The finest-known example of the 1866-S “No Motto” Type I $20 Liberty was the gem out of the some 1,400 gold coins found by a Northern California couple buried on their property. The coin could claim more than $1 million at auction. The overall value of the “Saddle Hill Hoard” treasure is roughly $10 million.
Whether it was fate or purely by accident, February seems to be a great month for prospecting for gold. Two years ago in February a worker renovating an old vineyard building in France discovered a treasure trove of nearly 500 U.S. Double Eagles gold coins that had been located in the rafters of that old building.
Eventually the $20-gold pieces went to market and were sold this past June for nearly $1 million by Bonham’s.
However, a discovery by a middle-aged couple in Northern California about a year ago February dwarfs that European find; in fact this, historic Golden State find, the news of which just became public, is a major event in the numismatic world. What the couple in California stumbled upon and unearthed during a simple walk with their dog on their property were eight metal canisters. All were in state of major decay, yet what the decomposing cans were holding were one of the few items that would be impervious to such ravages of time and nature—gold!
In total, more than 1,400 gold coins with a face value of $27,000 were in those cans.
According to the lucky couple—whose identities have not been made public—they saw an old can sticking out of the ground on a trail that they had walked almost every day for many, many years. As the couple wishes to remain anonymous, I will refer to them as Jim & Beth.
Per Jim “I used a stick to dig up the first can and took it back to the house. It was very heavy.”
It was getting towards evening and the light was fading that is when Jim said to Beth, “wow, this thing is heavy. It must be full of lead paint. I couldn’t figure out what in the world would weigh that much.”
Kagin’s senior numismatist David McCarthy with the “stick” used to unearth the first of the historic find, buried in eight cans.
Almost immediately, after making the comment, the lid cracked off and exposed a reeded edge of a single gold coin to the very surprised Jim.
“I knew what I was looking at immediately,” he said. “I looked around over my shoulder to see if someone was looking at me.”
The excited couple then raced back to the site of the initial find and a foot to the left of the first can they broke into another container. In the process they used a small hand shovel to probe and a few coins scattered.
“It was so decomposed only half of that can was left,” Jim said. “It was like looking at a pocket of coins”
The couple then unearthed five more small cans and, with the aid of a metal detector, they located the last container, bringing the total to eight.
“We’ve poked around more and now have a sense that we found everything that’s in the area,” he said.
A Historic Treasure
Realizing the value as well as the historic significance of what they had brought to light, the couple did some serious research as to who to reach out to, not only to identify and value the coins, but give the recognition that was due to this once-in-a-lifetime find.
“We knew almost immediately that we would sell them, but we couldn’t just go to anyone—we had to walk that path really carefully,” Beth said.
In the interim, however, the couple decided that the safest place for the golden treasure was to place it back to the earth whence it came. Digging a hole under a wood pile, they placed a slab of green board to cover it, and then carefully put the coins in plastic bags, then put them in a box inside an old ice chest and buried them.
The northern California couple eventually reached out to Kagin’s, a well-respected numismatic firm in Tiburon, Calif., and sought advice, counsel and appraisal. Kagin’s senior numismatist, David McCarthy, made the initial evaluation and inventory of the treasure trove. The elated McCarthy informed the couple of the significance of their discovery.
“We all dream about discovering buried treasure,” McCarthy said. “Seeing the real thing in person—piles of gold coins encrusted in dirt and rust—the experience was just indescribable.”
A tantalizing quintet from the “Saddle Ridge Hoard” find.
“This is the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” said Don Kagin, Ph.D., president of Kagin’s. “What’s really significant about this find is that this treasure combines a great quantity of pristine coins along with a great human interest story.”
The family and the attorneys diligently played detective, exhaustively researching all avenues to find out who had buried the gold over the last few decades of the 19th century, but came up with a big zero. Based on condition and date distribution of the coins, it appears the cans were buried at various times.
“The nearest we can guess is that whoever left the coins might have been involved in the mining industry,” said Kagin.
The moniker given to the find is the “Saddle Ridge Hoard,” because of the shape of the hill where the cache was located.
Gold Coins Worth Collecting
Each coin has now been independently authenticated, graded and certified by PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service). In total, the “Saddle Ridge Hoard” comprises a truly mind-boggling and historic run of gold coins—nearly all pristine—struck between 1847 and 1894. Almost 1,400 $20 gold pieces, fifty $10 gold pieces and four $5 gold pieces, including one dated 1849 from the famed Dahlonega Mint Georgia mint.
“One of the great things about being involved with PCGS is the occasional ‘discovery coins’ we get to grade. This is one of those fantastic discoveries,” said David Hall, PCGS co-founder and the CEO and president of Collectors Universe, Inc. “What is really special about this discovery is the incredible quality of many of these coins. This group of coins will definitely change the world of gold coin collecting.”
Hall said the enormity of this find will also change the PCGS Population numbers for many issues.
“It’s a remarkable feeling to hold these coins in your hands,” said Hall. “I’ve always called rare coins ‘history in your hands’ and the Saddle Ridge Hoard is a historical time capsule of immense numismatic importance.”
Highlights of the cache include at least 13 finest-known specimens, among them an 1866-S “No Motto” Type I Double Eagle graded MS62 by PCGS (“No Motto” means that is does not include the “In God We Trust” motto). Prior to this find, only six coins had been graded as mint state by the two major grading services (PCGS and NGC, the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation). Auction records indicate that the NGC MS 62 example sold two years ago as a highlight of the Heritage FUN Signature Auction and was touted as the finest known. The coin realized $218,500.
This amazing 1886-S Liberty Eagle graded PCGS MS66, the finest-known example of this coin, from the historic “Saddle Ridge Hoard” collection. ((Photo courtesy of PCGS)
However, consensus is that the “Saddle Ridge” Double Eagle is the superior by eye appeal, as well as historic significance. In fact, this coin is deemed even finer than the 1866-S “No Motto” that is housed in the Smithsonian collection. As such, this premier specimen could easily bring upwards of $1 million.
Other highlights of the hoard include the following finest known or tied for finest known examples certified by PCGS:
• 1866-S $20 With Motto PCGS MS62+ (finest known). Only 10 coins have been graded as MS62 by PCGS and NGC, with the “Saddle Ridge” coin taking honors as PCGS MS62+. The previous record price for the coin was an NGC MS62 offering, which realized $55,813 at the Long Beach Signature sale this past September 2013;
• 1873 Closed 3 $20 graded MS62 (tied finest known); the most recent auction record was for a like grade PCGS MS62, which claimed $16,450 in September of 2012, also appearing as a lot at the Heritage Long Beach Signature sale;
• 1877-S $20 PCGS MS65 (tied finest known). Only two others have previously earned such a grade, one each by PCGS and NGC. The last auction record for the coin was for the NGC example, which fetched $29,900 as a part of the Stacks Rarities sale at the FUN Show in January of 2009. Presently, the PCGS price guide pegs the coin at $40,000.
• There are four 1888-S $20 graded PCGS MS64 (tied for finest known at PCGS with only a single coin graded as MS 65 by NGC). Auction records for PCGS coins of this caliber point to the $13,513 realized for a coin the CSNS Heritage Signature Sale April 2013;
• There are a pair of 1889-S $20 graded PCGS MS65 (tied for finest known) and an 1894-S $20 Liberty graded PCGS MS65 (tied for finest-known). Although a relatively common date in average uncirculated condition, full gems such as this are very scarce. This example one of only 10 coins graded as such by both major grading services. The record price stands at $21,850 for an NGC MS 65 specimen sold at by Heritage Auctions in December of 2010 as a part of the Houston Signature Sale.
David Hall, co-founder of PCGS, holding court with just a sliver of the famed “Saddle Ridge Hoard” that was recently graded by the renowned third-party grading service.
In total, the market value for the “Saddle Hill Hoard” find could be more than $10 million.
A superb selection of the coins with special gold-colored foil “Saddle Ridge Hoard” PCGS certification insert labels will be displayed at the Kagin’s booth (#707) during the American Numismatic Association National Money Show in Atlanta, Feb. 27-March 1, 2014. If you chance to be there, enjoy the show and take a look at that wonderful treasure. For those of you which would like to secure a piece of numismatic history, through an exclusive arrangement with Amazon, approximately 90 percent of the coins will be available for purchase at a later date via Amazon’s Collectibles Store. Another bit of history, this will be the first major numismatic treasure to be sold through Amazon.
Until next time, happy prospecting and collecting!
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on U.S. coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in New England and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.
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