The California couple who stumbled on what may be the most valuable cache of gold coins ever found in North America were so taken aback that reburied them in an old ice chest until they could figure out their next step.
That was the story relayed by John and Mary in an interview transcript posted by the numismatic firm Kagin's Inc., which is representing the couple and keeping their identities confidential.
The pair had walked the path on their Gold Country property for years before they spotted the edge of a rusty can peeking out of the moss last February, they told Kagin's. When the lid cracked off, they found dirt-encrusted coins.
If the coins were melted down, the gold alone would be worth $2 million, said David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin Grading Services in Newport Beach, who recently authenticated the coins.
On the market, however, the "Saddle Ridge Hoard," named for the space on the couple's property, may be the most valuable cache ever found in North America, with an estimated value of more than $10 million.
The couple said that when they realized what they had found, they dug a hole in their wood pile, placed the 1,400 coins in bags and boxes in an old ice chest and buried them again.
"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," John said in the interview.
All dated between 1847 and 1894, 13 of the coins are the finest of their kind. One "miraculous coin," an 1866 $20 piece made in San Francisco and missing "In God We Trust," could bring $1 million on its own, Hall said. When the motto was added to the coin in 1866, some were still minted without the phrase, he said.
Had the couple attempted to clean the delicate surface of the piece, they could have reduced the value to $7,000 or $8,000 in under a minute, said David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin's, who evaluated the hoard.
Most of the coins will be sold on Amazon.com to allow a broader swath of the public to access them, McCarthy said. The couple, who will donate some of the profit to charity, said the find will allow them to keep their property.
"A lot of people see stuff like this and all they see are dollar signs," McCarthy said. "If I got to bestow these treasures on people, I would do that on this family without even blinking an eye."