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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While taking their dog for a walk, a California couple struck gold. A treasure trove of more than 1400 rare 19th century gold coins buried in their back yard. Total value: over $10 million.

Preferring to remain anonymous, "John" and "Mary" tell how they happened upon the hidden treasure in California's Gold Rush country.

"I saw an old can sticking out of the ground on a trail that we had walked almost every day for many, many years," John is quoted as saying on an official website dedicated to the treasure.

"I was looking down in the right spot and saw the side of the can," Mary adds. "I bent over to scrape some moss off and noticed that it had both ends on it! John used a stick to dig up the first can. We took it back to the house, it was very heavy."

"Heavy enough that we needed to take a little breather before getting back to the house," John says. "It was getting towards evening and the light was fading. I said to Mary, 'Wow, this thing is heavy. It must be full of lead paint.' I couldn't figure out what in the world would weigh that much."

It was then that the lid cracked off, revealing the rib of a single gold coin. The "heavy can" was the first of six found on the couple's property, each containing near mint condition gold coins, dated between 1847 and 1894. The collection is comprised of nearly 1400 $20 gold pieces, fifty $10 gold pieces and four $5 gold pieces – and includes an 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle valued at $1 million.

The assortment has been authenticated, graded and certified by the Professional Coin Grading Service of Irvine, Calif.

"What's really significant about this find is that unlike other hoards and treasures, this one includes a great variety of dates, many of which are in pristine condition; add to that a wonderful human interest story: this family literally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," says Donald Kagin Ph.D., president of Kagin's, a numismatic firm in Tiburon, Calif.

The coins have been dubbed the Saddle Ridge Hoard, named after a feature of the family's property. Based on the dates and condition of the coins included in the find, as well as the decaying metal cans protecting them, it is believed that the coins were buried over a significant period of time in the late 19th century.

"Years ago, on our first hike, we noticed an old tree growing into the hill," John says. "It had an empty rusty can hanging from it that the tree had grown around – that was right at the site where we found the coins. At the time we thought the can might be a place for someone to put flowers in for a gravesite – something which would have been typical at the time. There was also an unusual angular rock up the hill from where the coins were buried – we'd wondered what in the heck it was."

Mary adds: "It wasn't until we made the find that we realized it might have been a marker: starting at the rock, if you walk 10 paces towards the North Star, you wind up smack in the middle of the coins!"

The couple has since combed the area with a metal detector, searching for additional buried cans, but believes they have found all of the coins buried over 100 years ago.

"We've poked around more and now have a sense that we found everything that's in the area," John says.

The Saddle Ridge Hoard is considered to be the largest buried treasure ever found in North America. Most of the collection will be available for purchase through an exclusive arrangement with Amazon.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet