At first the Californian couple out for a walk on their rural property thought they had stumbled across an old can of paint.
Closer inspection revealed a stash of more than 1,400 gold coins from the 19th century, half-buried in the shadow of an old tree.
Had they been stolen? Had something happened to the original owner?
Nobody knows. What is certain is that the rare Gold Rush-era coins are worth 10 million US dollars (7.25 million euros).
The trove, unearthed in April last year, may be the greatest buried treasure ever found in the United States, a currency firm representing the pair said on Tuesday (February 25).
The gold pieces, dating to the mid- to late 1800s and still in nearly mint condition, were discovered buried in eight decaying metal cans, said coin expert Don Kagin, President and owner of currency firm Kagin's Inc.
“This is the first time anything of this magnitude in my career, 46 years, in my lifetime that I know of, that is so broad, in a buried-treasure-way. You don’t think about, maybe you can don some scuba gear and find a shipwreck, but people do go out and think ‘well, maybe I will find some coins’. And, in fact, over the last few decades that we have been here in Northern California, people have brought us gold coins, rare coins, worth tens of thousands of dollars, but nothing, nothing of this magnitude,” Kagin said.
Kagin’s has declined to identify the couple, who according to the firm want to remain anonymous for fear treasure hunters will descend on their property in Northern California’s so-called Gold Country, named after the state’s 1849 Gold Rush.
The couple had been walking their dog when they came across a rusty metal can sticking out of the ground and dug it out. After finding gold coins inside they searched further and found the rest of the cache.
Also unclear is who hid the gold pieces, which were minted between 1847 and 1894, in a variety of 19th-century metal cans on land that eventually became part of the couple’s yard.
The $20 gold pieces appeared to have been new when they went into the ground and had suffered little damage from being in the soil for so long.
Kagin said the couple wisely refrained from cleaning the coins themselves and brought a sampling of them to him in little baggies, still covered in soil.
Kagin’s will sell most of the coins on Amazon for the couple and that a sampling will be displayed at the upcoming American Numismatic Association show in Atlanta later this month.
The couple said in an interview that they plan to sell most of the coins – and give some of the proceeds to family members and the needy in their community.