One year ago in a sprawling hilly rural area of Tiburon, California, a middle-aged couple was walking their dog when the woman noticed the side of an old rusty can slightly protruding out of the ground. The couple had walked that particular trail on their property almost every day for years, but this time, the woman says, she “was looking down at the right spot.” She bent over to scrape away some moss and saw that both of the can’s ends were intact.
That can was the first of five canisters packed with gold coins and buried in the shadow of an old tree. The coins are dated from 1847 to 1894 and are in denominations of $5, $10, and $20. Stored chronologically, with pieces from the 1840s and 1850s in one can and the newer ones in another can, nearly all of them are in uncirculated, mint condition. The way they were stored along with their condition indicates that the buried treasure is not booty from a bank robbery but rather an earthy bank account.
Tiburon is about six miles as the crow flies north of San Francisco. It occupies a peninsula that points southward into the San Francisco Bay. The Gold Rush of 1849 in what is known as the “Gold Country” of the Northern California and Sierra Nevada gold fields located to the east and northeast had a major effect on the San Francisco Bay Area. The city of San Francisco went from approximately 200 residents in 1846 to 36,000 by 1852.
Most of the 1,427 coins were minted in San Francisco, and their near-perfect condition shows that whoever buried them in the ground was stowing them away as soon as they were put into circulation. The face value of the coins is around $27,000, but the condition and rarity of the coins has increased their value to $10 million. Coin expert Dr. Don Kagin has been hired to represent the couple. Kagin expects single coins from the trove to fetch nearly $1 million. It is extremely rare, says Kagin, to find California-minted coins dated before the 1880s in near-perfect condition because paper money was not legal in the state until the 1870s.
Kagin interviewed the couple, who wish to remain anonymous, and said that they found the coins in the area of their property that they had nicknamed Saddle Ridge. Kagin thus named the collection the Saddle Ridge Hoard and believes it could be the largest such discovery in U.S. history. Through Kagin, the couple said that the time between finding and being able to sell the coins gave them time to adjust and prepare. The couple will hold on to a few of the coins, but most will be sold through amazon, says Kagin. With the proceeds, they will pay off bills as well as donate to local charities. The time between finding and selling the coins has given them an opportunity to think about how they can give back: “We’d like to help other people with some of this money. There are people in our community who are hungry and don’t have enough to eat. We’ll also donate to the arts and other overlooked causes.”
By Donna Westlund