For many years, John and Mary took daily walks along a trail on a section of their property they nicknamed Saddle Ridge.
But last year, as they were walking their dog, they noticed an old can sticking out of the dirt. Curious, they brushed away some moss, used a stick to dig it out and carried the heavy container home.
And that’s all it took for the couple living in California’s gold country to discover a cache of 19th-century U.S. gold coins that rare coin experts say is the greatest buried treasure ever unearthed in the United States.
Donald Kagin, president of Kagin’s Inc., a numismatic firm that specializes in U.S. gold coins, announced the discovery Tuesday. The company represents the couple, who want to remain anonymous.
Kagin said in a statement that eight of the rusty cans were filled with more than 1,400 rare and perfectly preserved U.S. gold coins dating from 1847 to 1894. Kagin said the coins have a face value of more than $28,000 but could sell for more than $10 million.
The previous largest reported find of buried gold treasure in the U.S. had a face value of $4,500. It was discovered by construction workers in 1985 in Jackson, Tenn., and eventually sold for around $1 million.
The “Saddle Ridge Treasure” includes the 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle valued at around $1 million.
The couple, who were identified by Kagin Inc. only as John and Mary, told Kagin they couldn’t believe they had made such a big discovery and were grateful for it.
“I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear,” John said in an interview posted on the company’s website.
“It was like finding a wonderful hot potato,” Mary 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.”
The coins were authenticated, graded and certified by Professional Coin Grading Service in Irvine, Kagin said.
A sampling of the collection will be displayed at Kagin’s booth during the American Numismatic Assn. National Money Show in Atlanta that will run Thursday through Saturday.
The couple said they plan to keep some of the coins and sell others on Amazon.com with the intention of donating part of the proceeds to charity.
More importantly, they said, they will use the money to hold on to their home. They did not explain further.
“Whatever answers you seek, they might be right at home,” Mary said. “The answer to our difficulties was right there under our feet for years.”
“Don’t be above bending over to check on a rusty can,” she added.