Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Monday, March 3, 2014



Every student of American History knows about the California Gold Rush.  It all began in 1848 when John Marshall found nuggets while working in a saw mill.  An instant mass-migration followed.   Called 'Forty-Niners,' they extracted an estimated $20 billion (modern-day dollars) in gold from the Sierra Nevada foothills.  Within twenty short years...the gold was all gone...and California shifted to its focus to its current industries: Farming, making Levi's jeans and filming pornographic movies.

But that all changed last week!  Over $10 million dollars of gold was discovered again in the foothills!  Here's what happened: A couple was taking an afternoon stroll along their ten acres of property in Gold Rush Country.  They passed by some rusty old can lids sticking up from the ground.  While they had seen them before, this time they decided to come back with a shovel and investigate some more.  They found eight rusty old cans containing 1,427 US gold coins from the 1800's.

They contacted Kagin's Incorporation, a numismatic firm, to analyze them.  Imagine John and Mary's (not their real names) surprise when they learned what they found.  There were 1,373 $1 Gold coins, four $5 coins and 50 $10 coins.  Since gold never corrodes, they were all in good shape, with one third of them in mint condition.  Almost all of them were from the San Francisco mint.  The rarest was a 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle worth about $1 million.

The obvious question is: Why did the original owners chose to bury $2,000 instead of putting it in a bank?  Well...believe it or not...the more things change, the more they stay the same.  After organizing their loot on the kitchen table, the couple became scared.  "I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear" worried John.  (More likely is a crazed meth-head breaking and entering.)  So what did they do?  The couple placed them in an Igloo-brand cooler and hid them under a woodpile. 

In reality, the couple should have left them there and contacted the black market instead.  Within days of their announcement, a little known 1969 Federal Court Ruling was invoked by the IRS.  The so-called 'Treasure Trove'  clause states that: "property that does not belong to you that has been lost or abandoned (treasure-trove), it is taxable to you at its fair market value."  The Feds hope to get at least half of the claim.  Expect a lawsuit, hassle and years of appeals.  But...for the time being...the spirit of the Forty-Niners lives on in California!

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