CARSON CITY, Nev. -- The tale of a mysterious Nevada recluse's gold -- and the sole heir, a San Rafael woman who has remained mum -- reached a new chapter Tuesday when a portion of the trove raked in more than $3.5 million at auction.
It was the allure of mystery that pulled some bidders to the courtroom, but for others, it was the sheer value of a collection unknown to the public before Walter Samaszko Jr. was found dead in his modest ranch-style home last year.
Regardless of motivation, those who converged on the auction could sense the immense value of the treasure upon arriving.
There were numerous guards at the entrance, then more in the hallway outside the courtroom, and finally several with bullet-proof vests and others with helmets inside the room holding the gold.
Five bidders diligently inspected the 11 lots of gold displayed in plastic sleeves, tubes and felt jewelry display boxes in the heavily guarded room before the bidding wars began.
By the time all sales were final, however, one bidder had secured nine of the 11 lots for sale.
Carson City's Alan Rowe of Northern Nevada Coin spent $617,000 from his own company, and another $2 million on behalf of the Illinois-based Rare Coin Co. of America Inc. It was the uniqueness of the gold that drove his bidding, he said.
"Every one of us has a little hoarder nature in our culture and we all like to have things, but to this degree is quite a story," Rowe told reporters after the auction, adding that the metal value "is not as exciting as the story itself, there's actually value to the story."
He added that some of the coins will be available in the store or online for locals hoping to snag a piece of history. Others, he said, will be marketed nationally and likely on television. This auction was only for the bullion coins -- items that are not necessarily rare, just expensive because they are made of gold. There will likely be a second auction for the larger portion of the collection which is comprised of the rare coins, said Alan Glover, the public administrator for Samaszko's estate.
"They're buying and bidding on an ounce of gold, pure gold by the weight," Glover said.
In total, about 150 pounds of gold was sold at Tuesday's auction. About $800,000 will pay various fees and estate taxes, and the rest of the profits go to a substitute teacher in San Rafael who is the first cousin and sole heir to the trove of Walter Samaszko Jr.
Because of the other coins' rarity, that sale is expected to net higher profits.
James Mitchell of Reno's Silver State Coin and a California-based group named Spectrum Group International Inc. grabbed the two lots not purchased by Rowe or his partners.
Mitchell landed the lot of 4,600 Mexican dos pesos, the largest number of coins in a single lot. He said the story posed no additional value to him.
"It had the most potential for profit," Mitchell said of his purchase. "There was one lot I wanted more, but this one will have to do."
That lot, a collection of 620 Canadian Maple Leafs, was the largest in terms of weight and the coins were the purest gold available. It fetched $1.16 million from Rowe and the Rare Coin Co. of America.
No one knows exactly when the collection began, or why Samaszko never sold it. Frankly, no one knew anything about him even though he lived in the same neighborhood for decades. Weeks passed before authorities even discovered he had died in his modest Carson City home. A coroner said he died of heart problems.
When cleanup crews arrived, they made the startling discovery of the 69-year-old man's vast collection of thousands of gold coins worth millions of dollars stashed in old ammunition boxes in his garage.
Officials discovered the trove neatly wrapped and stored mostly in ammunition boxes stacked on top of each other. There were more than 2,900 Austrian coins, many from 1915; more than 5,000 from Mexico; at least 500 from Britain; 300 U.S. gold pieces, some dating to 1880; and more than 100 U.S. gold pieces as old as the 1890s.
Among the coins were meticulous records of the purchases dating back to at least 1964, when gold averaged about $35 per ounce. The precious metal currently sells for more than $1,600 an ounce.
Authorities believe that his mother, who lived with Samaszko until her death in 1992, purchased most of the coins.
Despite the millions of dollars in his garage, Samaszko didn't appear to lead a luxurious life. Records show he only withdrew about $500 a month to pay modest bills. He died with $1,200 in a checking account and just a bit more than $165,000 in a money market and mutual fund account.
Since learning of her inheritance, Magdanz has shunned publicity and not made any comments about the fortune.