Three Of A Kind
By: Bill Ladd
Having been involved in the metal detecting hobby since I was a boy, I've witnessed many changes over the years. Some can be considered positive, others perhaps not so good. Technology has certainly changed for the better, and many a treasure hunter nowadays favors the more modern digital target ID features. Thus, we not only dig a lot less trash, but also enjoy higher success rates because these modern units have made some "hunted out" sites productive again.
The addition of the internet to the hobby can also be considered both good and bad. Much good info and tips have been exchanged, and many a fine topic has been debated in the online forums. It's also a place where one can proudly show off photos of recent finds. Unfortunately, those same forums occasionally erupt in "brand wars" and opinion clashes.
Perhaps the best aspect of mixing the internet with our hobby is that many new friendships have evolved. Those who frequent the treasure forums daily typically have e-mail "pen pals," both near and far. I have detected with many folks whom I have met online in the New England area, and surely many a lonely detectorist has found a new hunting partner through the forums.
One of my detecting "pen pals" was Tony Mullen from North Carolina. We both were contributing to the various "Fisher Forums," and finally we exchanged short e-mails about both of us having freelance articles here in W&ET. When Fisher released the Coin$trike, we both took the plunge as well. As you continue to keep in touch with fellow detectorists by e-mail and even by phone, eventually there's often a feeling that it would be great to someday meet face to face. What better way to do so than to plan a hunt?
Tony and I tossed around several ideas, and finally it was decided that Virginia would be a good road trip for us to do some Civil War relic hunting. The plan involved meeting up with Tony's dad, Frank, who was to be working there after the first of the year. This would be ideal for me as the soil in my area would be frozen solid after New Years, and I had a field test with the ID Excel. So, plans were set to meet in Richmond, Virginia. But, before our meeting would finally take place, something very interesting, even strange, was to occur.
Tony had always kidded me about being so lucky to be digging in New England and finding Colonial treasures, including Spanish silver coins. He often talked about breaking the "1700s barrier" with a coin, but we both knew it was a daunting task in his part of North Carolina. In turn, I reminded him that he had achieved a goal that I would have a hard time with in my state... finding a very rare gold coin.
Well, one day Tony got up the courage to knock on the door of a home that he thought had been built in 1860. He had been doing well coinshooting for silver in the yards of older homes, and in the forums often displayed photos ranging from Mercury dimes to Walking Liberty halves. When an elderly woman had granted permission, and mentioned that she'd lost a ring in the yard, Tony became really intent on finding that ring. After digging some musket shot and horse tack, 30 minutes into the hunt he got a solid "half dollar" signal 6" deep. Carefully cutting a plug, he saw a glint of silver down in the ground.
Since it was an 1860s home, I'm sure he figured he'd found another Walking Liberty, or hopefully a Seated Liberty half. Grabbing the coin, Tony instead saw the large pillars of a Spanish 2 reales gleaming up at him! He knew he'd finally dug his first piece of Spanish silver, but he hesitated to turn it over. Would he be able to kill two birds with one stone and break into that elusive "1700s club?" I'm sure he took a deep breath before flipping the large coin over to see the date... 1796! Later, he learned that the house actually dated c. 1820, thus explaining how this coin could have been dropped there. Of course, everyone in the Fisher forums was impressed, and I remember commenting that I had not even found that particular type of 2 reales in my area yet.
When Tony's dad, Frank, went down to North Carolina to visit, he admired the coin, and they both hunted the home again without success. Before Frank left for Virginia, he said, "I've got to get one of those."
Meanwhile, I was taking advantage of some mild winter weather by hunting a Colonial homesite of my own with my partner Rob. It was now getting dark quite early, but we had both found Colonial coppers and some flat buttons, and didn't wish to stop, knowing the soil would be frozen soon. Just before quitting, I got a solid high tone on my Coinstrike that I'm sure matched Tony's "half dollar" signal. The problem was, it was now almost dark, so I felt around in the dirt and came up with a round disc that I assumed was just another worn copper. I remember hoping it was a large cent I could read this time, and I put it in my pocket.
After we made our way back to the car, I noticed that we were parked near a streetlight and took out my coins. One blank copper... two blank coppers... oh yeah, the other pocket. Well, you can imagine my surprise when the other "worn copper" emerged with a silver glow. Amazingly it was a Spanish 2 reales that looked much like the one Tony had just posted. Mine was dated 1774.
Of course, I couldn't wait to show the forum- and toss a jab at Tony! Frank saw my post the following morning and just had to tell his son that I'd just found the same coin, but even older. However, Frank was working so hard that he forgot he was calling his son to tell him this on a Sunday morning during church!
Tony was just relieved that the call wasn't an emergency of some kind. After seeing the photos of my coin, Frank said, "Now I've really gotta get one!" There was also some good banter on the forums as to whose coin was older, whose was in better condition, and even, "Your King has a broken nose." We knew, too, that some folks figured we were pulling a fast one, saying we'd dug matching coins at virtually the same time.
As our road trip grew closer and our thrill of Spanish silver began to fade, Frank, now stationed in Virginia, had an eye on an older home much like his son had. Frank had been passing by the Colonial property for quite some time, but what really piqued his interest was a "For Sale" sign that cropped up suddenly. Unfortunately, he'd put off calling the homeowner until the last day of the year, only to hear, "You really should have called sooner, because I just sold it."
Well, Frank drove by, spotted the new owner, and asked for permission to detect. He was told it was OK, but for "today only." Knowing this would be his only opportunity, Frank hunted the entire yard quite hard, but his only "keepers" were clad coins totaling approximately $4. As he was preparing to leave, he decided to make one more pass around the area of the old driveway. Surprisingly, his XLT locked onto a target that gave a reading equivalent to a half dollar. Frank was stunned when out popped a large silver coin with a clear date of 1773! Yes, it was another Spanish 2 reales of the same type, but he had outdone both of us in our quest for the oldest one. Not bad for his last find of the entire year! Frank immediately called Tony on his cell phone and uttered just one word: "1773!"
Soon the three of us would not only finally meet face-to-face for the first time, but be able to dig some Civil War relics in an amazing Union campsite. Bullets, buttons and other items came to light; yet even if nothing had turned up, the fellowship made it all worth the trip.
While in the car, we all swapped stories of how we found our reales. The details that were told drew laughter. From the phone call in church, to my surprise under the streetlight, to our ribbing about whose coin was older or better. Yet, it really wasn't the dates or condition that counted- it was the camaraderie, the shared sense of accomplishment, the unique thrill of discovery... three of a kind!