5 Treasures That People Just Stumbled Into

That stone you tripped over might be a hunk of gold
5 Treasures That People Just Stumbled Into

Good news! Your years of struggle may be over because you might be inches away from striking it rich. Not from working, no — from suddenly tripping over an undiscovered treasure hoard.

We’re not talking about finding stuff like collectible comic books or undervalued paintings, as cool as that can be. We mean classic treasure, the kind you bury in chests. We mean coins, gems and sweet, sweet gold. So, grab a shovel and start digging, right where you’re standing. People might object, if you are currently in Fenway Park or on the White House lawn, but you can pay to have those people silenced once you find yourself the proud owner of...

The Mysterious Cans of Gold

Late in 1899, someone robbed the San Francisco mint. They stole $30,000 in gold coins, and among them was a particularly rare coin, an 1866 Liberty $20 gold piece that — unlike most such coins from around this time — omitted the words “In God We Trust.” The thief was an employee of the mint. At least, that’s who the government sent to prison for the crime. The gold itself was never found.

More than a century later, in 2013, a man and woman in California spotted something on their property. It was a rusty can, mostly buried but sticking out of the ground, and if you think it’s weird that someone can just suddenly notice something like this on their land after it had been there so long, keep in mind that some of these California properties are freakishly huge. Inside the can were gold coins, and a little digging unearthed even more cans. There were close to $30,000 in coins there, and one of the coins was that unique, godless 1866 gold piece. 

Saddle Ridge Hoard of coins and dirt

Kagin's Inc

The dog with them was crestfallen. He was hoping for bones.

So, these had to be the lost coins from 1899, right? If so, they were government property, and the couple were entitled to nothing. But while the mint robbery seemed like the strongest explanation, no proof linked these coins to that theft, which meant the couple got to keep them. The coins, with a face value of $30,000, were worth a lot more than that to collectors, more like $10 million. What a fortunate windfall to this worthy man and woman, who already owned a California property so large, they hadn’t even properly explored the whole thing till recently. 

The Frozen Box of Gems

A plane smashed into the peak of Mont Blanc in 1966, killing all 117 aboard. The Air India fight was traveling from Beirut to Geneva, and the official explanation was the pilot got really confused and started descending while a mountain still loomed in front, which is generally considered inadvisable. 

One famous scientist, known as the “father of the Indian nuclear program,” was aboard, leading to the theory that the plane actually fell thanks to a bomb targeting him. Homi J. Bhabha was one of two unusual bits of cargo aboard the plane. The other was a box containing sapphires and rubies. 

Homi Jehangir Bhabha

Mondadori Publishers

Which he’d use in his nukes! (We don’t know how nukes work.)

In 2013 (a great year for finding treasure), a climber on Mont Blanc found the box. He hadn’t been looking for it, he hadn’t known about it, and he was probably delighted that the first thing he found buried on the mountain wasn’t human remains or frozen feces. He announced his find, but though authorities knew its origin, that didn’t mean he wound up with nothing. According to French law, he was entitled to half of its value, which was over $200,000.

As for the remaining half, local authorities were supposed to return it to the original owners, but they were “unable” to track them down. So, they kept it, and presumably spent it on a feast of cheese and wine. 

The Lost Hammer

Peter Whatling just wanted to find his hammer. It was a lump hammer (a hammer without a claw, for people really confident when it comes to nailing), and he’d dropped it somewhere in a field. The mud had swallowed it up, leaving him little chance of finding it again unaided. Then his friend Eric received a metal detector as a retirement gift, when he left his public sector job of 30 years. Perhaps he’d use it to hunt for treasure, suggested his colleagues. Perhaps he would, agreed Eric. But first thing’s first. It was time to find Peter’s hammer. 

They went to the field, but before they found any hammer, they found buried Roman treasure. It’s actually reasonably common to find buried Roman treasure in England (so much so that they have an established procedure there for the Crown seizing the hoard then paying a finder’s fee), but this hoard happened to be the biggest one ever found in England, worth millions. 

Hoxne Hoard

Mike Peel

As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of treasure to add up to millions. 

Later, they found the hammer. It had rusted hard by this point, but it had become historically significant, and the same museum that exhibited the hoard now put it on display. 

The TV Tip

With all these stories, we’ve talked about the consequences of authorities sweeping in and pinching your booty. Depending on circumstances, this can result in them paying you the exact fair market value of the treasure, or it can result in them paying you nothing. Naturally, some people would therefore rather keep their treasure hunting on the down-low — or, as the authorities would call it, breaking the law. 

This was why, in 1999, a Swedish TV station recorded a segment on the problem of looters slipping in and raiding archaeological sites. As part of the segment, they called in a pair of archaeologists to a field where a couple small finds had popped up in the past. With the taping done, the archaeologists said, Hey, may as well poke around here some more.

They found the biggest Viking hoard ever discovered. It included thousands of coins and some 150 pounds of silver. With this one, we’re only going to include a photo of a portion of it because the find was too large for any one pic to capture it all. 

Closeup of silver hoard No 2 from the Spillings Hoard at Gotland Museum.

W.carter/Wiki Commons

We chose this photo for those of you super into bangles.

We can only assume that, rather than combatting looting, this whole story led treasure hunters to step up their efforts and raid every site worldwide. 

The 17-Pound Nugget

Back in 1799, a 12-year-old boy named Conrad Reed found a shiny rock in a river in North Carolina. This was half a century before the California gold rush, and it was also before the earlier Carolina gold rush. The kid had no idea what the shiny rock was. Nor did his father John. All they knew was it weighed a hell of a lot for a rock that size, so they used it as a doorstopper. 

Three years later, John decided he should get some eyes on the weird thing, and a jeweler identified it as gold. He offered John $3.50 for it. That wasn’t bad for a rock his son had found by chance and which had just been lying around the house for years. Why, it was more than a week’s pay for someone who worked on a farm. It was also, though John did not know it, less that 0.001 of how much the gold was really worth. 

Large gold nugget

James St. John

That stuff is worth its weight in gold. 

Don’t feel too sorry for the Reeds, however. Yes, they were cheated out of the value of that one 17-pound nugget. But they then realized they were living on a gold mine, and they became fabulously wealthy for the rest of their lives. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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