A California couple who found a stash of buried gold coins valued at $10 million may not be so lucky after all. The coins may have been stolen from the U.S. Mint in 1900 and thus be the property of the government, according to a published report.
The San Francisco Chronicle's website reported that a search of the Haithi Trust Digital Library provided by Northern California fishing guide Jack Trout, who is also a historian and collector of rare coins, turned up the news of the theft.
The California couple, who have not been identified, spotted the edge of an old can on a path they had hiked many times before several months ago. Poking at the can was the first step in uncovering a buried treasure of rare coins estimated to be worth $10 million.
"It was like finding a hot potato," the couple told coin expert Don Kagin from Kagin's, Inc. The couple hired the president of Kagin's, Inc. and Holabird-Kagin Americana, a western Americana dealer and auctioneer, to represent them.
The coins are mostly uncirculated and in mint condition, and they add up in face value to $27,000. "Those two facts are a match of the gold heist in 1900 from the San Francisco Mint," the newspaper reported.
Jack Trout told the paper that an 1866 Liberty $20 gold piece without the words "In God We Trust" was part of the buried stash, and the coin may fetch over $1 million at auction because it's so rare.
"This was someone's private coin, created by the mint manager or someone with access to the inner workings of the Old Granite Lady (San Francisco Mint)," Trout told the newspaper. "It was likely created in revenge for the assassination of Lincoln the previous year (April 14, 1865). I don't believe that coin ever left The Mint until the robbery. For it to show up as part of the treasure find links it directly to that inside job at the turn of the century at the San Francisco Mint."
Mint spokesman Adam Stump issued this statement when contacted today by ABC News: "We do not have any information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility. Surviving agency records from the San Francisco Mint have been retired to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), under Record Group 104. Access to the records is under NARA's jurisdiction: http://www.archives.gov/."
Last week, when news of the stash first broke, coin dealer Kagin spoke about the rarity of such a find.
"Since 1981, people have been coming to us with one or two coins they find worth a few thousand dollars, but this is the first time we get someone with a whole cache of buried coins... It is a million to one chance, even harder than winning the lottery," Kagin told ABCNews.com.
The couple is trying to remain anonymous after finding the five cans of coins last spring on their Tiburon property in northern California and conducted an interview with Kagin.
"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," the couple said.
"I saw an old can sticking out of the ground on a trail that we had walked almost every day for many, many years. 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," they said.
It was the first of five cans to be unearthed, each packed with gold coins.