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Bunch of bullion: Dealer says gold coin hoard not from heist

Tracy Connor

The rare coin expert who is helping a California couple sell $10 million in gold pieces they dug up said Tuesday that there is no way the mother lode came from a 1900 heist at the San Francisco Mint.

That theory has been floating around since the so-called Saddle Ridge Hoard — a cache of 1,427 coins minted between 1847 and 1894 and buried under a tree in cans — came to light last week.

(Read more: Calif. couple strike$10 million gold-coin bonanza)

But David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin's, said it's about as likely as a three-dollar bill.

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One of the six decaying metal canisters filled with 1800s-era U.S. gold coins unearthed in California by two people who want to remain anonymous.
Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin's, Inc. | AP

"It's provably incorrect," he told NBC News.

Even though the number and value of the coins swiped from a cashier's vault at the mint match the hoard, McCarthy reeled off a list of reasons they're not one and the same:

  • The mint's vault probably would have held bags containing coins from a single year with identical mint marks, but the hoard is much more diverse.
  • The hoard contains many coins that were heavily circulated, but the mint would have melted down and reissued those, not stored them.
  • There are 50 $10 gold coins in the hoard. Those were never mentioned in accounts of the mint heist, also known as the Dimmick Defalcation.
  • The hoard's coins don't have what experts call "bag marks," which they would expect to see on coins that had been vaulted for any length of time.
  • None of the hoard coins have dates after 1894, which would mean they would have been stored for six years at a minimum if they were from the mint job. "Who keeps 6-year-old inventory, especially of something that is not hard to get rid of?" McCarthy said.

Based on where the coins were discovered a year ago, McCarthy thinks they were amassed by someone doing a lot of a business in gold and who buried each can as soon as it was filled up, possibly over a span of 20 years.

An unexpected death would explain why they were abandoned — only to be found by the anonymous couple walking their dog on their property a century later.

"You can't take it with you," he said.

—By Tracy Connor of NBC News

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