One of the cans found as part of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard

One of the cans found as part of the Saddle Ridge Gold Coin Hoard

Anyone following the main stream media has heard of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the 1,427 gold coins found in cans buried under a tree somewhere in California. The couple who found the coins and their location has been kept confidential to prevent potential prospectors on their property. Reports have surfaced that the find has opened a new gold rush in California.

This is not to say that treasures can only be found in California. As someone who has started a business dealing with collectibles, I have found interesting items at good prices in the most unexpected places. The concept is not to start digging where someone else made their discovery but look for clues to new finds elsewhere. Chances are that the next find will not be the same area.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Saddle Ridge Hoard story is the speculation of where the coins came from and why were they buried in that location. The most entertaining was the story that these coins were stolen in 1901 from the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. Even though it sounds plausible, the details of what would have happened based on historical record does not support this theory.

The old San Francisco Mint building built in 1874

The old San Francisco Mint building built in 1874

Based on the response of David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin’s, the firm working with the family, the two factors that debunks the theory that the coins were stolen from the Mint is that the coins in the hoard were mixed dates with the latest being six years prior to the theft and many of them were circulated. If they were stolen from the Mint, they would be all uncirculated, one date, and all with S-mintmarks.

Also, the U.S. Mint is not a bank. It does not save inventory. Records† show that over the years, the U.S. Mint loathes keeping inventory for long periods of time. These sources report a revolving inventory suggesting that only the 1933 Double Eagles may have been kept in the vaults longer than other coins while the policies about gold coins were being settled.

Anticipating the question about the GSA Hoard of silver dollars, those coins were not stored by the U.S. Mint. Those dollars were delivered to the Department of the Treasury to use as backing for silver certificates. The storage areas where the coins were found were either facilities used or leased by Treasury. Coins that were melted under the Pittman Act for sale to the British to help them fund their defense in World War I were coins held by the Treasury. Coins struck to replace the melted coins were then stored in Treasury facilities.

When the General Services Administration (GSA) worked to consolidate and reduce office space in the 1960s, millions of mostly Morgan dollars struck in Carson City were found in several buildings including in storage areas off the historic cash room in the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. Coins were sold the public by sealed bid over five auction sales between 1972 and 1974 with one final sale in 1980.

Up until 1964, anyone could trade a silver certificate for silver coin at par (e.g., $1 silver certificate for one silver dollar). This ended when silver rose in price making the price of silver more expensive than par value.

One of the 1,427 "Saddle Ridge Hoard" buried treasure gold coins certified MS66 by PCGS

One of the 1,427 “Saddle Ridge Hoard” buried treasure gold coins certified by PCGS

Even though the Treasury issued gold certificates, the gold backing were stored in limited vaults—and eventually Fort Knox. While there was some trading of gold certificates for gold coin, which is where the problems of the 1930s came from, gold was handled differently. The U.S. Mint had a cash operation where they would trade gold for coin (after it was assayed) and gold certificates for coins. This type of trade could also be accomplished at assay offices. But banks of the time were not required to make the trade. While many did as a service, with a service fee of course, there is no record of the government hoarding gold coins in the way silver dollars were hoarded.

Saying that the Saddle Ridge coins were once stolen from the Mint makes for a good headline. Good headlines makes for page views and page views translates into more advertising dollars for those blindly reproducing the erroneous story without checking the facts. Unfortunately, the truth cannot be explained on a bumper sticker or in a sensational headline—but that does not mean I will not try!

See the Saddle Ridge Hoard at Whitman Baltimore

It is being reported that Don Kagin will bring many of the coins in the Saddle Ridge Hoard to the Whitman Expo that will be held March 27-30, 2014 at the Baltimore Convention Center. If you need an excuse to come to Baltimore aside from attending the largest coin and currency show that is not run by the American Numismatic Association, coming to see the Saddle Ridge Hoard before it is broken up and sold later this year.

† A good reference for U.S. Mint statistics is a government-produced publication named Domestic and Foreign Coins Manufactured by the Mints of the United States: 1792-1965. It has been scanned several times and can be found on one of the many archive sites. The problem is that I found only one good scan, and it is not the best, but forgot where I downloaded it from. Printed copies are even more difficult to find.

  • Image of the can of gold coins from the Saddle Ridge Hoard courtesy of Kagin’s.
  • Image of the old San Francisco Mint courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Image of the graded eagle courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service.

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