True Tales of Hidden Treasure

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, May 28, 2005

id you ever read a story — fiction, of course — of a great treasure find? Many novels and myths contain such adventures and discoveries. In reality, real treasures of coins, currency, gold and jewels have been found.
    The famous King Tut tomb, with its treasures and mummy of the pharaoh, created a worldwide sensation in the 1920s. The treasures are on tour for the second time.
    More recent treasure hoards and lesser finds still make the news from time to time. In 1974, the estate of eccentric recluse LaVere Redfield of Carson City was taken over by the state when he died. In examining his ramshackle home, they discovered a false wall with more than 400,000 silver dollars, mostly in mint condition, stashed in bags behind it. At a court-ordered auction in 1976 the hoard was sold to the highest bidder for more than $7 million. Today many of these "Redfield" dollars are trading at hundreds of dollars each, with a gross value well in excess of $100 million.
    In 1985 the group known as Treasure Salvors, diving off the coast of Florida, came across the treasure of a sunken Spanish ship, the Atocha. This find eventually had to be divided between the state of Florida and other claimants, and when tallied, the proceeds exceeded $20 million. Most of recovered treasure was gold coins and ingots. The site was scoured for many years thereafter.
    Around 1950 an old building in rural Georgia was being demolished when, in the rubble, a few wooden kegs were found containing virtually mint-condition large cents, all dated 1818. This "Randall hoard" eventually was sold to dealers and collectors through various public sales and eventually brought well over $5 million.
    A much more recent find made the news, as well. Two men claimed to have found a hoard of old currency in the 1870-1920 range in a can buried on their land. As the story broke, it was shown that in fact, they found it in the loft of another man's barn.
    The 1,800-plus banknotes were shown to a coin dealer in rural New Hampshire who put a rough figure of $125,000 on the hoard. Closer examination of the notes — most were in "very fine" condition — puts the value well over $1 million. Ownership is to be determined and the hoard will no doubt wind up in a major auction, eventually.
    At an auction held by Mike Aron Rare Coins a few years ago, a group of very scarce 1860-O mint silver dollars was offered for sale. Each coin was coated with a grayish oxidation that gave the hoard the name, the "Chimney Hoard." These coins were stored in the chimney of a home in the South during the Civil War and found 130 years later. The heat and soot coated each coin with a grayish layer. They sold for $300 and up.
    Perhaps the best hoard story is the one by our own Treasury Department. Since the closure of the New Orleans Mint in 1909 and the discontinuation of silver dollar production in 1935, bags of silver dollars (1,000 per bag) were shipped to Washington to be stored in the basement vaults of the Treasury building. In 1967 the Treasury decided to sell these bags at face value for cash, only to customers who came to the Treasury building on a designated day. The three million or so silver dollars were sold within a few days. The coins varied from the very common 1922 Peace dollars to the very scarce 1859-O Seated Liberty dollars and rare Carson City (CC) dollars.
    Then the General Services Administration decided the giveaway was not a great idea and began to sort through the remainders and insert them in hard plastic holders with the date and notation that they were from the U.S. Treasury hoard.
    These coins, known as "GSA" dollars, were sold by mail and ranged from $15 to $350 each. Today, the common-date "CC" dollars sell for about $175 each. The scarcer dates, such as 1879-CC, sell for more than $4,000.
    Chances are, if you can buy a 100- or 200-year-old house, there may be hidden treasure inside — or even outside the home. Happy hunting.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.