By Frank Colletti
Sitting in my chair on an early Saturday morning, I watched the rain pour down and decided that the day was going to be a bust. Instead of just sitting there, I decided to work on my metal detecting logs and fondly remembered some nice finds as I recapped my finds for the last couple of months. Later the skies finally cleared and as I got into my car I decided not to go too far, since it could start to rain again.
Those logs came to mind and, after hitting a few different playgrounds and clearing out the loose change, I had found no jewelry and decided that there had to be a better place to check out. So, I decided to return to an old school where I hadn’t been in months but where I had done very well in the past. On previous visits, the school had yielded up several gold rings and quite a few silver coins, plus a number of large cents and one piece of Spanish silver, a two reales that dated to the late 1700s. Remembering those successes, I drove over there and waved to the security guards as I entered the parking lot, I had introduced myself months ago and they all knew that I had permission to hunt the fields. Also, they knew that I always removed all of the trash that I found. In addition, I never left any holes for the kids to fall into and hurt themselves. That is the quickest way to get yourself uninvited to detect an area, leave a number of holes around a field and let someone trip and fall in one of them, it is also a good way to get into a lot of trouble if one of those kids really hurts themselves.
Pulling into my favorite parking spot I pulled out my Whites DFX and fired it up, ground balancing it as I walked to the soccer field. As I looked up I slid to a halt and noticed that the football field looked like a disaster area out of a World War II movie, the entire field had been torn up and there were a number of bulldozers and other pieces of heavy equipment sitting there. The old football field had looked very nice to me, in fact, it appeared to be one of the nicer ones in the area. However, the powers that be had apparently received money in their budget and, as usually happened in that instance, rather than save the money, they worked under the old “use it or lose it” premise of municipal funding. So, there I was standing in the remnants of the old football field. As I surveyed the area I realized that I would have to be careful to avoid the heavy equipment, since I didn’t want the security forces to think that I could get hurt and ask me to leave. Besides, it doesn’t do any good to get too close, since the metal of the machinery will just sound off in the detector. Starting in the old end zone, I worked patterns and it quickly seemed that there was little but trash left for me to detect. I had to stop frequently to empty the trash out of my pouch, since it was weighing me down.
Finally, there was a nice hit and at about three inches a wheatie (wheat cent from 1909 to 1958) popped out the ground. Well, when there are wheaties there should be silver, so I continued working the field with renewed hope. Within a few more minutes I got another nice hit and popped out a large copper coin, which I rinsed in a nearby puddle. It was obvious that it was a large cent, of the Braided Hair type that was issued from 1839 to 1857, and then I carefully placed it in a plastic vial that I carry with me. The vial is filled with water and keeps the dirt moist on the coin so that it will be easier to clean later at home. The soil, if not kept wet, will turn hard and crusty and becomes extremely difficult to remove, sometimes adhering as though it is concrete onto the coin, especially if it is copper.
The day seemed to get brighter, as it does whenever I find early coins, especially large cents like this. Continuing the patterns that I had been working when I had found the large cent, I continued without hearing a beep except for trash for over a half an hour before I finally got that nice tone that usually meant something good. The DFX signaled a target at about four to five inches, and suddenly, I was holding another large cent. Another trip to the puddle for a quick rinse and careful placement in the bottle with the other coin, and I was off to the races. It seemed as though that was going to be all for the day when I got another of those “dig here” tones and then, for the first time ever, I was looking at another large cent. I had only found two large cents in one day a couple of times, but I was sure that three was my personal record for one day, in fact probably my record for a month! I couldn’t believe it but here I was with three large cents in less than a full morning out in the field. Several times I stopped, put my detector carefully on the ground and opened my pouch to check that I had really found three large cents, strangely each time they were still there. My time was drawing to a close, and there was only a little bit of the field left before the field was done and I had to leave.
Just as I was about to pack up I got one last hit and uncovered another of those beautiful large coppers. Another rinse and into the bottle. I had to go and I hoped that they wouldn’t finish the field before next weekend, since the next day was Monday and I couldn’t go back before the next weekend. I planned to go back and work patterns in the opposite directions and parallel to the way that I had worked the fields that morning. Packing up, I waved to the security guards who waved me over and thanked me for removing all of the trash that morning. I had not realized it, but they had been watching me as I kept returning to the trash barrels and dumped the trash whenever the pouch had gotten too heavy.
Later that evening, after dinner, I took a few minutes to start the process of cleaning off the large cents. Normally I rub them under warm water and carefully try to remove most of the soil by hand. Then, since the coins have little numismatic value, I soap them up and carefully rub them with a soft toothbrush. After several treatments like this the details of the coin will usually appear, and with any luck, so will the date. The final results for the day were three large cents and one large cent from Canada, actually a Canadian token dated 1837. Although it is not worth a lot of money it is a nice historical reminder that money traveled across borders even in those days, until the day that the coin was lost and sank into the earth just waiting for the day that I would come along and rescue it from its dirty tomb.
The following weekend I was able to return to the field and the equipment was still there, although moved about a bit, so I was able to work some areas that had been covered the previous weekend. That day only provided one more large cent, but I continued to return for the next two weekends carefully working patterns both parallel to my original patterns and vertical to them, until I felt that I had been able to uncover most of the treasures that lay beneath that soil, which included another two large coppers, although they were British, they were still fun finds.
Since that time I often stop by and look at that field, remembering the day of large cents and coppers that had been hidden for so long until I had finally gotten the chance to detect there. The area is now well used and the grass in back but I now watch for them to start working on another area, a very large soccer field that I know just has to have another bunch of coppers for me to find. In addition, I watch as I drive past other schools carefully checking for bulldozers or other signs that they may be redoing the fields. You never know when opportunity will come knocking and how short the window of opportunity will be, so be prepared to hit the area as soon as you can.