THE owner of this incredibly rare coin was told his find was a fake, so he tossed it back in his collection. Now it is worth millions.
A small gold coin originally thought to be a fake was authenticated in April by experts as an 1854 California Gold Rush coin, one of 268 struck at the San Francisco Mint that year. This extremely rare find is worth millions.
“It’s like finding an original Picasso at a garage sale. It’s the discovery of a lifetime,” said Mark Salzberg, the chairman of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), a Sarasota, Fl.-based coin authentication company that identified the treasure.
The U.S. $5 denomination gold coin, known as a Half Eagle, is owned by a New England man who wishes to remain anonymous. He showed the coin to several dealers at a recent coin show and they quickly deemed it a forgery.
Borris Tavrovsky, a co-owner of Oxbridge Coins in San Francisco, isn’t surprised that it was incorrectly identified at first.
“These counterfeits are getting more common,” Tavrovsky says. “And they’re getting better.”
Then one dealer suggested taking the coin to NGC, a third-party service providing authentication, and their team went to great lengths to assess the coin.
They started by making sure the coin wasn’t the one stolen from the Florida mansion of the chemical company heir Willis H. DuPont in 1967. The thieves made off with a motherlode —$50,000 in cash and DuPont’s fabled collection of 7,000 coins, the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported.
Some of these stolen treasures have popped up over the years, but the 1854 Gold Rush coin has remained lost.
“That was one of the first things we did — make sure this wasn’t the stolen coin,” says Rick Montgomery, president of NGC. “We were able to make a visual comparison against the 1967 catalog. In our comparison it did not match that coin.”
Montgomery says they also contacted the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which has one of the four coins in its collection, and requested high-resolution images for comparison.
Finally, they compared the coin with the one owned by the Pogue Family, who own a private collection worth millions.
“We knew instinctively and intuitively the coin was real,” Montgomery says. “But knowing the unlikelihood that a coin like this could be found in this era, we had to do our due diligence.”
Montgomery says NGC’s price indicates the 164-year-old coin is worth about $3 million. Tavrovsky adds that based on past sales of Gold Rush-era coins, he assumes it’s worth $3-$4 million.
“I think he’s going to be quite rich,” says Tavrovsky. “I can see why he wants to remain a mystery man. Some people who win the lottery don’t want to reveal their identity for fear those cousins start badgering you.”