Gold Coin Hoards Tell Interesting Stories
By Paul M. Green
is always exciting. Of course finding gold or
gold coins in any form is even more exciting
especially if you do the finding. Because the
dollar amounts associated with gold are always
high, gold coin hoards and discoveries are tough
ones to really document.
The stories are frequently far better than the
reality and many times when hoards are reported
it is already too late as something has happened
to the coins in that they have been turned into
banks or sold or melted. It makes tracking down
real gold coin hoards a very difficult process.
That process is not only difficult, but also
incomplete as many times someone finding gold
tells no one.
Throughout U.S. history, however, there have
been many gold hoards and finds including some
valuable individual coins. The problem, however,
remains one of being able to actually document
the coins involved as only if that is done can
we really determine the impact of the
discoveries on the market today.
Typical of the problems found in tracing actual
gold hoards and discoveries is the story
recounted by Q. David Bowers in his book
American Coin Treasures and Hoards of a 1908
discovery of a Kellogg & Co. $20 gold coin that
unexpectedly was discovered not in the San
Francisco area but rather Nebraska.
Finding a $20 from Kellogg & Co. in Nebraska has
to lead to a good story - and it did. This
involved a couple of men named Abernathy and
Bennett who apparently had returned from
California allegedly with a sack containing
$1,160 in face value of $20 Kellogg & Co. gold
pieces. Their home, however, was attacked in
1867 by Pawnee Indians who killed them and
burned the house. That, attack at least is
Years later two boys swimming in the area
reportedly discovered a $20 gold coin from
Kellogg & Co. and additional searching turned up
two more examples. Allegedly a sack was later
found containing $1,100 in Kellogg $20 coins and
reportedly were turned into a bank in Geneva,
Neb. What reports there are are short on details
and leave us with a nearly impossible task when
it comes to actually tracing the coins.
The problem, or at least one of the problems is
that while certainly elusive today, the whole
thing has a ring of truth as $20 Kellogg & Co.
gold pieces were in fact numerous at the time as
the Kellogg & Co., which began to produce coins
on Feb. 9, 1854, was actually a very heavy
producer of gold coins in the mid-1850s and
their coins were universally accepted. If anyone
had left San Francisco with a bag of privately
produced gold coins, the odds were excellent
that those coins would have been from Kellogg &
In fact, Kellogg & Co. issues as well as other
privately produced California gold coins do
figure in reports of other gold hoards and
discoveries but again the lack of details and
facts concerning the coins make the reports hard
if not impossible to document.
One discovery of gold coins that has been well
documented took place in a cellar at a house at
132 S. Eden St. in East Baltimore, Md. A couple
of boys playing in that cellar found a cache of
gold coins. There is a little uncertainty as the
boys turned the coins into the police, but
allegedly held out a few with the published
reports saying that the total was 3,558 coins
with a face value of $11,425.50. All were dated
before 1857, with the matter eventually going to
court, which ordered that the coins be sold.
Because there was a financial panic in 1857 and
privately issued paper money was questioned, it
is not a stretch that the hoard's original owner
was protecting himself from a bank failure.
Something must have happened to the owner before
he could reclaim his coins.
The gold coin auction was held on May 2, 1935,
at the Lord Baltimore Hotel with the 438 lots
resulting in winning bids of $19,558.75.
Thanks to the sale we have some idea of
precisely what coins were included in the hoard.
It included all denominations except a $3, which
while issued in time to have been included, were
apparently not in circulation in large numbers.
The hoard included a variety of branch mint
issues, such as an 1839-D quarter eagle, which
was the first Dahlonega, Ga., quarter eagle as
well as an 1838-C, which was the first
Charlotte, N.C., half eagle.
The most expensive coin in the sale was an
1856-O double eagle. The 1856-O called "very
fine," which seemed to be the grade given most
coins in the sale, realized $105, which was
certainly a bargain as the 1856-O with a mintage
of 2,250 lists for $97,500 in VF-20 today with
the best estimates being that there may be
between 20 and 25 examples known.
An 1849-O $10. which had a mintage of 23,900.
surprisingly reached $45 as the 1849-O while a
good date is not a significant rarity at $783 in
An 1841 $5 was sold for $26, although it
reportedly had a scratch at the date and an
1847-O $5, which had a mintage of 12,500 and
which lists for $2,200 today in VF-20, managed a
price of $22.
In the case of the hoard prices, a couple things
must be remembered. There was uncertainty at the
time as to the legality of owning gold coins.
The law was fairly clear, but people were not
clear as to what the law said and that could
have hurt prices realized. Also hurting prices
was the simple fact that at the time there were
very few collectors of any gold coins by date
Ironically, the cellar was a gift that just kept
giving as the same month as the auction the boys
visited the cellar again and this time
reportedly found an additional $8,000 in face
value. Some of this ended up in another auction,
but one where no records exist as to the dates
The Civil War almost certainly played a
significant role in creating a number of gold
hoards. You have to go back and consider the
times. Heading toward the Civil War there had
been many bad experiences with so-called "broken
People did not trust bank notes nor the banks
that issued them. They also did not trust in the
future whether they lived north or south of the
Mason-Dixon line. Under such circumstances, you
get hoarding, especially when the first shots
are fired and that only gets worse as you see
the Union Army march smartly to the battlefield
only to run from that same field in a
Such an outcome as occurred at the Battle of
Bull Run in 1861 can definitely hurt your
confidence in the future and that makes not only
small hoards likely but also large ones. Gold
coins were in many minds the best hedge against
that uncertain future.
In most cases once the war was over and things
returned to something close to normal, the
hoards of whatever size surfaced and were used.
It was, however, not unlike the small hoards of
ancient times where many people would bury coins
in the ground for safekeeping as there were no
banks, or the numerous hoards in Central America
where coins are hidden in a wall or foundation.
These methods are fine if the person creating
the hoard remembers where a hoard was hidden or
lives long enough to come back and claim his
treasure. Naturally, in a few cases, that does
not happen. In the case of Civil War-era hoards
from shortly after the Baltimore hoard at least
a couple have been discovered that probably were
hoards of a very troubled time.
A 1969 hoard reported by Bowers in his book from
near the small Illinois town of Prairie Town
appears to have all the earmarks of a Civil
War-era hoard as the silver coins in the hoard
were dated 1851 to 1861 while the gold coins
were from 1834 to 1861.
According to Bowers, the hoard included, "At
least five choice 1861 $20 pieces were in the
group, one gem example of which sold for at
least $11,000 in 1979 at the American Numismatic
Association Convention in St. Louis."
The group was diverse with a partial inventory
showing 40 $5 gold pieces, including and 1838-C
and 1839-D along with seven gold eagles,
including the 1856, 1856-S, 1858-S and 1860 as
well as a dozen gold pieces and nine quarter
eagles. The dates are interesting and so is the
fact that the number of half eagles is far more
than all the other denominations combined. That
tends to support what many have suspected, which
is that at least around 1861 the half eagle was
the denomination most often seen in circulation.
An earlier hoard that also made its way to an
American Numismatic Association auction, but
this time in February of 1974, was discovered in
1973 on a farm in Mississippi. That would have
been right in the path of Union forces on their
way to Vicksburg, which fell July 4, 1863. It
was supposedly one of three different caches
buried by the owner at the time. There were
supposed to be two of gold coins and one of
other valuables, but so far as we know only one
of gold coins has ever been discovered.
The hoard again was heavy in $5 gold coins
including issues from the Southern mints with
the exception of Dahlonega. The Charlotte issues
included an 1846, 1849 and 1860, which all have
to be considered tough. In the case of New
Orleans there were a couple examples of the
1844-O $5 as well as an 1847-O $10 and an 1854-O
large date variety.
One double eagle, which was an 1859-O called
brilliant uncirculated has a mintage of just
9,100. The 1859-O realized $7,250 at the time as
perhaps the finest known with the only real
problem being "usual bagmarks," but even so it
was seen as better than some of the examples
found in famous collections.
One of the interesting things we learn from gold
hoards and even reports of gold hoards is where
certain coins appear. It is not always where we
might expect. The private gold issues produced
in California primarily before 1855 are a good
example. The expectation would be that privately
produced issues would not travel very far,
probably spending their entire time in and
around the streets of San Francisco. As a
result, a report from the 1855 period of someone
finding 20 double eagles in the lining of a
trunk in San Francisco with some probably being
from the Kellogg & Co. or the Moffat & Co.
operations is not all that surprising.
A report from Jupiter, Fla., however, is a
different matter. Its size was $7,250 face value
in gold coins. Sadly, we have numbers by
denomination of coins in the hoard but not dates
and that is what makes the presence of six $50
gold coins so interesting.
Allegedly, the hoard was assembled in the early
1930s before the Gold Recall Order of 1933 and
that means the $50 coins could possibly be
Panama-Pacific $50 commemoratives.
At the same time those coins were sold for more
than their face value and hoarders did not
generally pay extra for low mintages and
numismatic value. The question, which
unfortunately we probably never will be able to
answer is whether the $50 gold coins reported
were the Panama-Pacific $50 or Territorial
issues from California in the 1850s.
In fact, it could be either as we have reports
of both ending up in places where they would not
In the case of the Panama-Pacific 1915-S
commemorative, there is a recent report from
Panama of a single example that had been
purchased at the time by one of the supervisors
of the work on the original canal that the
commemoratives were celebrating.
Such a report makes sense and sadly it also
makes sense that the report ends with the fact
that the family of the original buyer took the
coin to a jeweler and sold it for its gold
value. This means it was melted.
That sounds incredible, but it is actually a
very common outcome in the region when gold
coins are found. There are a lot of U.S. gold
coins in Central America but there are not a lot
of coin collectors, dealers or information.
Jewelers are it. And we all know what their
purpose is - to make and sell jewelry.
Especially in a rural area the only way to sell
a gold coin is to find a collector or dealer or
take it to a jewelry shop and that has happened
repeatedly. What potentially better or even
great coins have been lost in the process is
unknown but the numbers of U.S. gold coins
melted is high and even today that total is
Reports of $50 gold coins are not limited to the
Panama-Pacific commemorative, or to Central
America. In the Edgar Adams 1912 work on Private
Gold Coinage there is a report of a shipment of
$200,000 or 4,000 private $50 slugs from the
Gold Rush days in California from New York to
Liverpool on the steamer Asia in 1853. To that
report can be added another one in the Bowers
book of a $50 sold for face value by a financial
institution in France in 1906.
While not proven, it would not be at all
surprising. In fact, the vast majority of Mint
State gold coins especially dated after 1880 and
in lower Mint State grades can be traced
directly to France, Switzerland and other
European bank vaults.
The story of the European hoards was simply that
in international dealing the use of gold coins
was common. The United States with an enormous
supply of gold coins was active in dealings and
as a result millions of U.S. gold coins were
shipped to Europe where they did not circulate
but rather simply sat in vaults.
The higher denominations were the most heavily
exported by the United States but virtually
every denomination was included. As the coins
were out of the country when the gold Recall
Order of 1933 was issued, it had no impact on
Moreover, by sitting in vaults these coins had
not circulated. In the case of most dates prior
to 1880, the coins shipped were already
circulated as there were virtually no supplies
of Mint State examples to send but the dates
after 1880 were frequently Mint State.
Of course, all that travel did not help
especially in the case of things like Indian
Head quarter and half eagles as well as Indian
Head eagles, which are all well known for
picking up marks in very obvious spots but that
said, there were still Mint State examples.
American dealers began bringing home these gold
coins in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the
process continuing for decades. Along the way
some previously rare dates such as the 1924-S
and 1926-S Saint-Gaudens double eagles were
found. The numbers were not large but
considering the fact that they were seen as
possibly tougher than the 1933 even a couple
hundred made a very real difference in supplies.
It should be noted that while the hoards of
Europe were the most important source of more
recent dates they were not the only as a number
of Americans hoarded gold coins just prior to
the issuing of the Gold Recall Order of 1933.
One group of 154 coins accumulated in the early
1930s has been well documented and there are
others. Those hoards while sometimes having a
few earlier dates were usually largely later
date issues probably obtained at banks.
It should be remembered that prior to 1933, it
was just your private finanicial business to
hoard gold coins. Keeping this secret was solely
a security issue. After the gold recall order,
hoarding gold coins was considered illegal,
lessening the possibility that a hoarder would
even tell family members.
There were certainly other hoards as well
including some from the 1880s where speculation
in low mintage $1 gold pieces and $3 gold pieces
seems to have been popular. In fact, over the
years it is probably possible to suggest that
the number and nature of gold hoards has been as
diverse as the coins themselves. It makes the
study of gold hoards a very interesting activity
and one which is never ending as each day brings
the possibility of another surprise to enjoy and