By David McCarthy for CoinWeek …..
On a hot afternoon this summer, I found myself wandering a suburban park in search of a grave.
Like most wild goose chases, it started innocently enough. I’d been part of a discussion about the so-called “Nagy Restrikes” of one of the most well-loved coins of the gold rush: the Baldwin Horseman $10. I say so-called, because A) the pieces in question are not restrikes at all, they’re made from imitation dies, and B) I’m pretty sure that Stephen Nagy – a coin dealer blamed for many sketchy fantasy pieces of the early 20th century – was around 10 years old when the aforementioned imitation dies were made (probably to make souvenir spoons for the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, but that’s a story for another day).
As luck would have it, a package of these coins arrived at my office while the discussion was going on, and alongside the “restrikes” there was something a little more interesting: an 1844 large cent overstruck with dies for a Horseman $10. This Horseman $10 wasn’t one of the imitation pieces, but it wasn’t a Baldwin $10 either. When I saw it, the first thing I thought was, Holy shit, that’s rare!
The coin’s 1850-dated obverse bore the familiar Horseman motif: probably the best-loved image on any coin of the California (or any other) gold rush. The reverse was different from the famous Baldwin $10: it was inscribed “KOHLER & Co. SAN FRANCISCO” around a small eagle and 31 stars, an apparent reference to California’s impending status as the 31st U.S. state. Known by a small handful of numismatists since the 19th century, the Kohler $10 pattern was still quite mysterious: the only published picture of the piece had been taken nearly 70 years ago, making it impossible to determine whether it was a clever fantasy or an important piece of California history.