

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:


OVER 500 NUMISMATIC TITLES: Wizard Coin Supply has over 500 numismatic titles in stock, competitively discounted, and available for immediate shipment. See our selection at .

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster