As seen in the March 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine
The Quest For Colonial Silver
By: Ed Fedory
I knew from the outset that this was going to be a love affair that would never end. I sat beside the small hole I had just dug and looked at the piece of silver in my hand. It was slightly blackened by the periodic flooding of the field I was in, but still sparkled to raise my pulse.
Big silver comes in a variety of forms, like this pound round I found at the Rush to the Rockies hunt last summer, but few experiences will reward and thrill you like digging a piece of large Colonial silver!
I took a short break after that initial recovery and examined the coin. It was a one real dated 1740, and I could easily see that it had been lost without having been in circulation for a long period of time. The pillars and banners stood out clearly, as did the boldness of the date and crown. Since then, I have found quite a number of early Colonial silver coins, some bigger, some in amazingly better condition, but that first one was a benchmark of sorts, and will always hold a special place in my memories.
These silver dollar-sized "bad boys" of the Colonial era are a real treasure when you find them in the bottom of a hole! Pictured are a Pillar Dollar (top), commonly called a "piece of eight," a British crown dating from the time of King William III (left), and a French silver ecu (right) from the reign of Louis XV. Later in the 18th century, portraits of Spanish kings also began to adorn their coinage.
I may not be able to remember the exact date of the recovery, as 25 years seems to diminish the importance of such things, but I could put you within 3' of where it was dug, and that is the important part... I just might want to go back there again one of these days and see what I missed!
Differing basically in size alone, the half real, real, and two reales are relatively common finds on sites dating from the French & Indian War and the American Revolution. Many are sorely worn as they remained legal tender in the U.S. until the mid-19th century.
For relic hunters, coins are rarely the primary goal of the search. We're looking for other things, and coins of any kind are just the bonus... most of the time. Context has a great deal to do with our recovery of field silver. One slightly humorous and irritating example should suffice for illustration.
Found in most denominations, cobs such as these are striking witness to the lack of technology in coin production in the Spanish colonies. Cut from the end of a bar of silver, hand struck, and shaved to the proper weight, these coins are found on most Colonial sites.
I know this is a terrible use of the English language, but bear with me. That's pretty much the way it came out of his mouth. Be glad I left out the flapping arms and the pigeon dance he was doing!
Two British half crowns from the reign of Queen Anne and George II. The Queen Anne bears the mintmark E beneath the bust, designating the Edinburgh mint, while the George II, with the name LIMA, indicates that the half crown was cast from silver captured in Lima, Peru.
So, where do we find these Colonial beauties of the past? Well, if you're relic hunting, they will turn up on most of the sites you are searching. We don't really know when the hand of Providence will tap us on the shoulder, we're just happy when it does... remember, we're relic hunting and coins are not our primary mission, nor in our primary directive, right? However, if you happen to be primarily a coinshooter, there are a couple of places you might want to check out with your coil.
"There was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile, who found a crooked sixpence..." Well, what he really found was a discarded British love token. In Great Britain, they are often found with the bust of the king or queen fully intact, but here in the States, they are often simply bent silver blanks.
Finding these cellar holes is not too difficult a task. Ask any deer hunter, and he'll probably be able to put you on at least a dozen sites he has run across in the woods. Another way to find these sites is by comparing old maps with current maps of your area. What you will be looking for are early roads that are no longer in use. Not every old dirt road was paved over or made into a two-lane highway. Some backroads stayed that way, slowly cycling into mere trails as they were bypassed. Many of the old dwellings that lined such roads were eventually abandoned, destined to become relic hunting paradises.
Making change in some cases merely meant having a sharp chisel and a hammer of the proper weight! A "bit," or a 1/8 slice of a piece of eight, was valued at 12-1/2, while a quarter of the same Pillar dollar was "two bits," or 25... sound familiar?
No, the type of fords I am talking about are the ones used for crossing rivers and creeks. The sites of old wooden bridges are equally as good. Anywhere that masses of people were funneled through could yield an abundance of old coins. Many times when troops were on the move, a ford was a good place to camp. In times of war, they were strategic places to fortify. On sites occupied by military forces, you'll be digging a lot of relics as well as old coins and silver. (Author's note: If relics are recovered, see Rule #1 under "Cellar Holes.")