When rusty cans filled with uncirculated gold coins show up seemingly out of nowhere, people are going to ask questions. Then they’ll come up with their own answers. When one amateur historian speculated that the massive hoard of gold coins found in California could have come from a 1901 inside theft at the United States Mint, it captured the public’s imagination. Mostly because that would mean the couple would have to surrender the entire find to the U.S. government.
That’s a message that resonates as many of us gather documents to file our taxes, maybe even writing a large check to send with our returns. From $10 million to a small finder’s fee? How sad that would be.
Luckily for the couple and for the popular imagination, a Mint spokesman said that the coins probably weren’t from the 1901 heist. “We’ve done quite a bit of research, and we’ve got a crack team of lawyers, and trust me, if this was U.S. government property we’d be going after it,” a Mint spokesman helpfully told the San Francisco Chronicle.
As a possible explanation for how the coinage could have been stashed and abandoned for more than a century, the heist theory made sense. Maybe the man who was ultimately convicted of the theft had stashed the coins there, and never came back to for them.
That isn’t the case, though. Here’s the thing: the mint makes new coins. Coins stolen in 1901 would date back to maybe 1899. The newest coins in this hoard are from 1894, and they date back to almost 50 years before that.
How did the coins sit undisturbed for so long? That would depend on the history of the property. Maybe whoever owned it for most of the 20th century wasn’t much of a hiker, and had never explored that section. Maybe it was a fateful bit of soil erosion or just plain luck.
Coin dealer Kagin’s, which has spent the last year or so authenticating and restoring the coins, will start selling the pieces soon. You’ll even be able to buy them on Amazon, in the collectibles section. Books, videos, groceries, century-old rare coins: Amazon really does have everything.