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The Great Kentucky Hoard

Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Tim Webb

Jeff Garrett’s Lexington office is full of signals that the past “isn’t even past” in his world. There’s an iron Wells Fargo strongbox, a bronze spear tip, an oversized magnifying glass, and a solid lump of unconserved Roman coins bearing the face of Emperor Nero. Along the walls, bookcases are stuffed with titles like Roman Coins and their Values, Obsolete Paper Money, Early Half Dollar and The Gold Rush.   

Garrett has been collecting, selling and obsessing over rare coins since he was a teenager.  Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that his phone is the one that rang last year with news that would soon captivate collectors around the world: More than 800 Civil War-era coins had been found, buried in a Kentucky cornfield, many of them in near-perfect condition.  

A YouTube video showed the finder, who is keeping his name and location private, pointing out the dirt-encrusted trove—$1, $10 and $20 gold coins, piled up like spare change beside a hole in the ground. “This is the most insane thing ever,” the finder says in the video, panning the camera between the hole he’s digging and the growing pile of buried treasure. “And look, I’m still digging them out.” 

The finder called Garrett for advice and set up a meeting at Garrett’s business, Mid-American Rare Coin Gallery, based in Lexington. “It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” says Garrett, who assisted with the conservation, marketing and sale of the coins, and also came up with a name that stuck: the Great Kentucky Hoard. Garrett says his expertise and his company’s reputation built the rapport needed to help the finder. 

“It’s a trust thing,” he says. “The guy’s basically won a lottery ticket and wants help figuring out how to cash it.” 

Born in Glasgow, Kentucky, Garrett moved to Clearwater, Florida, with his family as a child. He began his coin collecting hobby with Lincoln pennies, and before long, he’d gotten involved in the city’s thriving coin collecting community. He showed an aptitude for the hobby, began selling coins professionally around 16, and after high school, was offered a partnership at one of the state’s biggest coin shops. Garrett moved back to Lexington in the early 1980s and built his shop on Nicholasville Road in 1987. 

Among the joys of rare coin collecting, Garrett says, are the stories. A good yarn can be what makes the difference between an ordinary coin and a priceless treasure. Take, for instance, one of the most valuable coins of the ancient world: the Brutus Eid Mar. The coin’s value doesn’t lie in its chemical composition, but in the Roman history stamped on its surface—the face of Brutus, leader of the conspirators against Julius Caesar, and on the obverse, a cap signifying liberty, flanked by two daggers. 

“Every great coin has a great story attached to it,” Garrett says. “There are coins that are rare but are not worth much. But if they have a really fantastic story attached to them, that makes them priceless.” 

An internationally recognized rare coin expert, Garrett is the author of several books, including 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, and the editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins (The Official Red Book).  

While a find like the Great Kentucky Hoard isn’t in the cards for most people, Garrett stresses that coin collecting is a hobby anyone can enjoy, whether you’re collecting pennies and nickels or silver dollars. 

“It’s really fun to do with kids and grandkids,” Garrett says. “It teaches them economic history, teaches them art, teaches them American history in general.”   

Garrett recommends beginning collectors buy The Red Book, which has a photo and value for every U.S. coin ever made. New hobbyists can also join a local coin club, if available, and join the American Numismatic Society online at Learn more about Mid-American Rare Coin Gallery at

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