In 2013, a couple was walking their dog on their rural Northern California property when they discovered an unusual scene. An old can was hanging from a tree along with a can partially buried below it. When they dug out the site below the tree, they found a treasure trove of historic coins that were eventually sold for more than $10 million dollars.
It has become to be known as the Saddle Ridge Hoard, which sits to this day as the largest known discovery of buried gold coins that has ever been recovered in the United States.
While the origins of the gold remain a mystery, so does the location of the discovery and identification of the couple. Due to privacy and safety concerns, all information of the discovery remains anonymous so people won’t attempt to contact the couple or trespass on their property looking for more loot. Today, they are just known as John and Mary and the private property is just described as Northern California’s “Gold Country.”
As the story goes, the couple noticed the old can hanging on the tree and assumed it to be some sort of marker for a grave. They finally noticed and unearthed the can below and it was so heavy, it could barely be carried home. Although the couple believed it to be filled with some sort of lead paint, they found that is was filled with a variety of historic coins. They surmised the hanging can was simply a marker for whoever hid the treasure.
The couple returned to the site with digging tools and a metal detector to excavate the area further, eventually finding eight cans filled with 1,427 historic coins. The discovery was not only shocking to the couple but had them worried about keeping it safe, so they stored it in an ice chest and buried it under a wood pile. Then, they began the lengthy process of identifying and calculating a valuation for the coins.
The couple reached out to a numismatics firm in Tiburon, which had the expertise to begin the authentication process. David J. McCarthy of the California firm Kagin was employed to assess and conserve the treasure, which he discovered had a face value of $27,980. The collection included rare Double Eagle coins from the 1866 to 1894, with some so rare that they are worth $1 million today.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine coins coming out of the ground in the kind of condition that I saw in front of me,” said McCarthy. “Many pieces were finer than anything known in major collections or museums.”
Kagin arranged the sale of the coins exclusively through Amazon, and brought in roughly $10 million for the couple. They chose to use it to pay off personal debts and for donations to local charities. They also kept a few of the coins to keep as family heirlooms.
While the coins are now circulating through the hands of historic coin collectors, the origin of the treasure has never been substantiated. Some speculate that it was the money stolen from the San Francisco Mint in 1901 by employee Walter Dimmick, but the Mint denies these allegations, saying “we’ve got a crack team of lawyers, and trust me, if this was U.S. government property we’d be going after it.”
Other theories surrounding the treasure include it was lost loot from California’s most notorious stage robber Black Bart, who held up at least 28 stagecoaches in the late-1800’s, with many theories the loot was hidden in NorCal. Some people also believe it was the hidden stash of famed American outlaw Jesse James.
While many theories surround the treasure, the most prominent is that it was a person who preferred to bury their savings rather than trust it with the bank, a typical practice in the 1800’s.
We may never know the origins of the $10 million Northern California treasure, and today it sits as a significant historic discovery in the United States. And a story that lost treasures really can be found in your own backyard.
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine