Amazing Metal Detecting Finds in North America
Detectorists are always looking for an amazing find. Just the possibility of finding something valuable makes the thrill of the hunt exciting. And there are amazing finds from time-to-time – precious antiquities and treasures that are revealed from beneath the ground with the use of metal detectors.
Technology and innovations in metal detecting technology has made it possible for amateur hunters to find remarkable and noteworthy items, grasping newfound wealth and inspiring other detectorists to keep swinging.
While the amazing metal detecting finds you hear about often occur in Europe, American detectorists have also found some astonishing treasures. The following are some of the most exciting and valuable.
Detectorist Edward Rowe Snow visited an island near the shore of Nova Scotia in 1952. Here, he excavated eight Spanish doubloons from the 18th century. The treasure was found along with a skeleton, whose hand was still holding some of the doubloons. The doubloons may have come from a Spanish galleon that was seized in 1725 by pirates.
In 2008, Mike DeMar was hunting in the waters of Key West when he uncovered what turned out to be a gold chalice. Upon researching the item, it was discovered that the chalice was 385 years old and was from the Spanish ship the Santa Margarita. The ship was full of treasure when it wrecked in 1622. The chalice netted Mike a $1 million reward.
Collection of Civil War Relics
Anywhere that battles were fought is prime hunting ground for detectorists to find Civil War relics. One such area is Clarke County, Virginia. Lucas Hall, a 7-year-old who had asked for a metal detector for his birthday, began hunting that area. It turned out to be a productive endeavor. After just a few hunting trips in the area, Lucas excavated an 1840/1860 Cavalry sword from the Civil War. Further hunting unearthed other Civil War relics, though none were as valuable as the sword.
The Boot of Cortez
In 1989, in Sonora, Mexico, a detectorist was hunting along the outskirts of the desert when he discovered a true treasure trove. He was using an inexpensive metal detector and had been at it for a number of days before he made his discovery.
The first valuable target he excavated was a gold nugget that weighed in at 389 troy ounces. The gold nugget was given the name “Boot of Cortez” because of its massive size – there had never been a larger gold nugget found in the Americas previously. The nugget was sold for over $1.5 million at an auction.
Stolen Currency from the Post Office
Postal Inspectors were on the hunt for money that a former postal employee had stolen years earlier. It was after the employee died that they decided to enlist the help of a detectorist from the U.S. Army to search the deceased employee’s home. To their surprise, the detectorist located the stolen cash, a total of $153,150, in the employee’s courtyard. He had hidden the cash in cans, urns, and a length of stovepipe. The treasure was buried nine feet underground.
1913 Ford Model T Car
Yes, you read that right. A couple of Detroit detectorists were swinging their detectors when they located a complete 1913 Model T car that had been buried by the owner in 1926. It seems that the car’s owner had buried the entire car in his backyard for posterity, and then he apparently forgot about it.
A Ring on a Finger Bone
A volunteer archaeologist was searching Little Bighorn, the area where the Sioux had defeated the troops of Lt. Col. George Custer in 1976, when he came across something interesting. It was a ring, still around the bone of the person who wore it.
Rio Rancho Meteorite
Detectorist Jason Lyons, age 13, found a 21-pound piece of space rock in New Mexico. The meteorite was detected with an inexpensive detector that Jason’s grandfather had built for him. When he took the meteorite to the experts at the New Mexico Institute of Meteoritic, it was found to be a rare rock that is estimated to have been in existence on Earth for more than 10,000 years.
Bottom Line on Amazing Metal Detecting Finds
As you can see from the above, there is treasure to be found while metal detecting. Yes, there are times that a series of unsuccessful hunting trips can become discouraging, but you really never know what will be in the next hole you dig. That’s the exciting part of metal detecting – the possibility of having the next amazing find!
10 Most Common Metal Detecting Mistakes
#1 – Trespassing
Ask any detectorist and they will tell you that the number one rule of metal detecting is that you must get permission before searching on any land. Yet, many people still just break out their equipment and start hunting without giving it a second thought. Getting permission isn’t always easy, but you must do it. It will save you the heartache and hassle of getting caught and it will help ensure that other detectorists can continue enjoying the hobby as well.
#2 – Using the Wrong Digging Tools
There are many options for digging tools out there, from hand-held trowels to detecting shovels. Because leaving the sites where you dig in good condition is important, it’s also important that you use the right size and type of digger. Also, remember to consider what type of ground you will be digging in, the hard desert ground will need a much stronger digger than the sand on a beach.
#3 – Not Doing Enough Research
The best searches are often the ones in which detectorists spend some time researching. While you may get lucky and find something of value randomly from time to time, knowing the area – and its history – you are searching will make it much more likely.
#4 – Not Carrying Extra Parts
If you don’t carry extra coil bolts, batteries, straps, and headphones, there will come a time that you regret it. It’s really frustrating when you are in the middle of a successful hunt and you have to go home to retrieve extra parts.
#5 – Using Ineffective Search Patterns
It takes a while to get into the “swing” of detecting. Some new detectorists move their detector too fast or don’t follow a logical pattern when they search. Determine what pattern works for you (many detectorists utilize a grid pattern) and move the detector slowly.
#6 – Not Devoting Enough Time
Like any hobby, metal detecting requires a certain amount of time. The more time you spend searching, the better you will get to know your detector and the more successful your searches will be.
#7 – Buying the Wrong Detector
Many people who decide to start detecting buy the wrong beginning detector. Some may buy one that is too complicated and get frustrated with all the settings, while others may buy one that is too much like a toy and get frustrated when they don’t find anything. Talk with someone knowledgeable about metal detectors and find one that provides a happy medium.
#8 – Not Using a Pinpointer
Using a pinpointer to help you narrow down a target’s location will make your hunting much easier. Metal detectors will alert you when they are over the target, but a pinpointer will save you a lot of time digging and sifting for the item.
#9 – Cleaning Old Relics and Coins
Rookie detectorists are often tempted to clean their finds. It’s understandable, especially if you want to display them. However, in some cases, cleaning an antique find or an old coin may greatly decrease their value. Before you break out the soap and scrub-brush, determine what exactly you have and if cleaning it is recommended. Online forums and metal detecting clubs will allow you to consult with other detectorists to find out.
#10 – Having Unrealistic Expectations
Metal detecting is meant to be a hobby, not a way to get rich. While you may find some truly valuable relics, jewelry, and coins every so often, don’t set your expectations too high or you are likely to be disappointed. When you enjoy the process of metal detecting, you will find that it’s a hobby that is rewarding whether you find lots of treasure or you don’t.
Tips on Locating the Owner of Jewelry
Finding jewelry is a goal of many metal detectorists. It’s a bit of a rush when you realize you have found something while out and jewelry is not an exception. After the rush fades you may be wondering what you should do with the find, especially jewelry since it can be hard to locate the owner. If you want to attempt it we have put together some tips on what you can do.
Many times you can look at a ring and tell if it is a class or organization ring. These will be quite a bit easier to return to an owner since there are unique identifiers on it. A little bit of online searching and some time on the phone can be all that you need.
If you found unique jewelry you may have more luck on an online forum. These are communities of like-minded people who have similar interests. They could help you identify who made the jewelry and point you in the direction of the company. Some are even just for lost and found type listings. This way can take some time since you have to wait for the right person to come to the forum and read your post.
Similar to Online Forums, Facebook can help you by getting the information out quickly to a network of people. Look for groups that are based in the area that the piece was found or, if you were able to figure it out, it originated from.
If you were successful in identifying a retailer’s or artisan’s marking you could contact them. Some of them keep track of the customers who purchased specific pieces.
Local Law Enforcement
One final thing you can try is to take it to local law enforcement. The person could have filed a report in an attempt to recover their jewelry, especially expensive pieces. In some areas, you turn it in and the police will put out a public notice. After a period of time, if the owner has not come forward you may be entitled to take the jewelry and do with it as you please. Just make sure you call so you know what to expect before taking it in.
Sometimes no matter what you do the owner will not be found. If you use some of these tips, you can at least feel good knowing you tried your best.
Other times you get to make someone’s day like this story about a detectorist that was able to give someone a class ring that was thought to be lost forever.
Our Treasure Finds section has many stories of people returning jewelry, and other finds, to owners as well.
Cleaning and Care for Relics Found Metal Detecting
Finding and digging up relics while you are out metal detecting is cause for excitement. You could be holding a piece of history in your hand. You also could be holding a bunch of dirt and muck in your hand. After being buried for who knows how long, the relics you find are likely to be covered with dirt or tarnish. It’s understandable that you would like to clean them up and make them presentable, but how do you clean and preserve your treasured finds safely? Very carefully. Some finds, especially old and rare coins, can greatly decrease in value if they are scratched or otherwise marked during cleaning, so special care must be taken.
Coins aside, here are some ways that you can clean and preserve the relics you find based on the type of metal:
For the most part, gold items don’t need much cleaning even after being underground. Usually soaking them in warm soapy water does the trick. If there is some remaining dirt, a soft toothbrush can be used to remove it.
With silver relics, start off cleaning them the same way as you do with gold – warm soapy water and a soft toothbrush. If that isn’t enough, you can try the washing soda method. Add an ounce of washing soda and a pint of distilled water to an aluminum pan. Place two pieces of crumpled aluminum foil in the pan, and soak the silver items until the tarnish is gone. Only use this method for relics, not coins.
Pewter, Lead, and Tin
Oxidation causes pewter, lead, and tin to tarnish. This patina is best removed with very fine abrasives like a jeweler’s rouge or rottenstone. If that doesn’t work, it’s best to take your relics to a professional for cleaning as you don’t want to damage them.
Copper and Brass
Relics made of copper or brass need special care, but there are several methods that detectorists use to clean them up. One of the most widely used is a mixture of equal parts denatured alcohol and distilled water, combined with precipitate chalk to a paste consistency. Apply it to the relic, let it set, then rinse off. You may have to repeat it a few times. Another method is to use half a lemon and salt – rub surface gently and rinse.
Iron and Steel
Iron and steel relics are some of the most commonly found while metal detecting. Because these types of metals are prone to rust, the first step is to remove as much of the rust as possible. Depending on the potential value of the relic, you can do this with a wire brush, wire wheel, or fine bronze wool. Once the relic is as rust free as possible, it needs to be sealed with lacquer, a wax coating, or clear plastic spray to keep it from rusting again. If your relic is valuable, consider letting a professional do the clean-up.
What if You Don’t Know?
If you don’t know what the relic is that you have found or what type of metal it is made of, err on the side of caution and don’t clean it until you know. Online metal detecting forums are great places to get help with relic identification. Other detectorists are happy to help you figure out what you have and how to clean and preserve it.
Tips for Identifying Unknown Metal Detecting Finds
There will come a time, if there hasn’t already, when you find something while you are metal detecting and you have no idea what it is. Perhaps it looks old and rare, really interesting, and possibly valuable – but it’s something that you have never seen before. While it may be a find that you decide to keep in your collection, it would be nice to know what it is. So, how exactly do you go about identifying it? The following are some tips you can use to figure out just what you have dug up.
Clean and Photograph the Item
Do your best to clean the item you found, removing any dirt or rust. This will help you to see identifying marks and details. Next, photograph the item from several different angles so that you can show it to others who may be able to help with identification. Always be sure to place something next to the item for scale.
Ask These Questions
As you’re examining your find, before you start any research or inquiring of others, there are some questions to ask yourself that will help you when you are describing the item in the upcoming tips.
- Are there markings on the item? It may be useful to use a magnifying glass to examine the item, as markings can be very small.
- Does your item fit into a specific or obvious classification? In other words, do you have an idea what it is, but don’t know exact details? For example, you know that the item is a button, but you don’t know how old it is, where it was used, etc.
- Does your item appear to be military issued? There are many collectors of military items, so if there is a chance the item is military-related, there are experts you can consult.
- Does your item’s design suggest anything? Does is look like something decorative or functional?
- Do you have any thoughts about what it might be? Maybe the item looks familiar, but you just can’t place it exactly. Sometimes just having an inkling of what it might be will help in finding the right avenues to take when researching it.
Use the Internet
Using any information you have deduced, or clues to what your item is, come up with some search terms about your item, and see if you can find anything on Google Image Search and eBay. Some examples are:
- 18th century brass
- 19th century silver
- Old decorative silver knob
- Antique brass bookend
The point is to search for possibilities of what it might be, even if you’re not sure. Often times, you can narrow down what the item is on Google, and then go to eBay to find more specific information and possible values.
Ask the Experts
If your searches don’t result in anything definitive, it’s time to ask the experts. You can do this in person at antique stores, coin dealers, local historians, jewelers, etc.; or online by emailing or posting your photos to metal detecting clubs and forums. It’s likely that you will find some sort of answer, and by getting your photos online, you may be helping someone else identify one of their finds too.
Ways to Identify Metal Detecting Finds
Sometimes you can tell what you have found as soon as you dig it up. Other times, it’s not so obvious. That’s when you have to start a different type of hunt – identifying your treasure.
There are many ways to figure out what you have. You may even need to use multiple resources to get a final identification.
If you have an idea of what you have, a search for the item and comparing it to the images in the results may be as far as you need to go. If you have no idea, a Google search can still help by using an image search.
You’ll want to clean up the find as best as possible then get a clear close-up digital snapshot. From there you can have Google search for visually similar images. The technology isn’t perfect, but it could help you get a better idea of what you have.
There are plenty of books on artifacts for different eras or the type of find you are looking for available. You can typically match up finds pretty easily, especially coins.
Metal Detecting Clubs and Online Forums
Other metal detectorists are a wealth of knowledge. People usually have a specific kind of treasure that they look for and may be able to identify it for you, or at least point you in the right direction of where you might find more answers.
People who enjoy searching for and cataloging history so much that they have devoted many years towards the pursuit may be able to easily identify the era, material, or use just by looking at it. Sometimes they work for a museum, preservation society, the government, or even a restoration service. Other times they are collectors and enthusiasts that like to help out others.
No matter where you begin your search, it is a good idea to note the area where you found your treasure. Some places are known to have been used as a military camp or are sites of long-demolished buildings that could provide helpful hints to identify your metal detecting find.
Cleaning Tips for your Metal Detector Finds
(Including Many Methods To Clean Coins Without Causing Damage)
After you go treasure hunting and gather your finds, here are some great tips for cleaning whatever you find. To start, make sure that you do not clean old coins that you believe are valuable because this will decrease their value by half! The best way to clean old silver coins is to wet the coins and dip them into baking soda, then use a toothbrush. Silver coins have the ability to tone (suffer surface damage) and tarnish as a result of silver molecules interacting with elements of the environment. If you clean a silver coin to remove tarnish or toning, you will damage the surface of the coin.
The “dip” method is considered the least damaging and consists of dipping the coin in a solution for a period of time and then washing it off. The ammonia method is similar and works for both silver and gold coins. Place coins in a jar filled with ammonia, let them sit for a while, and then polish them with a cloth. If you want to remove the tarnish or toning and do not mind damaging it, you may use an abrasive cleaner such as a paste or a cream that rubs into the coin’s surface until you have removed all the toning or the molecular layers of the coin’s surface. To make your copper treasures shine brilliantly, place the coins in a half gallon container (such as apple juice container) and fill past the coins with white vinegar. Shake the container and leave overnight, but make sure to rinse them the next day.
There are fantastic products available to aid you with cleaning your treasures. BLITZ jewelry cloths already have polish in the cloths. They are two pieces of soft cloth sewn together in the middle, with one for buffering and the other for cleaning. Blue Magic Metal Polish works on gold, silver, chrome, aluminum, brass, copper and stainless steel. Put a small amount on a soft cloth and rub until a black film appears then buff off with a clean cloth.
One trick used by archaeologists is to soak the coins in distilled water and place them in the freezer. The coins will not be damaged because the water penetrates the dirt and the ice crystals expand breaking the dirt. It might take a few repetitions of the process to break the dirt apart, but it is worth trying. Many silver coins and nickels come out of the ground with black tarnish, so using the Mayors Cleaning Method is important here. Take a sheet of aluminum foil with Arm & Hammer washing soda, and then fold the foil into a 2-3 inch strip. After placing it to the bottom of the container, put the coins on top of it and place a few tablespoons of washing soda over the coins. You need to pour about an inch of boiling water, until the coins are covered and then after the fizzing, take the coins and rinse them.
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