Q. You call this the Saddle Ridge Hoard; is that where you found these coins?
Mary: Yes – we found the coins buried on a little area of our property that we call the Saddle Ridge
Q: Have you lived on this property a long time and possibly passed by the treasure without spying it before?
John: I saw an old can sticking out of the ground on a trail that we had walked almost every day for many, many years.
Mary: I was looking down in the right spot and saw the side of the can. I bent over to scrape some moss off and noticed that it had both ends on it!
Q. Had you ever noticed anything peculiar in the area before?
John: Years ago, on our first hike, we noticed an old tree growing into the hill. It had an empty rusty can hanging from it that the tree had grown around – that was right at the site where we found the coins… At the time we thought the can might be a place for someone to put flowers in for a gravesite – something which would have been typical at the time.
There was also an unusual angular rock up the hill from where the coins were buried – we’d wondered what in the heck it was.
Mary: It wasn’t until we made the find that we realized it might have been a marker: starting at the rock, if you walk 10 paces towards the North Star, you wind up smack in the middle of the coins!
Q: Did one of you stay there while the other went for tools?
Mary: John used a stick to dig up the first can. We took it back to the house, it was very heavy.
John: Heavy enough that we needed to take a little breather before getting back to the house. It was getting towards evening and the light was fading. I said to Mary, “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.
Q. How long did it take you to realize you had something special?
John: Right after making the comment about it possibly being paint, the lid cracked off and exposed a rib of a single gold coin. I knew what I was looking at immediately. I looked around over my shoulder to see if someone was looking at me – I had the idea of someone on horseback in my head. It’s impossible to describe really, the strange reality of that moment… I clamped the lid back on – I found a can of gold coins and I thought there was a zero percent chance of Mary believing me! When I told her, the look of bewilderment – her mouth was so wide open flies could have flown in and out several times.
Q: Were the cans side by side?
Mary: Yes. We went back to the site and a foot to the left of the first can we broke into another can. In the process we used a small hand shovel and a few coins scattered; it was so decomposed only half of that can was left. It was like looking at a pocket of coins.
Q. What was your first reaction when you saw these cans were full of gold? Did you feel like you had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
John: Of course, it was a very surreal moment. It was very hard to believe at first. I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear.
Mary: It was like finding a wonderful hot potato.
Q. After the initial discovery how did you locate and excavate the entire hoard?
John: There were five more small cans – which brought the total up considerably, and we found the last one with a metal detector. It was a big day when we found that can. We’ve poked around more and now have a sense that we found everything that’s in the area.
Q. Why do you think you were the lucky ones to find this treasure? Do you believe it was divine intervention or karma?
Mary: 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.
Mary: John just knew what to do – it was a little bit karmic… Perhaps in some way we were the ones that could honor the coins.
Q. You have an interest in astrology; have you checked how the planets were aligned or what your chart said at the time of discovery?
Mary: Actually, I did look back at it. It’s very funny, my chart did talk about treasure, but it was more about the treasure of spirit….
Q. Would you say that your “dreams” have come true?
John: Like a lot of people lately, we’ve had some financial trials. I feel extreme gratitude that we can keep our beloved property.
Q. Estimates put the value of this find at over $10 million; better than some lotteries. What will you do with all this money?
Mary: We love our lives as they are – I hope we can help our family members and our community and give back some.
Q. Were you ever coin collectors; did you know such coins even existed?
John: Yes I still have my coin collection from when I was a kid.
Mary: It took us awhile to get the guts to Google what coins we had.
John: In terms of the condition and value of the coins, we as amateurs thought that the 1866-S No Motto $20 might be worth $5,000 or more – we didn’t realize it was considerably better than the coin sitting in the Smithsonian!
Q. Where did you put them and what did you do with them?
John: I dug a hole under the wood pile and got a slab of green board to cover it, put the coins in plastic bags, then put them in a box inside an old ice chest and buried them.
Q: You dug them up and reburied them?
John: Yeah – the old-timers had it right – it’s safer than in a bank!
Mary: 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…
John: We knew better than to go to any local pawn broker with the coins to put them on the market, we knew better than that.
Mary: What we really appreciated was that from the outset, David [McCarthy of Kagin’s Inc.] very much wanted us to know everything we could about our coins. He didn’t ever try to say, “These really aren’t anything.” He let us know right away that they were special and told us various stories about the different dates. One thing that he said that stuck with us was the idea of honoring the whole group, instead of selling a little bit at a time over time, even though it is more risky for us personally. The history of the coins as a hoard is important.
Q: Is there one coin that stood out in the group that you are particularly fond of?
John: The Dahlonega Half Eagle.
Mary: Yes – they all have a certain energy about them. Each is so unique – each has its own character and essence.
Q. Do you intend on keeping any of the coins as mementos from the find?
John: We may keep a representative sample of the hoard. We would like to hold onto a cross section of it – something to leave to relatives when we pass on.
Q. Are you going to quit your jobs?
John: No – we’re self-employed – the beautiful thing about self-employment is that you can go to your grave self employed.
Q. You have chosen to remain anonymous out of concern for your family’s safety and potentially from being overwhelmed by the media. But how do you think this find will change your lives?
Mary: We’re the same people we were before, just with more freedom of choice. Our finances won’t have to dictate so many of our day to day decisions.
Q. Some lottery winners have later said that such sudden wealth ended up being more of a curse than a blessing. Have the two of you discussed how you will navigate the path ahead and the potential pitfalls that might come with instant great wealth?
Mary: We try not to dwell on the negative.
John: It will be a broader path than the one we have been on.
Mary: Money can change other people’s perception of us more than our own perception of ourselves. Have you heard the song by Cindy Lauper, Money Changes Everything? We don’t want that; we don’t plan to tell our extended family or friends until more time goes by.
Q. Are you fans of any of the modern day treasure hunting TV shows e.g. Pawn Stars? Could you see your story dramatized (anonymously) for TV?
John: Since the find, we have become a little more aware of them.
Q. Had you ever looked for treasure before?
John: Not seriously. We made several camping trips and bought some gold panning equipment. We ended up with a vial of gold, so the idea of panning really caught my interest. The idea of panning for gold has a lot of appeal.
Q. Are there any causes you feel passionately about that you have considered donating to?
Mary: We’d like to help other people with some of this money. There are people in our community who are hungry and don’t have enough to eat. We’ll also donate to the arts and other overlooked causes. In a way it has been good to have time between finding the coins and being able to sell them in order to prepare and adjust. It’s given us an opportunity to think about how to give back.
Q. Do you see a day in the future when you might be willing to deal with the media and the publicity surrounding this historic discovery?
Mary: Maybe when we turn 80 years old – 40 yrs away! [laughs]
Q. This hoard will be in the annals of numismatic stories for quite some time; perhaps forever. How do you feel about that?
Mary: It would have been quite a pity not to share the magnitude of our find. –We want to keep the story of these coins intact for posterity.
Q. Do you have anything else to share about finding what may be the greatest buried treasure ever found in North America?
Mary: Whatever answers you seek, they might be right at home! 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!!!!
Kagin’s Korner Archives
- California Man Unearths Giant Gold Nugget – May Be Largest in Private Hands in California
- Hoard Interview
- California Family Discovers Buried Treasure – Hidden Cache of 19th Century U.S. Gold Coins May Be Most Valuable Hoard Unearthed in North America
- Profit from Gold and Rare Coins Now is scheduled for release November 2014
- PCGS Coin Dealer Hall of Fame 2013 Inductee, Art Kagin
- 1851 $50 Augustus Humbert PCGS PR65
- Numismatist Profile: David McCarthy
- Numismatist: War of 1812 Treasury Notes
- NSDR Lifetime Achievement Award Winner 2013: Donald H. Kagin, Ph.D.
- MOFFAT & COMPANY Perhaps the Most Prolific Coiner of the California Gold Rush