“It’s like finding an original Picasso at a garage sale.”
That’s what Numismatic Guaranty Corporation chairman Mark Salzberg has said about this ulta-rare discovery.
A collector from New England, who has decided to remain anonymous, fully believed the coin in his possession was a fake.
His suspicions were confirmed after he had the coin looked at by a few other collectors and dealers at a coin show.
They all agreed that it was nothing more than a fraudulent replica of the $5 California Gold Rush coin produced in 1854.
After all, there were only three known to be in existence. So the idea that this man was holding what’s known as a Half Eagle in his hands seemed impossible.
There was one dealer, however, who suggested having the coin looked at by the NGC, the third-party authentication provider based in Sarasota, Florida.
“That was one of the first things we did — make sure this wasn’t the stolen coin,” said Rick Montgomery, president of NGC.
One of the coins known in existence had been stolen back in 1967 from chemical company heir Willis H. DuPont.
Thieves stole $50,000 cash and his collection of 7,000 coins. DuPont’s ultra-rare Half Eagle has never resurfaced, despite other stolen coins having recirculated over the years.
“We were able to make a visual comparison against the 1967 catalog. In our comparison it did not match that coin.”
After further research, thanks to the help of the Smithsonian Institution and the Pogue Family (who owns one of the coins), they were able to authenticate the 1854 Gold Rush coin.
“Our initial reaction on examining the coin from New England was utter disbelief that a rarity of this magnitude could still be discovered in this era,” said Montgomery. “But upon seeing the coin in person for the first time it was apparent that the coin is genuine.”
NGC estimates the 164-year-old coin is worth approximately $3 million. As for the owner of the coin, Salzberg said, “He was stunned when we informed him that it is a genuine, multimillion-dollar, rare coin.”
“I can see why he wants to remain a mystery man,” said Borris Tavrovski, co-owner of Oxbridge Coins. “Some people who win the lottery don’t want to reveal their identity for fear those cousins start badgering you.”
Regardless of whether or not the owner decides to remain anonymous or if he decides to keep or sell the coin, one thing is certain: It was a “discovery of a lifetime.”
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