It's been said, "Money can't buy happiness." It's also been said, "Happiness is good health and a bad memory." Memories aside, what if it were possible to combine health and wealth?
A few weeks ago, a California couple in their 40s was out taking a healthy walk exactly as they had for years. The northern California climate was perfect for those walks where one could get lost in the environment. This day, however, proved a tad different.
As the couple took their health walk near an area on their property they like to call "Saddle Ridge" because of the terrain, they spotted part of a rusty can barely peeking out at the base of an old tree. The can looked like trash. But when the man went to move it, he saw it was sealed on both ends. He pulled it out, and the couple carried it back to the house. He commented on how heavy it was. When the man peered inside, he saw the glint of the edge of some coins — gold coins. His heart skipped more than a beat.
You've probably heard the rest on the news. Stacked inside the can were hundreds of gleaming $20 gold pieces. Some dirt and rust had seeped in, but the gold in the coins made them impervious to the elements. Most were pristine.
The lucky couple have admittedly had some financial issues and always strived to keep their land. This appeared to be the solution. They are not greedy but naturally wondered, "Are there more?" They went back to check and, sure enough, spotted another can. As they dug with a small shovel, the can split open. More gold coins spilled out. They dug some more and found four more cans. The next day they went back with a metal detector and found a seventh.
The couple retrieved 1,427 beautiful U.S. gold coins in all. Most were $20 Liberty Double Eagle coins with 50 being $10 Eagles. All were dated between 1847 and 1894. But there's much more. During that time, gold coins circulated as regular currency. Coins such as these were used daily and saw a lot of wear. Most of the coins the couple found were in fabulous condition — almost as if a collector had preserved them.
The carefully stashed and forgotten hoard raises countless questions, not the least of which is "Who was the original owner?" That question is especially key when you consider that the total face value of the coins comes to $27,980. That was a huge amount of money around 1900. In today's dollars, that would be well north of $750,000. Were the coins riches from a successful miner? A land baron? Rum runner? Horse trader? Train robber? While it remains a mystery, the numismatic value of the coins in 2014 dollars is estimated to be $10 million.
The discovery does another thing — this time affecting the entire hobby. The sheer number of coins changes the population reports of known surviving coins from those dates. They also change the "finest known" designations on some coins now.
For instance, one of the coins was from 1866 and struck in San Francisco. It's a rarity. But even more, it's a top-condition rarity. It's even in better condition than the specimen in the Smithsonian. Current estimates have it valued at $1 million all by itself. All of the coins have been graded by the Professional Coin Grading Service, and their sales will be coordinated by Kagin's Rare Coins.
This is surely the thing of which dreams are made. But wait, enter the government. There are now rumblings the coins may have come from a robbery at the San Francisco Mint, where $30,000 was taken, in 1900. Are these those coins? It's speculation and unclear, but if so, the couple may have to forfeit them. Really? This week, the government is talking about giving $1 billion to Ukraine, no strings attached, but they might confiscate these coins? Really? Let's hope cooler heads prevail, and this dream doesn't turn into a nightmare.
As always, I'll keep you posted.
Editor's Note: A JPEG visual of one of the authenticated and graded $10 gold pieces has been sent with this column.
To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.