Hunting for Gold

You may recall, from one of the first blog posts I made that a family member of the previous owner said that there were gold coins buried on the property.  You didn't think I'd let that one go, did you?

So, how do you find buried treasure?  Obviously I have to purchase a metal detector.  At first I settled on this one because it's also a remotely operated underwater submarine but unfortunately it wasn't well suited for my purposes so I couldn't justify it.

After researching my options, I realized that like most things I would like to buy, my actual ability to operate them is mainly in my head.  All things take experience and skill, some things more than others.  After reading about the various metal detectors I determined that there would be two possible outcomes:

  • I would find nothing.
  • I would not realize I'd found something, thus, find nothing.

In need of an expert, I searched for a person who detects metal and found that while they are probably out there, they weren't making it easy for me to find them.  But then I remembered an episode of one of my favorite podcasts from last year where they talked about a couple who lost a ring and were devastated.  I think it was a family heirloom wedding ring and they lost it IN THE OCEAN.  Seemed bleak.  But then, they got in contact with a group that called themselves 'The Ring Finders'.  The Ring Fingers dabbled in the arcane arts of finding lost shit.  They called a number and a Ring Finder showed up at the beach.  If I recall, he was utterly confident.  He was like, "brb folks!",  and waded into the ocean. He walked back out with the couple's ring in his had.  It made an impression on me.  He didn't even charge them.  These guys work for donations and for the joy of helping people.  I don't remember all the details, but you can listen to it for yourself if you are curious.  If you are looking for a good podcast, I recommend 'Reply All' (and just about anything else Gilet Media produces).

I googled 'The Ring Finders' to see if it really existed and found their web site.  It seemed like whomever made the website stole the graphics from one of those cash-for-gold operations.  Not holding that against them too much, I used their search tools and found that we had a Ring Finder in Portland.

His name is Del Witters.

I reached out to Del with my 'can you help me find burried gold in my yard' request.  I figured he'd ignore me.  I would have ignored me.  When an adult asks another adult to go treasure hunting the answer should be no.  It's not like I was searching for something that was likely to be real.

Del said that of course he'd help me and suggested a date.

Del is a retired military officer and a pilot.  He flew Hueys, Cobra attack helicopters and a few others for the Army.  Then he transferred to the Coast Guard and flew rescue missions.  So we are all on the same page, rescue missions at sea flown in the worst possible weather.  The weather is usually why people need to be rescued.  Del is literally a life saver.

 I felt a little guilty watching him look for gold in my yard.  While he methodically searched the muddy garden, he talked to me about how his equipment worked, what he was looking for and stories about finding peoples rings.  He also talked about his service.  He connected the feeling he got saving peoples lives lost at sea to finding people's lost precious rings.  He seemed to be a person whose brain was hard wired on the help setting.

The Ring Finder was good at this.

We found stuff.  Stuff like you see above.  I operated the big shovel for The Ring Finder.  From previous blog posts you know that there may have been a car chopping operation going on in the yard. So, you can imagine, the machine was going off all the time.  The Ring Finder had to discern between different types of metal, shapes and other noise.  It was hard and we dug a lot of holes.

After we searched the yard, The Ring Finder asked me where I'd like him to look next. Still feeling guilty about wasting this hero's time, I paused.  I was anxiously awaiting for this to all be over so I could shake his hands and never speak to anyone about what I'd done.

But, while that was what I was thinking in my head, what came out of my mouth was "the previous owner's daughter said that Dad burried the gold under the porch".

The Ring Finder went to it.

I watched from a safe, less muddy distance.  At the far end of the porch, The Ring Finder let out a holler and said he found something.

He told me scamper on over and take a look.

He said that it was a very old coin.

A silver dollar from the 1800s.

Holy shit.  We really did find treasure.  A 1888 Morgan Silver Dollar.  The Ring Finder loves old coins and we were both really excited.  This is one of the oldest coins he's ever found and the fact that it was a silver dollar made it even better.

We talked about the coin for a while.  The Ring Finder imagined how someone working on the house, when it was originally being built, didn't notice the coin slipping out of his pocket and then quickly lost it in the upturned soil.  The coin would have been the equivalent of a half day of hard work based on labor rates at the time.  One thing is for certain, he would have noticed he lost it and would have been disappointed.  He may have had to tighten his belt a little that week because of the lost income.  A dollar would have purchased 25 pounds of sugar, 7 pounds of coffee or 6 pounds of bacon in early the 1900s.  Maybe he would appreciate how, around 120 years later, two people were really excited to have finally found his lost coin.

We called it a day.  It took about 4 hours to search the property.  We shook hands and parted ways.

Later that evening Del called and I could tell he was a little distraught.  He said that he'd consulted his coin references and found some bad news.  Apparently the Morgan Silver Dollar is a favorite coin for counterfeiters.  The 1888 silver coin we found had a 'CC' marking just below the eagle.  This means it was minted at the Carson City mint in Nevada.  He looked up the details for the coin and found it couldn't have been produced there in 1888 because no Morgans were minted in Carson City that year.

Personally, I was thrilled about the news.  I had a COUNTERFEIT old coin.  This is some gangster shit.  But Del was really down about it.  He said he was about to go into the metal detecting internet forums and tell all his friends about what he'd found.  But now it didn't matter.  Apparently when you find a fake coin, nobody cares.

He sent me a few links for reference to confirm what he was talking about.  First, the coin was a little orangish.  It should look more like silver.  But the date was a dead giveaway.  He said I could weigh it and it would probably been way off.

When I got home, I put the coin on a scale.  Del said the real coins were around 400 grains.  The imposters were half that weight.  I have a fairly precise scale that measures in grams.  I put the coin on it.  26 grams.

Ok, ok.  400 grains it is.  But Del was sure it was fake because of the date.  I looked up how to clean an old coin.  Apparently you can use Taco Bell Hot Sauce.  However, if you read to the bottom of the document, it says to clean Morgan Silver Dollars, use a paste of water and baking soda and rub it in with your thumbs.  It started to get shinier.  I'm going to admit to you now that my thumbs got tired so I used a sponge.  I'm sure that makes a coin person like Del cringe.  He'd already told me he doesn't make it a habit of rubbing old coins.  Seeing me scrub this one would have been hard for hm to watch.  Who gives a shit anyway because it's fake.

Except it's not.  Once I cleaned it up, the date is very clear.  1882.  Not only did the Carson City mint make this coin in 1882, its considered to be one of their rarest years.  The coin is even more valuable than we originally thought.

I contacted Del to confirm.  He agreed.  It's a real 1882 Carson City Morgan.

I used to sail boats off the California coast and in other parts of the world.  I also used to fly airplanes.  Both of these activities are less lonely and scary because of the US Coast Guard.   I've been in trouble a few times and while I never called the Coast Guard, I knew they were there and it made a difference.  I can't describe adequately how it makes you feel when you are in foreign waters, a long way from home, on a sail boat, with blue ocean in every direction you look, and you happen to see a United States Coast Guard cutter cruise by on the horizon. 

I'm a veteran of the Army but I'm not one to gratuitously wave the American flag around or get all worshipy about supporting our troops.  It's a hard job.  My father wore a bullet proof vest to school for a while as a high school principal in Southern California at the request from the local police department.  Also a hard job.  I am however an unashamed fan-boy when it comes to the Coast Guard.  The Coast Guard is legit.  After all, it was established by the famous rapper Alexander Hamilton back in 1790.

In the late 1800s, around the time that the coin Del found was being minted in Carson City, the Coast Guard manual contained this description of how to do the job:

"In attempting a rescue, ... he will not desist from his efforts until by actual trial, the impossibility of effecting a rescue is demonstrated. The statement of the keeper that he did not try to use the boat because the sea or surf was too heavy will not be accepted, unless attempts to launch it were actually made and failed."

Thats tells you what it's like to be in the Coast Guard.  You don't get to look outside at the storm and say that it looks too bad to go out today.  Del flew helicopters into the worst shit, found what was lost, held the helicopter steady in gale force winds, and lowered his rescue swimmer into the water to save hapless citizens like me who got in over their heads.

After cleaning it up a bit more, I mailed Del the coin he found so he could add it to his collection.  Thanks Del.