Coin Hunting

Way back when I was a coin collector of sorts and had always wondered about the magazine ads stating that I could find old and valuable coins with a metal detector. So after about fifteen minutes of serious thought I purchased a Whites’s Coinmaster from a local dealer, headed to a local park and lo and behold the damn thing worked!  I started finding coins – many of them old and many of them silver. More importantly I found a pastime that I loved and one that would consume me over the coming years. From being a hobbyist, I  became a writer, an organizer, a marketing director and author.

Today I live in northeastern Texas and look forward to digging that next ‘beep’ (and finding that next great bottle of Cabernet)!

Metal detectors in the 70’s, early 80’s were somewhat rudimentary in their design and it was a constant learning experience trying to understand what they were telling you.  I spent a great deal of time just listening to audio signals trying to make heads or tails of them.  A lot of bench testing was the norm, as well as a lot of trial and error in my backyard test plot. It was a worthwhile learning experience and one that detectorists today should go through. It’s seems now everyone’s attention is on the visual and not the audio response .

We used to joke that we could tell the difference in a penny, dime, quarter or nickel…..I still think that maybe I could do that.


If you want to be successful you need to find those sites that will produce the coins you seek. THIS is the most important part of your pastime.

You can have the most expensive detector manufactured and you can have all the time in the world to use it, but if you are not searching in the right places there’s a very good chance you will come home empty-handed.

When I think about researching sites back in the 70’s and 80’s compared to today I wonder how I ever found anything.  The resources available today blow me away.  Check out my link on research.

When it comes to really old coins I often think of my hunting in the UK, France, and the other European countries.  European countries go back hundreds and hundreds of years, and as a result, offer the ultimate in treasure hunting. There, they can pretty much be found wherever you stop your car.   To any of us in the United States, finding a coin from the sixteenth century would be heaven. To the average detectorist in the UK, it’s rubbish. Actually had one of them say this while hunting in a ploughed field near the North Sea.  He broke my heart for sure.



From day one there’s been a controversy over whether or not a coin will sink deeper in the ground over time.  My take?  Who cares?  I suspect they probably do but since we will never know why debate the issue. Forget it and detect…..


If your backyard allows, design and construct a test area.  Bury coins, bottlecaps, pulltabs, nails, foil, soda can, etc..  Buy these objects at varied depths and don’t haphazardly start burying them without giving it some thought.  Lay it out on paper so you remember where each item is buried.  Remember there are different coin sizes, and you need to consider the depths they need to be planted.  There’s obviously no hard and fast rule concerning this but I like to bury my coins about six to ten inches deep.  Also be sure to bury a pulltab near a few coins so that you can practice scanning from various directions to isolate the coin signal. Work with your detector’s programs, settings and searchcoils to learn how it responds to the various items in your test plot.  Practice makes perfect.


I have detected long enough to know that I don’t want to venture out into the field to find clad coins.  Pretty much anyone can do this and I have had my fill of clad coins.  Yes, I know they are spendable but finding them, recovering them, cashing them in, is not time well spent.  I would rather spend three hours searching a very old site and come home with one old and potentially valuable coin than spend one hour at a park and come home with ten dollars in clad. It massages my ego, knowing I did my homework researching and it makes the time spent worth it.

Over the years I have searched areas that seemingly offered nothing in the way of signals only to return at a later date and recover a very old and valuable coin. Why is that? Hard to say. Might have been the weather, the soil, the detector setting, coil size, my mood but in all likelihood it was probably because I just didn’t walk over it before, didn’t nail it with my searchcoil. As they say sh*t happens!

Early 80’s, and my trusty 6000Di Series 2….a real coin getter.


If you are to be a successful coinshooter you must also be an optimistic individual.  The power of positive thinking is more than just a theory to me….it’s a reality! See yourself returning home with valuable, old coins, and you more than likely will.  Venture out troubled or despondent and you will surely come home empty-handed. Not a scientifically proven theory mind you, but one I subscribe to.



Always be prepared for sudden change.  What is sudden change?  It’s an event that happens without warning, offering you only a small window of opportunity  to detect. It might be construction work that eliminated the sidewalks in an older section of town, or it might be that heavy rain or downpour that ended the drought.  It could also be the hurricane that took away two feet of sand at the beach, a drained lake or a flood that carried with it many inches of topsoil.  Whatever the sudden change you must be alert and be ready to reap the potential rewards.


As stupid as it sounds if I want to find old coins I hunt old sites.  I research, I read, I talk to people and I work hard at finding a site that will produce old coins. I know about those school yards down the street and I know about the park downtown.  They are not that old and will most likely result in a lot of clad coins.  Spendable yes – valuable no. If however that’s your cup of tea no problem. Go for it and have fun.  I try to focus on old sites where people gathered, spent money, and returned, over and over again.  

Old homesite near Bowie, in northwest Texas….


If you ever receive a strong signal and want to ignore it, thinking it’s a soda can or some other piece of trash, don’t do it.

A lesson learned many years ago…..

I found a very old athletic field that had also been the site of carnivals, holiday fireworks and other community events. I started searching it and in one particular area I kept getting a very loud audio response and simply passed it off as a large piece of trash. After returning to the site few times and after getting the same response in the same area (first base area) I decided to see what it was and get rid of it. I was flabbergasted to find two Walking Liberty halves and two silver Washington quarters in one hole. They were no more than an inch or two below the surface. Needless to say I never ignored those LOUD responses again.



Nothing beats the glint of silver in the hole…..


Learn to use a probe when hunting any area that is well-kept or manicured. It’s also the surest way to gain access to prime areas within a city or town. The gentleman who sold me my first metal detector, Joe Attinello, a White’s dealer from Milford, New Jersey, was as smooth at recovering a coin as anyone I’ve ever seen. He would bend down and with his probe, touch the coin, lift it to the surface and then quickly move on, without a trace of any digging. A real art, and I still wish I could do it as easily and as fast as he did. I did become better at it, and gained access to many areas I wouldn’t have before.


No matter which detector you are using, pass coins and for that matter, trash items under the coil and carefully analyze the audio responses and visual readouts. Do this over and over again until you start to see a pattern and YES I realize that many objects in the ground will not always be parallel to the searchcoil and that mineralization will play a part in how the target responds in the field. The exercise however will give you some basic understanding of what to expect and I’ve found that many of the LED readouts are pretty consistent.



If you have found an old site that is productive remember to expand its boundaries. The open or searchable area you are hunting now could very well be a condensed version of what “used to be”. Shrubs, trees, groundcover can take over a site and make it much smaller than what it was years ago. Take the extra time to venture into the brush, overgrowth or outlying areas and see what develops. You might be surprised.

1796 Large Cent (Liherty error) found at old colonial home and sold later for $900


Remember coins that are on edge in the ground will sound like nails. Double blips and broken signals. Use as many other verifications as possible….numerical readouts, graphic readouts, etc. and then act accordingly. When in doubt, dig. Never leave a site, wondering.


Hate digging pulltabs? Then reject them but remember you will probably never find that long sought after gold coin.


Coin hunting Bucks County, Pa....early 80's

Coin hunting Bucks County, Pa….early 80’s


Stay with your hunches. If you think an area has something good to offer, don’t cross it off. Come back, and give it a go another time, perhaps utilizing another method of search, another size coil or searching it after a decent rain. Moisture most definitely improves your chances of finding coins. I can’t count the number of times I have returned to a site that I thought was void of finds to find just the opposite after a heavy rain.



You hear the term “hunted out” a lot anymore, and while certainly some areas seemingly are hunted to death, there will always be something left to find. Fewer finds perhaps, but what’s left is all good. Those coins still remaining are probably a little deeper, maybe on edge, and surely older and more valuable. Remember too, any site that has been hunted heavily in the past, is probably devoid of surface trash, making future searches that much easier. All you now have to do is concentrate on are those marginal signals, and from past experience, dig them. Go to All-Metal, change to a larger, deep-seeking coil, and move at a snail’s pace, analyzing anything and everything, both audible and visual. Whenever I hear the term hunted out, I get excited!

Not a "lot" of coins but they are keepers

Not a “lot” of coins but they are keepers


When I accumulate a lot of clad coins, I cash them in and purchase a key or semi-key coin, in either XF or uncirculated condition. Something that will increase in value over the years. I used to be intrigued by large piles of coins in that they represented a lot of effort, but I begin to realize that their value never varied…. a penny is a penny, a nickel, a nickel…etc.. Cash in those clads, and look for that one coin that will mean so much more down the road.



Always try to increase the sensitivity/gain on your detector to where you start encountering chatter. Then back off a notch.  Another thing I’ve found….if you hear one of those “do I dig it or not” whispers, turn your threshold down to “just under audible”, turn your sensitivity up (ignore the chatter),  and see if you can coax a decent numerical readout.



Webster’s New World Dictionary defines Cache as a place in which stores of food, supplies, etc., are hidden….anything so hidden. I mention this because homesteaders, early settlers and landowners did not have easily accessible banks in which to deposit their money, and frankly did not trust them anyway. Giving your life savings to someone else was unsettling, and not at all an action that provided comfort or relief. As a result many old timers concealed their money, their life savings, their pin-money, their stashes, their drinking money or their incomes from illegal gambling.

It’s also been said that many times the man of the house seldom shared the location of his buried treasure with his wife or family. Why? Because he assumed he would outlive everyone, and it was simply the manly thing to do. He was the head of the household, and his wife the housekeeper and childbearer. Like it or not, that was the way things were.

Locating a cache is indeed a challenge, and requires lots of thought, and patience. The premise I go on with every “old” home site I search is that a cache is hidden somewhere on the property. Finding it will be up to me. A reasonable assumption? I think so and while the end result may be that I leave empty-handed, it could also mean that it was there and I simply didn’t find it!

Where to Look for a Cache

Fireplaces(loose bricks), under front porches, root cellars, under large trees, under fence posts, hollow window and doorsills….

Under floorboards, abandoned autos, barns/outbuildings, out houses, planters, attics, cellars, canned food containers, under woodpiles, chicken coops, hollowed stairs, pipes, old tree stumps, under sidewalk stones and farm equipment.

A big head start in finding a money cache is to put your self in the place of the individual who hid it. In other words, if you had a thousand dollars, where would you hide it? Would you hide it inside the house? Outside? If so, where? If you buried it would you bury it deeply? Would you hide it somewhere where you could put your hands on it quickly? The questions are important, because these are indeed the same thoughts the original owner must have had, and they will surely help you narrow your focus.

If it were me, I would bury it outside. Hiding it inside makes it subject to fire, and that’s never a good outcome. Next, when I did bury it. I would make sure I could get to it fast if needed, and I would make sure I could keep any eye on it from inside the house. Lastly I would bury it in a container that would keep the money safe from the elements. Now I know all this doesn’t mean a great deal, but by putting yourself in the place of the individual secreting the money you will more than likely hit the most promising places first.




Drive around your city or town and look for those older homes.  They are usually pretty obvious from their design and construction.  Also look for heaved sidewalks, large trees, etc..  If you are afraid of knocking on doors or rejection, give this a read: KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO’S THERE?



I will always include a mention in any book I write on coin hunting overseas. It is without a doubt the most exciting, the most interesting, and the most profitable coin hunting you will ever do. Finding a coin here from the late 1800’s is exciting, but finding one from before the birth of Christ is without equal.

As a result of my involvement with the metal detecting hobby and industry I have traveled overseas to detect with my counterparts in England and France. These experiences were ones that I shall never forget, and as of this date I am looking forward to returning again, and again.

I consider myself fortunate to have so many friends overseas, and over the past few years I have been invited to spend time in their homes, and to hunt with them in the field. The end result is a lasting friendship, and a camaraderie that has lasted for years.

TH’er Michel Tocque and I, goofing around, Gironde, France

I was never very knowledgeable when it came to American History in High School.To me it was boring, and one of those subjects that seemed to have no bearing whatsoever on my life, then or in the future. Little did I know that I would care a great deal about history later, and little did I know that I would feel lacking when compared to my friends overseas. While I had a hard time remembering what happened 200 years ago, I cannot fathom having to remember what happened well over 2000 years ago… I have been able to hunt Roman sites, Celtic sites and areas that could produce coins of extreme value. My finds were many, and while I cannot retire on them, the excitement they provided shall last me the rest of my life, and I am still looking forward to improving on them in the years ahead. The other side of the coin (no pun intended) is that I now have a close kinship to folks across the sea, and it’s these treasures that can never be duplicated, and are far more valuable than any coin I will ever find.

I will not attempt to tell you about foreign coinage because I am not an authority on the subject. I will state however if you ever have the opportunity to travel to far away places and metal detect… it. You won’t be sorry!

If you are interested in traveling overseas for some great detecting contact:


3095 Kerner Boulevard “H”
San Rafael, California 94901
Phone: 415-457-2910
Website: http://www.Discovery Tours




I am often asked, what is the best thing you’ve ever found, and what do think is the best detector out there. Amazingly the answers are very much related.

The best finds I’ve ever found are varied, depending on the period in my life when I found them, and of course how they related to my prior finds. By that I mean if I found a Liberty Seated Dime on Monday, then found a Capped Bust Dime on Tuesday, the Capped Bust coin would win out. Likewise the detector I used to find it would be the best on the market. Make sense?

Way back when I started metal detecting I used to ask the same questions, used to spend evenings at the dining room table, bench testing whatever detector I had at the time. I would keep notes, wave coins, pulltabs, bottlecaps under the coil, and try to ascertain where they read on the meter and what they sounded like audibly. I was obsessed with the pastime and enjoyed every moment.

I would like to say I still do these things, but I do not. Not that they are not valid, but because I found myself getting caught up in this excessive analysis that often left me confused and frustrated. Technology is changing daily, and metal detectors are part of that trend. What we know today will be old hat tomorrow.

Do yourself a favor, and spend more of your time finding someplace to take your detector, and less time worrying about whether or not it’s the best at that moment.


There are a lot of treasures to found with a metal detector, but old coins will always be my favorite. Their designs were classic, and in my opinion, great works of art. Comparing a Walking Liberty half-dollar, or Buffalo nickel, to their counterparts of today is an effort in futility. The Mint has tried to bring back a few of these designs by offering limited edition collector’s replicas, but nothing will match the eye-catching, everyday silver coinage of yesterday!

The Walking Liberty Half and Buffalo Nickel…classics!


Admire them, appreciate them, search for them, collect them and put them away for a rainy day….



10 responses to “Coin Hunting

  1. Dave McCarthy

    That was great Dick . . thanks !

  2. Great collection of posts.
    For me, nothing beats seeing that coin edge protruding from the dirt. Especially when that edge is silver. Haven’t found a gold coin yet. Yet.

  3. Me too. Don’t feel bad….I have yet to find a gold coin or silver dollar. Maybe tomorrow.

  4. Dave McCarthy

    No silver dollar in all of your years of hunting ? I guess I am extremely lucky. I found one on my second outing with my AT Pro last year. A very disfigured morgan dollar that had survived a house fire. Obverse is obliterated, and only traces of the reverse with an “O” mintmark are left to identify it as an actual coin.

  5. Dave, I have always been disappointed in not finding a silver dollar, but when I think about it, it was one large coin. Not about to be overlooked by the loser. At least that’s my reasoning….trying to keep myself from crying.


  7. Thanks Larry, appreciate the kind words.

  8. Thanks Dick. I just received a new detector a few days ago and I know that your info will be very helpful for finding valuable relics. I appreciate your help…..