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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2003) Relic Hunter (11/2003) Relic Hunter (01/2004)   Vol. 37 December 2003 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the December 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine

And We Call It Treasure!

By: Ed Fedory

Treasure... now there's a word for you! It's a word that conjures up all kind of images. Ill-gotten booty buried deep in the sands of some tropical isle... argghhh! Eye patches and parrots... warm Caribbean breezes... the snapping of acres of canvas as she comes about in the wind! Somewhere there's Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, and Wallace Beery thrown into the mix, guided by the pen of either Robert Louis Stevenson or Raphael Sabatini.

What the word really doesn't bring to mind is upstate New York! No parrots... no Caribbean breezes...

Errol Flynn forever absent. And yet, that is the setting for this tale of treasure!

You'll have noticed that we don't call ourselves treasure hunters very much, anymore. We're relic hunters... coinshooters... competition hunters... shallow water hunters, or my personal favorite, metal detecting hobbyists. Cache hunters comes about as close to treasure hunters as we're willing to tread. Either we've become highly specialized in our pursuits, or we find the term treasure hunter slightly gauche in a world that has suddenly aspired to the lofty heights of political correctness in every sentence we venture to utter. Never having adhered much to any given herd mentality, I think I'll just call them like I see them... Len and Pete... treasure hunters!

For land hunters, stories about "neat stuff" coming out of the ground is pretty common. There's always the returned class ring... or the unreturned two-carat diamond. The lost gold piece usually ranks pretty high in the bragging rights department, along with most Confederate buttons. We even see the occasional Mason jar filled with Depression Era coins, Grandma's egg money stashes- and who could ever forget those post hole caches? For the most part, however, we rarely, if ever, hear about a large treasure found on land.

I first viewed a portion of Pete and Len's treasure at one of the Best of the Northeast shows in Keene, New Hampshire. I was named as one of the Best Finds judges, but was a little late in arriving at the room where the judging was taking place. What I initially noticed was a group of judges gathered around one particular box. "Ed, come here! You've got to see this!" called one of the other judges. What I saw astounded me! There were well over 100 American Bust half dollars and a number of pieces of Spanish silver!

"All from one hole!" another judge commented.

"Did you ever see anything like it?" asked the judge on my right.

At times like that, it would be nice to relate that philosophical pearls of treasure hunting wisdom were emitted from my mouth, but it wouldn't be true. After distilling all the thoughts and comments running around in my head, the best I could come up with was, "WOW!"

I was to meet Len and Pete a year later, over a couple of cold beverages, in my barn. Displayed on the workbench was the latest portion of their recovered treasure... the most recent cache... the 17th cache! Spread before me were 19 Bust halves and a lone Spanish 4 reales.

Pete's eyes grew into saucers, and I almost had to nail his feet to the floor as he began telling the tale of silver treasures from the deep earth... the darkened woods. I asked about how many coins had been found so far, and Len nonchalantly answered, "Close to 550." There were no somersaults from Len, and you could tell he had learned to control his excitement in the light of their continued recoveries.

As Pete continued his story, and the awe, mystery, and speculations began to once again bubble out of him, Len grabbed the hammer and I reached for the box of nails. And yet, I had to agree with him... what they had already recovered was possibly- quite probably- "only the tip of the iceberg."

I have to confess that I've spent a lot of hours since our last meeting thinking about those 17 caches buried in those wooded acres... and I am expecting to hear about the 18th... and the 19th... the 20th! I really don't care where they found their treasure... their pot of silver at the end of the rainbow... the answer to their dreams. There was a lot of time and legwork involved in making that first recovery, but after the ice was broken came a flood of silver. All they had with which to work were some old tales and some subtle clues that pointed them in a vast general direction. It took sweat and perseverance to make their dream come true. And I guess that's what treasure hunting is all about... not just having a dream... believing in the dream. It's what keeps you on the hunt when you're cold... and tired... hungry and hurting... bramble-bruised and bug-bitten... believing!

Some of my thoughts are on what's still out there, deeply secreted... the big treasure! With all the Bust quarters and 2 reales... the Bust halves and 4 reales... you just have to ask yourself, "What's missing?" And, if you're anything like me, the answer is currently on the tip of your tongue. "Where are the Bust dollars? Where are the pieces of eight?"

The most recent coin was dated 1838, and all the American coins are in almost uncirculated condition. Can you imagine scooping up double handfuls of American Bust dollars from the depths of a hole? Can you imagine checking the dates and finding some of the initial 1794's in AU condition? We won't even talk about the 1804 dollar! Check out some of those key dates in your coin book. Yes, it's the stuff of which dreams are made, and we can simply call it treasure!

Probably the biggest question to present itself would be, "What were the circumstances under which this treasure was buried?" Or, reduced to its simplest form, "Why?"

Prior to 1825 the area between Albany and Buffalo was, for the most part, very rural. Sure, there were a few thriving communities and small cities, but they were isolated. Long distance traveling was limited and seasonal... and difficult at best. Transporting goods was equally as difficult and expensive.

When the Erie Canal was finally completed, it formed a link between these isolated pockets of humanity, and provided a very cost-effective way in which to move goods. Trade flourished, and a new and prosperous economy hit the area. Big money was being made where little had previously existed. Industries grew, and the canal provided an easy means for getting manufactured goods to consumers. The Erie Canal provided the stimulus for growth. More turnpikes were built, and stage routes opened up along its banks for easy access.

Is the story behind these hidden caches one of robbery? A shipment of silver being transferred from one bank to another, waylaid on a moonless night by a highwayman? Perhaps it was a payroll shipment for one of the area's larger industries? Did canal pirates exist, as did their brethren, the river pirates? Did some untrusting soul decide that his fortune was safer in the ground than behind the sealed doors of a bank vault?

Or is there some other reason, one which we will never know?

In every case, the individual bore a punch mark of some type, and this might provide us with the only clue to the original purposes of these coins. It would seem that these punch marks were used as some sort of early tracking device. Was it a way in which to monitor the amount of money returning to the company store at the end of a pay week? Were these marks a type of early security device used for testing and displaying the silver content of

each coin so that no pewter counterfeits were added into the cash flow?

I think it would be fair to say that Len and Pete not only dug up a treasure, but a multitude of questions as well!

Any day now, I expect to get a message from these two treasure hunters about their latest cache of recovered silver coins... or, I might be working in the barn, hear the rumble of a loud engine outside the door, and see an armored car pulling in the driveway instead of Sherm's big tractor. Pete will be jumping out of one door, bubbling with excitement, hopping up and down on one foot and then the other, his words nearly inarticulate. The other door will ease open, a smiling bearded face will greet me, and Len's composed voice will ask the question...

"Hey, Ed. Remember when you wrote that story about the big treasure still being out there? Got something to show you."

It's just a matter of time!

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