Rare gold coins found buried in Kentucky cornfield worth millions: ‘In line with winning the lottery’

Story by Gretchen Eichenberg • 

Acache of more than 800 Civil War-era gold coins were recently unearthed in a Kentucky cornfield — a treasure worth millions that experts are calling one of the greatest finds of the 21st century.

“It’s hard to put this in context because there are so few instances of coins of this nature with this level of rarity being found in the ground in the United States,” Andrew Salzberg, executive vice president of the Numismatic Guaranty Company’s Certified Collectibles Group, told Fox News Digital. 

NGC, a third-party grading service for coins, tokens and medals based in Sarasota, Florida, certified the coins — dubbed the “Great Kentucky Hoard” — and valued them at more than $2 million.

“Most of them are gold dollars, which in and of themselves are really interesting pieces of numismatic history,” Salzberg said.

In addition, he added, there were some $20 gold pieces — “a couple of which were dated 1863 and graded MS 64, which is the highest grade that has ever been graded,” he said.

The finder of the coins and the exact location of the apparent buried treasure remain a mystery as of now, as Garrett and others are honoring the request to keep names of the people who found the coins and the names of the cornfield anonymous. 

This is due to the value of the discovery, the security and the risk of others who desire to treasure hunt themselves, Fox News Digital has been told.

Clues about the discovery itself are documented in a 20-second YouTube video.

A man is shown narrating as he pulls piles of coins from the soil. 

“This is the most insane thing ever,” the man said in the video, in part. 

“Those are $1 gold coins, $20 gold coins, $10 gold coins. And look, I’m still digging them out.”

Jeff Garrett, owner of Mid-American Rare Coin Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, was the recipient of an email from the anonymous discoverer.

“Someone wanted me to look at an 1863 Double Eagle, which is a very rare coin,” Garrett told Fox News Digital. 

“It’s just a scarce coin just because of the year … lower mintage during the Civil War,” said Garrett. 

“So, I agreed to meet at the office. And then when we met in the office, he showed me several more of the coins.”

Jeff Garrett, owner of Mid-American Rare Coin Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, was the recipient of an email from the anonymous discoverer who found the haul of coins. This coin seen here is dated 1861. NGC© NGC

That’s when the man revealed to Garrett that he located 18 coins in the stash that were Double Eagles dated 1863.

“One coin would be astounding,” Garrett said. “Eighteen coins is profound due to the rarity … and then we discussed that there were 800 other gold coins, but there were primarily gold dollars, which are fairly common.”

Garrett, who has 40 years of experience in the coin industry and so-authored “The Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins” (2006), explained that the 18 Double Eagles are more valuable than the other 800 coins.

After the coins were certified by the NGC, they were professionally cleaned in a way that would not compromise their integrity, Garrett said.

Garrett, working with the NGC, named the coins the “Great Kentucky Hoard” and created a special label for them. 

They were then listed for sale on govmint.com and were snapped up in a matter of days, Garrett said.

“It’s not uncommon to find coins, particularly ancient coins, buried in the ground. But to find U.S. rarities buried in the ground is extremely rare,” he added.

That’s because the United States is a much younger country, according to Salzburg.

“Going back 2,000-plus years, there was a lot of commerce and trade going on in other parts of the world, but not so much in the United States that we know today,” Salzberg said, adding that the coins’ burial in the ground actually helped preserve them.

“Over the course of 150 years, it really did a great job preserving the coins’ condition. Those 1863 20s were unbelievable to see,” he said.

The story behind who buried the coins, and why, is something Salzberg said he finds fascinating.

“Back in those days, you couldn’t always go to a bank or put them in a safe or store them in a vault,” Salzberg said. 

“Nothing was really available to somebody looking to hide their wealth, so the best way to do it was to bury it in the ground.”

Ryan McNutt, a conflict archeologist at Georgia Southern University, said he specializes in analyzing “all the stuff that’s left behind when people engage in trying to kill each other.”

“There is a big spike in the hoarding of coins in the American Civil War,” McNutt told Fox News Digital, while also mentioning the economic issues that occurred during that time.

“The market starts to collapse and the response to all this kind of economic uncertainty and people not sure of essentially where their income is going to come from, means that they start hoarding coinage — to such an extent that coin money almost completely disappears during the American Civil War,” he added.

Kentucky, McNutt explained, was neutral territory during the war.

“There’s lots of guerrilla activity, there’s lots of both Union military activity and Confederate military activity — and particularly at the time it seems like the coins must have been deposited because it’s got to be about 1863, maybe 1864,” he said.

McNutt said there were several big Confederate cavalry raids that came through Kentucky during 1863, which is the date of the coins.

The fact that it was federally issued currency implies that it may have been obtained through Union-aligned individuals, said McNutt.

“They may have been trading, buying, selling or had some kind of business interests that are aligned with the Union, which Confederate supporters and soldiers were taking a pretty dim view of,” he said — adding that may be why it was hidden.” 

Another possibility involves Nathan Bedford Forest, who also raided Kentucky in 1864, McNutt said, adding that the story behind the coins is purely speculative, especially since the exact location of the coin hoard is unknown.

“It’s difficult to say exactly what war-related activity caused it, but it does seem that probably the motive behind hiding this money is civil unrest, conflict, raids coming through,” he said.

Why the owner of the coins never came back to claim them is another chapter in the story, McNutt said.

“Maybe [the person] died, maybe they were forced off their land,” he said. 

McNutt said he calculated the hoard to have been worth about $1,000 in 1864, which at the time would’ve been equivalent to several years’ worth of annual income.

“So it is a chunk of money,” he said. 

“That makes me speculate that whoever buried it probably died and wasn’t able to go back for it.”

For anyone inspired to excavate their own land for buried treasure, Salzberg said he wishes them good luck.

“The chances of finding something like this, I would say, are in line with winning the lottery,” Salzberg said. 

“It’s a truly historic and rare find. I can’t disagree that, as far as coins being found in the ground, this is one of the most significant finds of the 21st century,” he added.

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