By: James Selburg
Early last spring my friend Jeff and I decided to go metal detecting in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin park. We were having little success that morning, so I stopped to talk to Jeff about trying our luck somewhere else. As we discussed our options, he mentioned that in the past he'd always enjoyed searching small local parks. Having lived in this area years earlier, I immediately recalled just such a place and said, "OK, there's one just down the street. Let's give it a shot!"
As we approached the spot, something caught my eye. It was a construction site, and Jeff didn't know what I knew about this location. An old seminary had once stood on the now-vacant lot, and had also served as a school for nurses and later as a home for orphans. The neighborhood dates back to the mid-1920s, and of course that meant there was a good chance that we'd find some silver.
We parked the car, fired up our detectors, and within minutes were finding Wheat cents- in some cases, right on the surface of the newly broken ground. After a half hour or so of hunting, I called over to Jeff, "Where's all the silver?" In my pocket were 16 Wheats, some clad coins, and a dozen old marbles. In reply, Jeff promptly popped up a 1937 Mercury dime!
Before long, I'd also dug my first dime, a 1947 Roosevelt. The barrier was broken! Over the next several hours the silver kept on coming... not only coins but religious medallions and jewelry, too. We also found a Cracker Jack token, another token good for 50¢ with the opening of a savings account, a couple of "Apollo XI 1969 Manned Lunar Landing" commemoratives, and many more marbles and small toys from the days of the orphanage.
By the end of the day, we'd already agreed to return there on our next outing, and to lower the discrimination level on our detectors in hopes of recovering a gold medallion or rings. So far, this strategy hasn't added any gold to our coffers, but it has allowed us to locate a lot more lead, pewter, aluminum, and bronze targets- brooches, buttons, buckles, watch parts, and of course more coins, medallions, jewelry, and metal toys.
One day when I had a little spare time, I stopped by the site, and one of my finds turned out to be an 1837 Canadian halfpenny bank token with two holes punched in it. Could it have been given to some youngster as a toy "buzzer"? Perhaps, but I couldn't help wondering just how that 164-year-old copper had ended up at a place of much more recent vintage.
Eventually, our countless hours of detecting took their toll, and good targets began to get scarce. To date, we've found 138 Wheat cents, one "V" nickel, one Buffalo nickel, three silver "war" nickels, 14 Mercury dimes, five Roosevelt silver dimes, and one Washington silver quarter. Why didn't we unearth more quarters or any half dollars? Well, I suppose it's possible that earlier searchers got those larger targets, but that seems less likely in view of the many other large, nonferrous items that we recovered. I suspect the sad truth is that big silver coins seldom found their way into (or out of) the pockets of orphans.
Still, who knows what another season, a shift in strategy, or maybe even a change in equipment might bring? Could some of the best coins remain whisper-deep, awaiting just the right detecting conditions to reveal themselves? There's only one way to find out... and that's exactly what Jeff and I intend t o do!