Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Origins of Saddle Ridge gold coins found by Calif. couple remains mystery

Last year, a couple walking the usual route around their California Gold Country property happened upon a can sticking out of the ground. They pulled it out and uncovered seven others, all filled with hundreds of U.S. gold coins.

Experts announced the find last month after a year of work researching and authenticating the 1,427 coins, worth an estimated $10 million.

But the origin of the Saddle Ridge hoard remains a tantalizing mystery, one that has coin buffs and amateur sleuths on the case. Though such discoveries are not unheard of in Europe, buried caches in the United States are less common and often go unreported.

"But 1,400 coins, all gold? That's spectacular," said Douglas Mudd, museum curator for the American Numismatic Association.

At one of the association's national coin conventions last month in Georgia, a sampling of the collection on display was the topic of conversation among collectors. All kinds of romantic notions come attached to this type of buried treasure, "the escaping outlaw, the eccentric miner or millionaire that decided to save their money that way," Mudd said.

In the days after the discovery was announced, many coin buffs believed the fortune was tied to a theft more than a century ago.

In 1901, $30,000 in $20 coins was discovered missing from the San Francisco Mint. The coins were never recovered, and Chief Clerk Walter Dimmick served time in San Quentin prison for the theft.

The coins discovered by the anonymous couple, dated between 1847 and 1894, mostly consist of $20 pieces and have a face value of nearly $28,000.

The timing, the value — it all seemed right.

But the U.S. Mint last week quashed the theory. Officials found no link between the Saddle Ridge treasure and any U.S. Mint thefts, spokesman Adam Stump said.

Experts from Kagin's Inc., which evaluated the hoard and is representing the couple, said the theory had problems from the start.

Each bag in Dimmick's cache would have contained pieces with the same date and mint mark, but the treasure discovered last year contains a mix of coins with 72 distinct date and mint mark combinations, said David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin's.

Another theory suggests the coins date back to the secretive, subversive Confederate group the Knights of the Golden Circle, believed to have buried and protected treasure stashes across a dozen states.

Though they could very well be the buried fortune of a businessman, the time period, markers near the cache and manner in which the coins were buried fit the mold of the knights, said Warren Getler, a former Wall Street Journal reporter. He co-wrote Rebel Gold, which argues the group was active for many decades after the Civil War.

Some hopefuls have come forward claiming the coins belong to relatives who once owned land in gold country.

"They're all over, stashes that turn up, but nobody says a word," said Mead Kibbey, a historian who has lived in the Sacramento area all his life. "The thing is, in any well-appointed home in the mountains, there's a metal detector. Right next to the umbrella and the shotgun behind the door, they've got a metal detector."

Experts at Kagin's did extensive research to determine whether the coins were ill-gotten. Despite hearing from quite a few people, the firm has not received any credible claims to the coins and does not expect to, McCarthy said.

The most plausible explanation, he said, is that the stash was buried over many years by someone hoping to keep their fortune safe in a secluded area.

The couple said they walked the route for years before uncovering the cans. They were so shocked by what they found that they took the coins, placed them in an old ice chest and reburied them in their wood pile.

Thirteen of the pieces are the finest of their kind. One rare coin, an 1866 $20 piece made in San Francisco and missing "In God We Trust," could bring $1 million on its own, according to David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Services, who recently authenticated them.

The coins will be sold on Amazon.com as early as May, McCarthy said.

But for all the excitement over the discovery and its origin, some historians are disappointed about the secrecy surrounding the find. Experts said that Americans who discover treasure are generally wary of announcing their finds and that can result in a loss of valuable history.

Historians have plotted such discoveries in other countries and established patterns that unlock bits of the past, said Ute Wartenberg Kagan, executive director of American Numismatic Society. After the Roman Empire collapsed, for example, the poor buried their coins because they were being attacked by invaders, as evidenced by dozens of coin deposits found in certain areas.

"For American coins, people are so secretive," she said. "It's a loss of American history."

Origins of Saddle Ridge gold coins found by Calif. couple remains mystery 03/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 2:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  2. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen jogs back to the dugout after paying starting pitcher Tyler Duffey a visit on the mound in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
  3. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond

    Crime

    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff’s Office on Friday.
  4. Mayor Rick Kriseman says election is about moving forward

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office  Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward..

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  5. Mulberry teens, 15 and 18, killed when cars collide at Plant City intersection

    Accidents

    MULBERRY — The local high school has an enrollment of 1,000 but to some it feels like a tight-knit family. Many of Mulberry High School's students have spent all of their school days within the city limits, said principal Michael Young.

    Pepe Salgado, 18, Frinzi’s brother, died at the hospital.