Two coin dies from the former U.S. Branch Mint in Carson City were found for sale on the Internet trading site ebay.com.
Within a week and with a little urging from the Attorney General's Office they were returned.
The dies were likely plucked out of the ground in January when the lot between the Nevada State Museum and the former FIB building was excavated in preparation to building Loftin Park, but officials are not sure who took them or how they ended up in California.
Jim Spencer, deputy attorney general, said he learned Oct. 24 that two rare Carson City silver coin dies were being sold over the Internet by a man from Stockton, Calif.
"I e-mailed him and told him he was trying to sell state property and that the state would appreciate its prompt return," Spencer said. "Through our office I found his name, address and telephone number. So then, in case he didn't respond to the e-mail which could be from anyone I wrote him a letter."
Spencer received an e-mail note Thursday that the dies would be returned Friday. Because the man cooperated fully and officials could not link him to the theft Spencer did not release his name and is not pursuing prosecution.
Spencer said he checked with both the contractor and the subcontractors working on the park and could not connect the seller's name.
The dies were mailed Monday and arrived Thursday at the the Nevada Library & Archives, the office of assistant administrator Guy Rocha.
The man had bought the two dies for $200 from someone in San Jose at an auction or swap meet, and was trying to sell them for $4,000 each on the Web.
"Whoever sold them was knowledgeable about them and had information about them including copies of the (Nevada Appeal) from when they were found," Spencer said.
Eugene Hattori, curator of anthropology for the Nevada State Museum said the attempted sale was brought forward by residents who thought the state was trying to sell them.
"I give talks on the dies all the time," Hattori said. "People are truly interested in them and what they represent. I am always getting more information on how to look into (restoring) them."
The more than 30 dies found in January had Xs chisel into them meaning they had been used and were not to be used any more. They are encrusted in rust and nearly unreadable. However, Hattori hopes to learn how to clean them up so they may someday be able to see what coins they made.
Photos of the dies off the ebay Internet site are similar to the dies on display at the museum.
Dies are the molds used for making coins. A round flat piece of silver or gold is placed between the mold for the front and the mold for the back. In the case of the coins made at the U.S. Mint in Carson City, 200 tons of pressure was used when striking a coin.
Dies no longer used had Xs marked into their faces to prevent counterfeiting. The Xs are partially visible in the tops of the corroded dies.
Of the coins made at the U.S. Branch Mint in Carson City, the 20 cent piece first struck in 1875 is one of the rarest. Out of 133,000 made only 14 remain.
The former building at 600 N. Carson St. is now used as the state museum. It was first opened in December 1869 as a U.S. Mint. From 1899-1933 the building was used as an assay office. From 1933-1939 it was used as an office for the Works Project Administration. The state purchased the building in 1939 and it has been a museum ever since.
The advertisement on ebay read:
Find of a lifetime! These Carson City silver dollar coin dies have been buried for over 100 years and were unearthed last January during construction of the new Nevada State Museum Plaza. "Possible explanations for the mint find include debris from a year-end cleanup in 1877, trash discarded by the mint's blacksmith shop, debris from when the mint ceased coining operations in 1893 or closed its assay office in 1933, or debris from demolition of the Mint Annex in 1969." "Museum exhibits show canceled dies with 'X's' marked on their tops. The dies found at the site are too rusted to see a pattern in the surface. Archaeologists are trying to clean some of the dies to see if anything can be seen." Historians have not been able to discern the dates on coins, yet it is easy to see the 'X's' marked on the tops of the dies to show they were no longer being used."
Die specs: Diameter 38.1 mm, Height 49 mm, Base 48 mm and weigh approx. 2 pounds. Die is from between 1873-1878. One star is visible and cancellation X is visible. Design indicates Obverse side (heads). The dies found have been given an estimate of between $5,000-10,000 each by the Museum Curator. "Old coin dies to be unveiled at Plaza dedication May 20th. Archaeologists to share Carson City Mint find on June 3rd."
References: Nevada Appeal Newspaper Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1999, January 15, 1999, February 28, 1999. Additional info can be found on the Nevada State Museum web site. THESE ARE ONLY TWO OF 97 KNOWN TO EXIST OUTSIDE OF THE MUSEUM. THE OTHERS CAN BE FOUND IN THE NEVADA STATE MUSEUM. All dies were found together at the construction site. Please e-mail me with any questions you may have about these incredible coin dies. ATTENTION: Bidder please be aware that these dies are in poor condition due to the fact that they have been buried for over 100 years.