Hoard of gold coins found in Lovelock

There are countless stories about lost or buried treasure with gold, silver and other valuable items in Nevada history. Most of these are legends that may or may not have any basis in fact. The following story is one of the rare cases where a real treasure was found when there was no previous knowledge that it even existed.

During my highway-construction inspecting days, I spent several seasons working in Lovelock, Nevada. This northern Nevada ranching community marked the beginning of the dreaded Forty Mile Desert for the emigrants headed to California in 1849. It became a watering and fueling center for the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869. In more modern times, when I worked there, the Interstate 80 Freeway was being constructed along the south side of town.

There was once a Chinatown in Lovelock where the local Chinese lived and operated small businesses such as restaurants, gaming houses and laundries. Many of these people had come to the area years before to work on the railroads and mining. By 1975, when the Interstate 80 freeway was being built along the south side of town, many of the original Chinese population of the area had either moved away or been relocated. It was the dream of many of the Orientals to work long and hard enough to earn money to eventually return to their homeland.

Freeway construction took out a large area of town south of Amherst Avenue. This was the area where the local Chinatown was located. If you are traveling east on I-80 and exit at Main Street by McDonalds, you will find Amherst Avenue and a small, narrow community park between the freeway ramp and Amherst. This is where the old Chinese houses and businesses were torn down to be replaced by the park.

Before demolition of the houses, the Nevada Department of Transportation conducted an archaeological study of the old buildings. When the archaeologists searched the three buildings being studied, they found an amazing cache of gold, silver, tokens and oriental coins. Since the property had been purchased by the State of Nevada for the construction project, the collection became the property of the Nevada State Museum.

Eugene Hattori, curator of anthropology at the Nevada State Museum, has provided me with a copy of the study done by the archaeologists of this 1975 discovery. Hattori was the archaeologist who excavated the 900 Carson City coin dies I discovered at the old mint building in 1999. He occasionally has a showing of the Lovelock collection, one of which I attended.

The collection consists of 211 American, Chinese, Annamese and Japanese coins and 4 American trade tokens. Most of the coins were found in three different structures, with all of the gold coins being found in one house. The house had a cellar, common in homes of that era. When the archaeologist searched the cellar, he discovered a jar hidden under the floor. The jar contained 112 American gold pieces that was likely the savings of someone who passed away, never revealing his secret.

The gold coins ranged in age from 1874 to 1910. This indicates the owner may have died about 1910. There were 21 five dollar gold pieces, 11 ten dollar gold pieces and 80 twenty dollar gold pieces. The face value of the gold coins was $1,865.00. In today’s market, the collection could be worth in excess of $200,000.

Most of the gold coins were minted in San Francisco. A few were minted in Philadelphia and there was one 1892 five dollar gold piece that was minted in Carson City. The largest number of the coins show dates between 1897 and 1910.

Nearly 90 Chinese and other oriental coins found in the other two structures on the site indicated they may have been businesses catering to the Orientals, such as gaming establishments. There were many Chinese “cash” coins with square holes, that were often used as gaming tokens. Many of the Chinese cash coins are very old and can be dated from 1662 to 1908.

There were about 50 United States pennies, nickels, dimes and one 1889-O silver dollar found on the site. There was one trade token from San Francisco, one from the Owl Bar in Lovelock, one from the Crystal Saloon in Sparks and one from the Commercial Hotel in Elko.

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About Dennis Cassinelli

Dennis Cassinelli is a Nevada author, historian and outdoorsman. He’s written extensively about American Indian culture and Comstock history. His book, Preserving Traces of the Great Basin Indians, contains up-close photographs and detailed pen-and-ink drawings of American Indian stone artifacts. It also contains a fold-out chronology chart showing projectile points across a 12,000-year time scale. The book is a must-have for every enthusiast of Great Basin archaeology. Dennis’s website is DennisCassinelli.com.