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HomeUS CoinsCoinWeek Exclusive Interview: Don Kagin on the Saddle Ridge Gold Hoard

CoinWeek Exclusive Interview: Don Kagin on the Saddle Ridge Gold Hoard

By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..

On Thursday, March 6, 2014, CoinWeek’s Charles Morgan spoke with legendary numismatist Don Kagin about the Saddle Ridge Gold Hoard and the surrounding media circus stirred up by the fantastical find.

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Is this the biggest find ever brought to Kagin’s?

Actually, no. I’ve been involved in all the major recovered shipwreck sunken treasure finds. The SS Central America was $130 million. The SS Republic was half of that. Then there was the SS Brother Jonathan. Kagin’s has handled great treasures as well as major collections and a lot of rarities. But, this is the greatest buried treasure and unlike the others, where people don’t really fantasize about donning scuba gear and going in the deep water to find sunken treasure, this one, people actually do go out and try to find buried treasure. And even though it’s a billion to one shot that someone found these coins, that resonates all over the world.

Don Kagin at the 2014 ANA National Money Show

How would you describe the media attention the story brought? We saw camera crews from the local stations at the ANA Show in Atlanta, the story has captured national headlines.

It’s been incredible. We have close to 200,000 website that this story is on.

And this is because of the story?

Well, yes. Most of the coins are just common date $20 gold, but when you combine that with the story of finding sunken treasure- that’s what is so special about it.

How did Kagin’s come to be involved with this hoard?

We’ve been involved in these type of items before. My Ph.D. is in the area of pioneer gold and coins of the California gold rush. We have a reputation for this. We became involved after the couple’s attorneys referred them to us. They came here and did their due diligence.

Who at Kagin’s was the first to look at the coins?

David McCarthy, our Senior Numismatist, was the first one to see the coins. The couple was in discussions with us and he was presented a few of the coins for review. They were encrusted and dirty… rusty. The first ones were common dates. We could see that through proper restoration, which we did in-house, that the coins could be restored to pristine condition as the coins exhibited only surface obfuscation. But when the extent of the hoard was finally revealed to us, it was incredible.

What methods did you use to conserve the coins?

That’s a trade secret. Professional methods.

So, one of the things going around the Internet is the accusation that the gold coins in the hoard might have been stolen from the mint. How have you dealt with this and what is the official word from the Mint?

They’ve issued a statement and it said that they had no information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at the United States Mint facility at San Francisco.

Controversy surrounding the hoard spread like wildfire on the internet. It seems that “coin researcher” Jack Trout’s version of events is just another numismatic fish story.

So besides the accompanying media circus, do you find even erroneous media reporting as adding to the allure of the hoard?

Absolutely. The hoard comes from a romantic time in our nation’s history- the California gold rush! Part of the romance is all that came with it- the thefts, murders, and intrigue! That’s why numismatics is such a great field.

 So do you have any thoughts as to how the coins came to be buried in the first place?

We understand that the owners have done some research to see who might have owned the property. They believe that the coins may have been buried by someone involved in the mining industry. That he would get his bonuses and take them in gold coins from the bank, And that he buried them over a period of years.

We know of some of the earlier dates in the hoard, what the last date represented?


What can you tell us about the 1866 No Motto $20?

The government struck 120,000 no motto 20s in 1866 in San Francisco. Most were melted. There are a few of them out there but nothing of this quality. The Saddle Ridge example is of the highest quality… far better than the one in the Smithsonian National Numismatic Collection.

The iconic image we all have of the hoard is the cans filled with coins. Did Kagin’s keep track of what was in each can?

 No, the owners had already removed the coins before they came to us.

So we understand that Kagin’s will offer the coins on their website but that the coins will also be for sale on Are the same coins being offered concurrently on both platforms? And why choose amazon?

The coins will be concurrently offered. Nothing is being held back for auction. The owners wanted to make sure that the coins were available to as many people as possible and not just people who could outbid one another.

So Kagin’s will get to set the price of each coin. What will the price of the No Motto be?

We haven’t determined a price yet.

How about the cheapest coins?

The cheapest will be a bargain – $2,500. There are several pieces where the owners, seeking to get rid of surface dirt and grime scrubbed the coins using non-professional methods, which affected the surfaces.  These coins will be in PCGS holders, but not graded.

When do the coins go on sale?

They go on sale in May.

© 2014 CoinWeek, LLC

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Charles Morgan
Charles Morgan
Charles Morgan is an award-winning numismatic author and the editor and publisher of Along with co-author Hubert Walker, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the "Market Whimsy" column for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing. From 2021-2023, Charles served as Governor of the American Numismatic Association (ANA), where he was bestowed the Glenn Smedley Award. Charles is a member of numerous numismatic organizations, including the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG).

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