Late 1890’s San Francisco Mint Mystery Heats Up

The California couple who found a stash of buried gold coins in February 2013 valued at $10 million may have found money stolen from the US Mint in 1900. According to U.S. treasure laws, the anonymous couple could have it taken away from them.

The coins, dated from 1847 to 1894, are mostly Double Eagles, or $20 gold pieces, minted in San Francisco. Of those 1,427 coins, most are uncirculated and add up to a face value of $27,000.

In 1894, a worker at the San Francisco mint made off with 290 pounds of gold and reportedly buried it near Shelter Cover, California close by Point Delgado in southern Humboldt County. He was captured and sent to prison for his crime, but refused to show authorities the exact location of the loot, which was never found.

Seven-years later, mint clerk Walter Dimmick, was imprisoned after $32,700 worth of gold coins was discovered missing. He’s believed to have begun working at the mint in 1898.

Unfortunately, I cannot account for the discrepancy in the time line of Dimmick’s employment and the 1894 theft. Nor can I find any information on the 1894 theft, so it may simply be a myth, or the date is incorrect.

Dimmick quickly became the prime suspect as he was the last person to see the 1,500 missing gold coins and had already been caught practicing how to forge the Superintendent’s name. And after a month-long trial, he was convicted of stealing the coins and sentenced to nine years in San Quentin.

Dimmick appealed to the California Supreme Court in the fall of 1903 because he’d been in jail since 1901 and argued that he had served his time. It’s not clear why he was arguing that he had only been sentenced to two years, since other newspaper accounts of the time had it at nine years.

Interestingly, Dimmick appears in the 1910 U.S. Census, which shows the 53-year-old was out of prison and living in Oakland. He died at the age of 73 in 1930.

According to U.S. Treasure Trove Laws, the collection could be taken away and given to descendants of the person who originally put it in the ground or even given to the state. Yet, the law on finding treasure that is on your property but belongs to someone else is vague.

The treasure trove rule was first given serious consideration by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1904 in a case involving boys who had discovered thousands of dollars in gold coins hidden in metal cans while cleaning out a hen-house and they were allowed to keep their stash.

Finally, a mint spokesman issued this statement: “We do not have any information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility. Surviving agency records from the San Francisco Mint have been retired to the National Archives and Records Administration, under Record Group 104. Access to the records is under NARA’s jurisdiction.”

The previous largest reported buried gold treasure in the United States was the 1985 discovery by construction workers in Jackson, Tennessee of gold coins with an estimated face value of $4,500 and market value of about $1 million.  Although not “buried” treasure, more than 400,000 silver dollars were found in the home of Lavere Redfield of Reno, Nevada after he died in 1974, and were sold as a group for $7.3 million in 1976

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