Dennis Cassinelli: Hoard of gold coins found at Lovelock Chinatown

Gold coins found at Lovelock Chinatown.

Gold coins found at Lovelock Chinatown.

Some stories are worthy of being told more than once. There are countless stories about lost or buried treasure in Nevada history. Most of these are legends that might or might not have any basis in fact. The following story, however, is one of the rare cases where a real treasure was found, when there was no previous knowledge it even existed.

During my highway construction inspecting days, I spent several seasons working in Lovelock. 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 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, died or been relocated. It was the dream of many of the Asians 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 on Interstate 80 and exit at Main Street by McDonald’s, you’ll find Amherst Avenue and a small community park between the freeway ramp and Amherst. This park 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 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 archaeologists of this 1975 discovery. Hattori was the archaeologist who had excavated the 900 Carson City coin dies I discovered at the old Carson City Mint in 1999. He occasionally, and upon request, has a showing of the Lovelock collection, one of which I attended.

The collection consists of 211 American, Chinese, Annamese and Japanese coins and four American trade tokens. Most of the coins were found in three different structures, with all the gold 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 U.S. gold pieces that were likely the savings of someone who had passed away, never revealing his secret.

The gold coins ranged in age from 1874 to 1910. This indicates the owner must have died after 1910. There were 21 five-dollar gold pieces, 11 10-dollar gold pieces and 80 20-dollar gold pieces. The face value of the gold coins was $1,865. 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 5-dollar gold piece that was minted in Carson City. The largest number of coins show dates between 1897 and 1910. Nearly 90 Chinese and other coins found in the other two structures on the site indicated they may have been businesses catering to the Asians 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 old and can be dated from 1662 to 1908.

There were about 50 U.S. pennies, nickels, dimes and one 1889-O silver dollar found on 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. You can make arrangements to see this amazing collection by contacting the Nevada State Museum.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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