San Francisco Silver
By: Ron Swenson
Photos By: Tom Walker
John Marshall discovered gold in 1848. This was the single most influential event in California history. People streamed into the California Mother Lode country in hopes of striking it rich. Some did; many more did not. Thousands from the East Coast headed west; thousands more from Europe caught word of new wealth waiting in America and headed to the Golden Hills of California. The bonanza was full blown in 1849.
One of the quickest ways to the gold fields was through the city by the bay - San Francisco. Soon San Francisco Port became very busy with the droves of people going for the gold! Many brought all their worldly possessions and every dime that they owned.
The hustle and bustle of ship after ship arriving and depositing more people into the city had to be quite confusing to the already growing population of San Francisco. It was on the way to becoming one of the greatest cities in the world, not to mention one of the most visited tourist cities as well.
Well, this article is not about the gold in California. However, it is about another precious metal that is still in the ground where hordes of 49'ers once swarmed. It is about San Francisco Silver - specifically, the silver coins that have fallen out of the pockets and palms of the countless who have visited or settled in this beautiful City by the Bay.
I, too, ended up in California, pursuing bigger and better things. No, it was not gold that I had in mind. I grew up in Nebraska and never had any of the California Dreams that the Mamas & the Papas sang about, yet my career path and visions of bigger paychecks steered me toward the Golden State. After a brief detour in Virginia, where I was introduced to metal detecting for Civil War relics, I was once again back in California.
After a short depression due to no more Civil War relic hunting, I finally adjusted to the idea of coin hunting instead and began to find my fair share of silver coins in the Sacramento, Rocklin, and Lincoln parks. A few Mercury dimes here and a couple of Barbers there would pop up now and then. On a few lucky days, a Seated Liberty would find its way into my pouch. The first year in California, I was fortunate to find over 60 silver coins. While this may not seem a huge accomplishment to many readers, especially those East Coast hunters who can easily find that much in a month, but here in California - with a beautiful wife, two small children, and a full time job - I was quite pleased with the final tally.
Sometime in late 2001, I stumbled across an interesting internet site known a Kinzli's California Metal Detecting Forum. I started to post various finds and got to know some of the other California detectorists. After a time, I became friends with "The Other Tom in San Jose" (a.k.a. OT), Jeff Kinzli (forum owner), Tom-Salinas-CA, Paul (CA), Jim S, and too many others to list.
Tom Tanner (Tom-Salinas) and I decided to team up and check out a park in San Francisco. Now, Tom-Salinas is, in my opinion, one of the better California treasure hunters. He studies, researches, and is well known for the eight gold coins and loads of silver coins that he has found over the last 20 years. Tom had told me that several silver coins had been pulled from a particular park over the years. Well, I didn't need too much persuading after hearing him say, "several silver coins!" Without hesitation, we arranged our schedules to meet at this little park early one morning of the following week.
San Francisco is a 2-1/2 hour drive from my home, so I hit the road around 5:00 a.m. in order to get a jump on the traffic and make sure I was there and ready to go by the time Tom showed up. Tom arrived shortly after I did, and we started the hunt. I must admit, this place really did not look like a park at all, but more like a grassy parking lot. Nevertheless, to my amazement, Wheat cents and silver coins were abundant in that little "park." I had recovered eight silver coins and countless Wheat cents by lunchtime. What a great feeling, even if they were all c.1940-50 coins. They were still silver, and they were in my pouch!
We decided to try another part of San Francisco to see if we could scare up anything a little older, which we did not on that particular day. But I ended my first hunt in San Francisco with 14 silver coins for the day, an all-time best Silver Day in my 1-1/2 years of coinshooting. I could not wait for my next trip to the big city for a little more silver hunting.
As time went on, I found the occasion to sneak into San Francisco a few more times. On the second trip, Jeff Kinzli joined Tom and me, and we searched the same park again. Signals were abundant, and we became very selective, focusing on targets reading 5" or deeper. We decided to hunt there all day and see what the final silver count would be. Within minutes of firing up my Explorer XS, I had a Mercury dime. Then I found a few Wheaties, another Mercury and a silver Roosevelt. This went on all day long!
At the end of the day, we laid out our finds and counted the silver. I ended up with 18 silver coins and over 50 Wheat cents, and both Tom and Jeff found their share of silver, too. We have since labeled that little hotspot "Silver Mine Park." I have been back there several times over the past few months, and every time I manage to mine out a few more silver coins and a lot more Wheat cents. My best haul was 25 silver coins in a full day of hunting. That is still my record for "Most Silver Coins in a Day." In fact, that single site had yielded me close to 100 silver coins!
Tom, Jeff, and I still get together to look for San Francisco silver, and we have tried several other parks and a few demos looking for the older silver coins. Some pan out for us, and others do not. One demo that Tom spotted as we drove through the city resulted in my oldest find from San Francisco, an 1846 British fourpence. In several other San Francisco parks, I had dug silver coins, Indian Head cents, older nickels, and a variety of tokens and other keepers in a day of hunting. All of these coins are in the 5-10" range. There are still thousands of silver coins in that big city, just waiting to be found - and plenty of parks that still need to be searched.
I enjoy the camaraderie of hunting with others who enjoy this hobby as much as I do. I also enjoy the "friendly" competition that Tom, Jeff, and I have as we try to outscore each other on silver coins of "oldest coins." Sometime I come out on top, and other times I don't. Regardless, it's always an enjoyable trip to "Silver City." What could be better than metal detecting in one of the greatest cities in the world? On one trip, I may be swinging the coil near the Golden Gate Bridge, and on the next checking out a park with fantastic views of the city. It's almost like a mini vacation every time I get the opportunity to hunt in San Francisco. The silver is just a bonus at the end of the great day!
Another great aspect of this hobby is going home, cleaning the coins, and then posting a picture of them on one or several of the great forums out there. There are a number of detecting forums that I frequent, and I enjoy sharing my finds and viewing those of other great detectorists throughout the country. It's also nice to get the replies of, "Congrats!" "Great Finds," "WTG," and "You da Man!"
If you ever find yourself headed to San Francisco, pack your detector, make sure you have fresh batteries, and remember to crank up the sensitivity. There's still plenty of silver just 5-10" under the San Francisco turf.
I can see it now...
The San Francisco Silver Rush of 2005!
RON SWENSON is the president of the Sacramento Valley Detecting Buffs. He has been relic hunting since 1997, and coinshooting since 2000.