Gold Treasure Trove Shocker: Coins Likely Stolen from Mint in 1899; Finders of $10 Million Must Return It ALL to the Federal Government
March 3, 2014 - 3:05 pm
Remember the California couple who found $10 million in gold coins on their property? They’re probably going to end up with NOTHING in the final analysis, as breaking news from San Francisco reveals that the source of the mystery gold has been discovered:
A story that describes a gold heist from the San Francisco Mint at the turn of the century could explain the source of the gold coins worth $10 million that were found last month in California’s Mother Lode country.
The published news item was discovered in the Haithi Trust Digital Library and was provided by Northern California fishing guide Jack Trout, who doubles as a historian and collector of rare coins.
The details of the 1899 heist — $30,000 face value of uncirculated gold coins stolen from the San Francisco Mint in 1899 — matches every known fact about the gold coins found recently in the Sierra foothills, which were nearly $30,000 in face value of uncirculated mint condition coins mostly made at the San Francisco Mint in the late 1800s.
If, as is almost certainly the case, this explains the origin of the found coins, then the couple who found them will not merely have to pay taxes on them — they’ll have to turn them over entirely back to the federal government, since the coins’ status has changed from “treasure trove” to “stolen goods”:
Treasure trove is any gold or silver in coin, plate, or bullion that is hidden by an unknown owner in the earth or other private place for an extended period. The property is not considered treasure trove unless the identity of the owner cannot be determined. Under early common law, the finder of a treasure trove took title to it against everyone but the true owner. The U.S. law governing treasure trove has been merged, for the most part, into the law governing lost property. In the absence of a contrary statutory provision, the title to treasure trove belongs to the finder against all others with the exception of the true owner.
It was a nice story while it lasted.
Just to clarify:
The finders will EITHER have to hand over all the coins back to the government, OR pay taxes on them (on the off-chance they win the legal battle to retain ownership of the coins). Under no circumstance (of which I am aware) would they have to pay taxes AND return the coins.
A few of the coins in the hoard were from different U.S. Mints and from earlier in the 19th century. It could be the case that the Federal Government might only be able to prove that the coins amongst the hoard which can be confirmed as coming from the San Francisco Mint in 1899 must be returned, while the finders could contest that the remaining coins were not part of that robbery and thus not necessarily stolen property. It’s entirely possible that the person who originally buried the hoard mixed in coins from more than one different sources (or crimes). In this case, the finders and the government would split ownership.
According to the 1906 edition of the official Hearings Before the Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, a mint clerk named W.N. Dimmick was caught and convicted of stealing $30,000 in gold coins from the San Francisco Mint — although in the description of the case no mention is made of whether Dimmick ever revealed the location of the stolen coins, or whether they were ever recovered.
Here is the full text of the relevant minutes from the House Hearings:
Note that there is a discrepancy in the date of the supposed crime: Was it 1899, or 1901? A few pages later in the same minutes is this passage revealing that there may have been many other thefts from the mint as well, due to a plague of dishonest mint employees:
Also note that one of the coins found in the hoard was an ultra-rare 1866 Liberty $20 gold piece missing the phrase “In God We Trust” — a coin which was never released to the public and which must have been produced and kept within the mint itself.
This link to an article in the July 9, 1901 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle has more details about the Dimmick theft.