The Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard
The “Saddle Ridge Treasure” is what many are calling the now-historic discovery of $10 million worth of gold coins buried in decaying tin cans on the property of one very lucky — and anonymous — California couple.
These 1,427 Liberty head coins were minted between 1855 and 1894, and were actually discovered a year ago in eight canisters dotting the couple’s Northern California property. The 19th century coinage has since been authenticated by Kagin’s, a California-based agency that authenticates U.S. currency, and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). Next week, a sampling of the coins will go on display at the American Numismatic Association National (ANA) Money Show in Atlanta.
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.
Inside one of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin tins
Even Mudd wonders about the circumstances. “How did $28,000, which was a lot of money back then, come to be buried in that spot?”
Mudd said there are a number of ways such a hoard is created. Often, they come from people who didn’t trust banks, stashing away all their money in a hiding spot — like a mattress, underground vault or tin they buried in the back yard — which was known only to them. They die before retrieving their stored cash, and someone else stumbles upon it years later.
The other option is more of the classic movie western style where bandits make off with the money, but with the authorities in hot pursuit. So they bury the loot and come back later to retrieve it — unless they never get to.
“There are a lot of possibilities, but I haven’t heard anything to suggest what could have happened,” said Mudd.
There are, of course, ways to figure out what happened. The Kagin company, which is overseeing the Saddle Ridge Exhibition and sale of the coins on Amazon.com, hasn’t offered much information about the provenance of the coins, but Mudd says they could potentially date the cans “if there’s enough info on them.”
Kagin’s Communication Director Kirsten Marquette told Mashable, however, “I’ve seen the cans in person and you can’t see anything on them. They’re rusted.”
Another option is doing a lost property or theft search.
“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.
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.”
This composite image shows the The American Iron and Steel Association Bulletin and the key news item, which we’ve highlighted.
We were unable to find any other reference to that theft or any similar theft within any other archive document, so we reached out to the source.
When Mashable first spoke to American Iron and Steel Institution Manager of Communications Rachel Gilbert about the bulletin, she had no idea what we were talking about. “We deal with iron and steel. We do not cover the gold industry. Maybe you should try to talk to the gold institute.”
Still, she agreed to take a look at the link and get back to us.
A few hours later Gilbert confirmed that the Bulletin was from the AISI (then known as the American Iron and Steel Institute). “At the top of the document it lists the leadership staff of institute at that time. I was able to verify that it was us.” She told Mashable that the staff at the AISI was “pretty amused” by the discovery and thought she might spend some time perusing the century-old newsletters.
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: http://www.archives.gov/”
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.
Since [Dimmick] 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.”
Dimmick went to prison and the 1,500 gold coins were never found.
Until, perhaps, now.