Following Your Hunch Pays Off
By: Wayne Hartzell
I have been an avid metal detectorist for more than 17 years, and during that time I have been fortunate to find many fine relics and coins: countless Civil War bullets and buttons, my first “US” oval belt buckle, large cents, half cents, Seated Liberty silver coins... in short, some incredible recoveries.
In relic hunting circles, we are always chasing after the elusive Civil War belt buckle, and two of my partners, Dave Mork and Mark Sweberg, have found theirs, too. We are now part of that elite group known as the “Buckle Club,” having all unearthed “US” oval plates last year. Now we have raised the metal detecting bar and are now in hot pursuit of Confederate buckles, which I am certain we will find with proper research, permission, and persistence.
In the state of Virginia, where I live and work, there is a plethora of prime spots in Fauquier, Loundon, and Page counties. We are currently searching several of these and have already made some outstanding finds: Union buckles, Confederate buttons (Mississippi, block I, and script I) Federal state seal buttons, numerous flat buttons, gun parts, assorted period coinage, including silver, and even Colonial coins. A few of my hunting buddies have already dug early Spanish silver, including an 8 reales coin; however, these are heavily worn and have no discernible dates.
The Hunt Is On!
One day last November, after I got off work I headed directly to my buddy’s house in Sterling, Virginia, arriving around midnight. Before hitting the sack, planning to get an early start to our site in the western part of the state, we spoke briefly about the finds that we were sure to make in just a few short hours. We knew we would be making some remarkable recoveries, and that confidence is a key to what we’ve achieved. I firmly believe that not only do you have to believe in your metal detecting equipment, but you also need to have a positive attitude if you want to be successful in this hobby.
Upon our arrival, I remember saying that we had primarily only searched one general area of this 100+ acre property and we should now fan out and search a different section of the property. Sometimes you just have a gut feeling- a general hunch or instinct regarding searching a certain area that you normally would not hunt. This was one that I knew I had to follow, feeling certain that by doing so we were assured of making a terrific find. It was just a matter of time.
I recovered the first bullet of the morning, a fired Enfield, in the woods where we had parked. Later in the morning we met up with our other digging partner, Mark Sweberg, and began detecting as a trio. Up to that time we had only found a few fired bullets among the three of us, and I decided to search the back section of the property. We had very seldom detected there since other tracts of the property had been producing very well for all of us. Heading toward the woodline, I got a decent high “coin” hit on my Fisher F-75 LTD and after digging down about 5", I could see a silver rim. Mark carefully removed the coin and informed me that it was a 1952 Roosevelt silver dime... not bad, but I was hoping for and expecting something older. “That’s OK,” I said, “silver is silver,” and we continued hunting.
Mark mentioned that he had recovered two fired .58 three-ringers from a strip of mowed grass next to the trees along the back section of the property, and suggested that we should check this area. It was there, too, that he had recovered a dateless half real a year earlier. I decided to search this piece of land again since Mark was getting ready to leave, having a previous engagement for that afternoon.
This area was also near a spot where two early Connecticut coppers had been recovered a year earlier. Could another old Colonial coin, copper or even silver, be waiting for me?
After Mark left, I planned to search the entire strip of mowed grass next to the woodline of the field in back of the property. After digging nothing but square nails and iron for about an hour, I was determined to go back to the other tract of land where I had found my silver dime, but first I wanted to make sure that I thoroughly scanned this mowed strip, just in case something might have been missed by either of us.
About 20 minutes later I got a solid, repeatable hit about 5-6" deep, in an ID range that often indicates a large bullet or a silver dime. Carefully pinpointing, I cut a plug and was thoroughly expecting to dig a bullet. Instead, the target turned out to be a small coin the size of a nickel, encrusted with dirt. “Just a modern Jefferson,” I thought.
However, when I picked the coin up, all the dirt fell off, and I was looking at a small silver disk bearing markings and the bust of someone I was not familiar with at all. I knew it was silver and old, but at that moment I wasn’t sure exactly what type of coin it was, or even its country of origin. Then, carefully removing more of the dirt, I saw 1790! “Holy cow!” I remember saying, “That’s my oldest coin to date!” I turned over the coin and saw 1 R, indicating 1 real, and Carolus IV- King Charles IV of Spain. I had just recovered one of the most highly coveted and sought after coins among relic hunters... Spanish silver!
Calling Mark, I informed him of my find. He congratulated me on finding a real, and especially one with a clear date. Next, I called my other digging partner, Dave Mork, who was hunting nearby, and he congratulated me as well. Dave asked me to describe the back of the coin for him, which I did. Until now, all of the Spanish reales (five of them) that have been recovered on this property had displayed the familiar mintmark M with a small o above, indicating that the coins were struck in Mexico City. However, the mintmark for my coin is NG for Nueva Guatemala (“New Guatemala”). After Antique Guatemala (“Old Guatemala”)- including the Spanish colonial mint there- was devastated by an earthquake in 1776, the city was relocated. As a result, the mintmark was changed to NG on coins struck from 1777 until 1821, when Guatemala declared its independence from Spain.
The “M” on the coin is in the initial of Manuel Eusebio Sanchez, assayer of the Guatemalan mint at that time. The Guatemalan capital, Nueva Guatemala- or in full, Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion, meaning “New Guatemala of the Assumption”- is now better known simply as Guatemala City.
I soon joined up with Dave and showed my coin to him. It is especially rewarding to have found such a coin in very good condition, considering that it is now 223 years old. Except for one 8 reales coin, all the other Spanish silver reales which have been recovered have been badly worn and dateless. After exchanging high fives for my very first silver real and Dave’s recently recovered 1837 large cent, we continued hunting for the remainder of the afternoon.
I am finally off my first Spanish silver high and now eagerly anticipating the recovery of my next Spanish silver or Colonial copper coin. But again, it begins with believing that you will recover such an old coin, and being in an area of noted Colonial or Civil War activity. It is all too easy to become complacent, hunting the same old areas. Sometimes you need to venture farther a field, especially in older areas that are known for giving up old coins and historical artifacts. Sometimes, too, you have to follow your instincts and hunches, and fan out to search other areas of a site. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone!
After this experience I will continue to search other areas, other sections, because all of them have potential, not just the ones you are familiar and comfortable in detecting. Spanish silver and other rare coins and relics are out there, but you must dig all signals and not give up on your quest to locate these treasures of antiquity.
WAYNE HARTZELL has been an avid detectorist since 1995. You’re invited to visit his website at www.personal-goal-setting.com/relic-hunter.html