US Coins

Saddle Ridge Hoard: efforts are being taken to analyze coins

I wish that Dr. Ute Wartenberg had contacted me before writing Coin World (April 14 Guest Commentary) — not only would she have had all the available facts about the Saddle Ridge Hoard, but she would realize the lengths to which we at Kagin’s have gone to present, chronicle, and preserve this wonderful numismatic treasure.

For the moment, let’s put aside the concept in this country of a citizen’s right to privacy and the laws of the state of California concerning property rights and deal with the issues surrounding what we have and will make public.

When Kagin’s was first approached by the Saddle Ridge Hoard Treasure owners, their first notion was to sell a couple of coins as needed to pay their expenses. My associate, David McCarthy, and I convinced them to “honor the collection” by keeping the find intact, allowing Kagin’s to tell its story. After some convincing they allowed us to interview them (we substituted the pseudonyms of John and Mary for their real names). In this way, we were able to reveal their reactions, emotions, impact and thoughts concerning their future while still preserving their anonymity.

When interviewed by the media (virtually every major news services and all the major networks including 10 days of CNN, NPR, Al Jazeera, USA Today, BBC, China News), David and I were often asked to reveal the identities of our clients and the location of the find. When we refused, everyone agreed that they did not blame the owners for wishing to remain anonymous. They could imagine hundreds of interlopers descending upon the family’s property in search of buried treasure, or worse, in search of them. They understood how publicly revealing their identity and location would change their lives forever. 

I’m sure most people would agree that reporting of the Saddle Ridge Hoard has not resulted in just “gold coins in slabs and a few photos,” but in an incredible human-interest story that has raised public awareness about the subjects of history and numismatics worldwide. In fact, according to Google, over 1 million websites including Wikipedia have carried this story — that translates into well over a billion new individuals being exposed not only to this buried treasure story, but to the world of numismatics.

As for recording the exact spot of the find, it is only peripherally important to the story at a public level. David and I are quite aware of the site and “the surrounding terrain” — he has been to the location and we have spent several months studying the history of not only the property but of its environs as well. Within the scope of our legal restraints, we have characterized the find to capture the true archeological context, as I believe we do know “something about the history of the area.”

While there has been much speculation, we are also frustrated that we can’t go back 120 years to ascertain exactly who buried the treasure and why — given all of the facts, there is no definitive answer to this question. The most likely explanation is that the coins represent the life savings of an individual located in an area with a decades-long history of gold mining, a business that generated substantial but sporadic wealth. In the absence of a stable banking system, many successful prospectors buried their fortunes. 

Far from the notions that “the entire find is unlikely to get any full publication” or that “not even the various coin varieties represented in this hoard are clear,” every coin is being fully examined, analyzed, imaged and published. David and I are working on an account detailing the find including photographs of all of the coins and cans. Working with researcher Roger Burdette, David has already discovered a previously unknown Type III $20 hub — hardly anything academically and historically “will be lost.” 

Dr. Wartenberg’s pejorative statement that Saddle Ridge Hoard is the product of “slick marketing on the part of a public relations firm and a California coin dealer,” is also incorrect. The vast majority of energy that we have expended was involved in the careful conservation of each of the coins and the preservation of as much of this story as is possible without harming the family who brought the hoard to light. And the inclusion of Internet retailer in the marketing of the find will bring this story and the coins to potentially tens of millions of new individuals. 

In addition, we have found ways in which this incredible news story can benefit our industry — through a special arrangement with the American Numismatic Association, we are offering a free one-year virtual membership in the ANA to anyone who purchases a Saddle Ridge Hoard coin. Purchasers will also receive complimentary copies of the Guide Book of U.S. Coins (courtesy of Whitman Publishing), and a copy of my upcoming book, Profit from Gold and Rare Coins Now. It is our hope that by offering this information alongside the coins, we will bring new collectors into our numismatic hobby. 

Permit me as someone who was born into this field 63 years ago, and spent my matriculation and career devoted to numismatic education, to share this perspective: By exposing millions of non-numismatic individuals to this wonderful hobby and great human interest story, we can create a positive dialog that transcends politics, religion and race; a story in which all of us can participate. It is my belief — one I think most of us in the numismatic community share — that when we are all communicating on the same level about anything fun and positive such as our hobby, levels of fear, distrust, and ignorance drop and understanding and dialog can flourish. This can be an ongoing legacy for numismatics and the Saddle Ridge Hoard Treasure.

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