Home | National | Could newly discovered gold coins be the haul stolen by disgraced San Francisco Mint employee in 1901? Treasure hunting enthusiasts weigh in on origins of couple's $10 million find

Could newly discovered gold coins be the haul stolen by disgraced San Francisco Mint employee in 1901? Treasure hunting enthusiasts weigh in on origins of couple's $10 million find

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  • An unnamed couple in their 40s stumbled on the historic find on their property last spring
  • The gold coins dating from 1847 to 1894 were stashed in eight cans along a trail the couple had walked for years
  • Treasure hunting enthusiasts believe the coins may be have been stashed away by Walter Dimmick in 1901
  • He worked at the San Francisco Mint and was imprisoned after $30,000 worth of gold coins went missing
  • The dates on the coins fit the time frame and the type and denomination of the coins match too
  • The couple who found the coins maintain that they researched who might have hidden the coins and have come up with nothing
  • Speculation is that they haven't released their names for fear the coins could be claimed by descendants of whoever put them in the ground

By Chris White In San Francisco and David Mccormack

PUBLISHED: 20:59 EST, 26 February 2014 | UPDATED: 21:02 EST, 26 February 2014

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The mysterious haul of gold coins discovered by a Northern California couple while out walking their dog – and valued at $10 million – may well be a previously undiscovered bounty that an employee of the San Francisco Mint was convicted of stealing in 1901.

The couple, who haven’t been named, stumbled across the haul of 1,427 rare, mint-condition gold coins, nearly all dating from 1847 to 1894, buried in the shadow of an old tree on their Gold Country property in February 2013.

The face value of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, as they’ve called it, added up to about $27,000, but some of the coins are so rare that experts say they could fetch nearly $1million apiece.

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Treasure hunting enthusiasts believe the $10m fortune found by a couple in northern California could be the same gold coins that Walter N. Dimmick was accused of embezzling from the San Francisco U.S. Mint in the early 1900's

Treasure hunting enthusiasts believe the $10m fortune found by a couple in northern California could be the same gold coins that Walter N. Dimmick was accused of embezzling from the San Francisco U.S. Mint in the early 1900's

The couple went public with their amazing discovery on Tuesday, and treasure enthusiasts have been quick to suggest that the coins could be the same ones stolen by Walter Dimmick, an employee of the San Francisco Mint in the late 1800′s, reports Altered Dimensions. 

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. 

He quickly became the prime suspect as he was the last person to see the missing gold coins and had already been caught practicing how to forge the Superintendent’s name.

After a month-long trial, Dimmick was convicted of stealing the coins and sentenced to nine years at the San Quentin prison in California.

Booty: A trove of rare Gold Rush-era coins unearthed in California last year by a couple as they walked their dog may be the greatest buried treasure ever found in the United States, worth more than $10millio

Booty: A trove of rare Gold Rush-era coins unearthed in California last year by a couple as they walked their dog may be the greatest buried treasure ever found in the United States, worth more than $10millio

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. 

There is certainly compelling evidence to link the two bounties. According to 1901 reports, 500 coins were stolen by Dimmick - only 73 coins less than the 1,427 discovered at Saddle Ridge.

The dates on the coins fit the time frame and the type and denomination of the coins match too.

The couple who found the coins, known only as Mary and John, maintain that they and their attorneys researched who might have hidden the coins and have come up with nothing.

'The nearest we can guess is that whoever left the coins might have been involved in the mining industry,’ said veteran numismatist Don Kagin, who is representing them.

One of the 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous. The value of the "Saddle Ridge Hoard" treasure trove is estimated at $10 million or more

One of the 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous. The value of the "Saddle Ridge Hoard" treasure trove is estimated at $10 million or more

According to U.S. treasure laws, the anonymous couple could have it taken away from them.

Gold Country locals and experts believe that one of the main reasons they’ve not disclosed their names is because they’re scared that their find will be taken away from them.

According to U.S. Treasure Trove Laws, the whole collection could be taken away and given to descendants of the person who originally put it in the ground or even given to the state.

The law on finding treasure that is on your property but belongs to someone else is vague.

The treasure trove rule was first given serious consideration by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1904 in a case involving boys who had discovered thousands of dollars in gold coins hidden in metal cans while cleaning out a hen-house and they were allowed to keep their stash.

In subsequent years the legal position became unclear as a series of English and American cases decided that landowners were entitled to buried valuables.

Dimmick began working at the San Francisco 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

Dimmick began working at the San Francisco 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

Since that time, however, some legal experts have said that it’s a 'misguided and misunderstood' law and both finder and owner have a case for owning the goods. As the owner is dead, the descendants would have a case.

The couple have been advised by attorneys and coin experts from the Gold Country are representing them. They have made a deal with Amazon on their behalf, who are selling the coins online.

Frank Willis owns Pioneering Mining Supplies, in Auburn, and has dealt with treasure hunters in the area for many years. He says that the couple are in danger of having their haul taken away if they make their identity public.

‘Why do you think they’re remaining anonymous? It’s the treasure trove laws. They can’t say a thing, as if family members come forward, and say it’s grandpa’s money or whatever, then they may have to handover the cash, or even worse, the state will make a claim for it.’

'I don't like to say once-in-a-lifetime for anything, but you don't get an opportunity to handle this kind of material, a treasure like this, ever,' said veteran numismatist Don Kagin, who is representing the finders. 'It's like they found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.'

David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Service, poses with some of 1,427 Gold-Rush era U.S. gold coins, at his office in Santa Ana, Calif., Tuesday
A 19th century gold coin is shown in this undated handout photo courtesy of Kagin's, Inc.

Show and tell: David Hall (left), co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Service, poses with some of 1,427 Gold-Rush era U.S. gold coins, at his office in Santa Ana

Kagin, whose family has been in the rare-coin business for 81 years, would say little about the couple other than that they are husband and wife, are middle-aged and have lived for several years on the rural property where the coins were found. He first met the couple last April.

They have no idea who put the the coins there, he said.

The pair are choosing to remain anonymous, Kagin said, in part to avoid a renewed gold rush to their property by modern-day prospectors armed with metal detectors.

However, Kagin's company posted a brief question and answer interview with the couple - identified only as John and Mary - on a website set up to market the coins. 

Mary revealed that the discovery of the coins was foretold by her astrological chart - through she didn't realize it at the time.

'I did look back at it. It’s very funny, my chart did talk about treasure, but it was more about the treasure of spirit….' she said.

She added: 'I never would have thought we would have found something like this; however, in a weird way I feel like I have been preparing my whole life for it.

Precious exhibits: Some of 1,427 Gold-Rush era U.S. gold coins are displayed at Professional Coin Grading Service in Santa Ana, Calif.

Precious exhibits: Some of 1,427 Gold-Rush era U.S. gold coins are displayed at Professional Coin Grading Service in Santa Ana, Calif.

Most of the coins were minted in San Francisco, but one $5 gold piece came from as far away as Georgia

Most of the coins were minted in San Francisco, but one $5 gold piece came from as far away as Georgia

California Gold Country: Near the center of the map is Sutter's Mill, the site of the 1848 find that started the Gold Rush. Hopeful prospectors flocked to the area east of Sacramento to the Nevada line and down through much of the Sierra Nevada range

California Gold Country: Near the center of the map is Sutter's Mill, the site of the 1848 find that started the Gold Rush. Hopeful prospectors flocked to the area east of Sacramento to the Nevada line and down through much of the Sierra Nevada range

'John just knew what to do - it was a little bit karmic… Perhaps in some way we were the ones that could honor the coins.'

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 on Thursday in Atlanta.

 
This image shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed under the shade of a tree

This image shows one of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed under the shade of a tree

Lucky find: A can containing 19th century gold coins is shown in the ground

Lucky find: A can containing 19th century gold coins is shown in the ground

GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS: 'SADDLE RIDGE GOLD HOARD' REVEALS A WEALTH OF CALIFORNIA HISTORY

CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH 1848 - 1864

Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California - Site of the find that started the California Gold Rush

Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California - Site of the find that started the California Gold Rush

While the lucky California couple who discovered the $10million in gold coins won't reveal themselves, the shocking find illustrates the vivid, gold-lined history of the region.

The region where the ranch is located is known as California Gold Country.

It was in the region in 1848 that the California gold rush began when the precious metal was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Coloma near Sacramento.

Though it was just a few tiny nuggets, the find kicked off one of human history's largest migrations as gold hungry prospectors descended on the area from around the world.

Fast forward to today and the region's once booming population has shrunk considerably along with the ebb of the Gold Rush.

THE SADDLE RIDGE HOARD

Thought the Gold Rush ended some 150 years ago, the California couple stumbled upon a rich hoard.

The coins date from 1847 to 1894.

Those dates are one of the things that makes the coins so rare.

Because paper money was illegal in California until the 1870s, most coins minted before then are extremely worn.

However, coins in the Saddle Ridge Hoard--so named because that's what the couple named the area of their ranch where the treasure was found--are mostly in uncirculated mint condition.

What makes their find particularly valuable, McCarthy said, is that almost all of the coins are in near-perfect condition. That means that whoever put them into the ground likely socked them away as soon as they were put into circulation.

Because paper money was illegal in California until the 1870s, he added, it's extremely rare to find any coins from before that of such high quality.

'It wasn't really until the 1880s that you start seeing coins struck in California that were kept in real high grades of preservation,' he said.

The coins, in $5, $10 and $20 denominations, were stored more or less in chronological order, McCarthy said, with the 1840s and 1850s pieces going into one canister until it was filed, then new coins going into the next one and the next one after that.

The dates and the method indicated that whoever put them there was using the ground as their personal bank and that they weren't swooped up all at once in a robbery.

Although most of the coins were minted in San Francisco, one $5 gold piece came from as far away as Georgia.

The coins were store chronologically, with the 1840s and 1850s pieces going into one canister until it was filed, then new coins going into the next one and the next one after that. The dates and the method indicated that whoever put them there was using the ground as their personal bank

The coins were store chronologically, with the 1840s and 1850s pieces going into one canister until it was filed, then new coins going into the next one and the next one after that. The dates and the method indicated that whoever put them there was using the ground as their personal bank

'THE GREATEST BURIED TREASURES EVER UNEARTHED IN THE U.S.'

Experts are lauding the Gold Country find as one of the most spectacular ever found in America and put its value at $10million or more. Some of the rarer coins could fetch $1million a piece.

Here are some of the other frontrunners for greatest American treasures:

Tennessee construction workers unearthed $1million in gold coins in 1985.

400,000 silver coins were found in a dead Reno, Nevada man's home in 1974 and fetched $7.3million.

Coins and ingots worth $130million were found in the 1980s in a ship that sunk off North Carolina, but that hefty hoard wasn't truly discovered...historians knew all along it was out there

Kagin and McCarthy would say little about the couple's property or its ownership history, other than it's in a sprawling hilly area of Gold Country and the coins were found along a path the couple had walked for years.

On the day they found them last spring, the woman had bent over to examine an old rusty can that erosion had caused to pop slightly out of the ground.

They found eight cans in total.

'Don't be above bending over to check on a rusty can,' he said she told him.

They are located on a section of the property the couple nicknamed Saddle Ridge, and Kagin is calling the find the Saddle Ridge Hoard. He believes it could be the largest such discovery in U.S. history.

One of the largest previous finds of gold coins was $1million worth uncovered by construction workers in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1985. More than 400,000 silver dollars were found in the home of a Reno, Nevada, man who died in 1974 and were later sold intact for $7.3million.

Gold coins and ingots said to be worth as much as $130million were recovered in the 1980s from the wreck of the SS Central America. But historians knew roughly where that gold was because the ship went down off the coast of North Carolina during a hurricane in 1857.

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