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A Large “Cents” of Satisfaction

Posted by on July 30, 2012

My family and I were very fortunate to be invited to my wife’s cousin’s house in the Sterling, NY, area for a long weekend. It’s a 6-hour drive from our home, but well worth the trip, as it offers a much-needed break from the hustle/bustle of living in a town of 70,000 people. Upstate NY in general is an idyllic mix of farmland, open space, and forest. The area where we stayed is no different: Our hosts live on 46 beautiful acres that are a mix of cornrows and open fields. Of course, to a treasure seeker like me, this open land brought a sense of excitement over what might be hidden underneath the soil. Needless to say, in addition to spending quality family time and catching up on our lives, I was looking forward to getting out and exploring.

Saturday morning, as we walked our hosts’ spacious property, I filled them in on my hobby and the many finds I had unearthed on prior metal detecting excursions. They were genuinely intrigued, but none moreso than their 11- and 7-yr-old boys. I promised them that when we returned home after a morning trip to Fairhaven Beach State Park, we would explore their property to see what treasures lurked there. I had brought my backup detector so they could have at it themselves right alongside me.

Later that afternoon, we set out. It was hard to choose where to start when presented with such a great amount of land. We decided on the front of their house and worked our way towards the street—an area of about 200 yards—bound on both sides by row after row of cornstalks.

I was a little leery that I had oversold the hobby of metal detecting when after five minutes no good targets were found. Shortly thereafter, though, I got a strong mid-tone hit. I took the opportunity to show the boys how to dig a plug, operate a hand-held poinpointer, and scan the hole for the target. Sure enough, they located the target, which turned out to be half a horseshoe. They immediately ran to their father to show him what we unearthed. Though in the grand scheme of things this particular find was not noteworthy, I felt like I was passing the joy of this hobby to a new generation right before my eyes.

Well, after two hours in the strong summer sun, we had little to show for our efforts but the aforementioned horseshoe, a modern key, and a few bullets. My AT Pro (with iron audio enabled) showed a lot of iron on their property, but the higher non-ferrous metals had proved elusive; not even a single clad penny sounded off on our detectors up to that point. To make matters worse, the ground was rock hard due to a prolonged lack of rain, which made digging any target downright back-breaking. I have to hand it to my 2 young apprentices; despite the conditions, they were just as determined as I to dig a good target—there were just no solid targets to be had!

A call that dinner was ready ended our afternoon of hunting. I felt discouraged that I was unable to really impart the thrill of a great find with the two boys or to all that had gathered at our hosts’ house for dinner. One of the biggest misconceptions about metal detecting is that nothing ever is found or, if it is, it’s only a random penny or a piece of junk. Though I know that to be untrue, I didn’t do much to dispel that false assumption and I felt pretty rotten about it.

The next morning, with our family’s departure fast-approaching, I set out again with one of the two boys. We headed out to their side yard this time, an area of about 50 yards that abuts a cornfield. Finally, after what was now three hours total hunting time on their property, I got a solid, promising hit—a high tone with a VDI that jumped back and forth between 88 and 92. What made this hit intriguing was that, unlike a few prior high tones I came across, this one didn’t have a wide signal area. Wide signal areas are indicative of large targets; large targets almost always turn out to be junk—e.g., a long, thin piece of scrap metal—and not the cache of coins you hoped for. Comparatively, coins sound off as shorter blips.

With a promising target now located, I signaled to my young hunting companion to come over. I told him that I had a great hit and he could sense my enthusiasm because he really hadn’t yet been exposed to it. I pinpointed with my machine to acquire the exact spot and then dug a 4-inch deep plug. My apprentice checked both the hole and plug with the pinpointer but it didn’t signal. I dug some more and there was still no signal from the pinpointer. “Hmmm,” I thought, “the detector’s signal wouldn’t be so loud if the target was this deep.” I decided to rescan the target with my detector. Turns out that the signal’s epicenter was slightly to the left; apparently I had poorly pinpointed with my detector the first time. I took out my gator digger and cut the plug a little wider, essentially digging a 4-inch deep side plug. A scan of the pinpointer in the hole indicated that the target was near. My apprentice dipped his hand in the hole and pulled out a large, gray round coin. I instantly had an idea of what it was by its size. Sure enough, after a careful wipe with my glove, I recognized the left-facing bust of a maiden head large cent—my first large cent! I was overjoyed and my little friend could tell we had unearthed something special. I slapped him five and told him that this kind of find doesn’t happen every day. We were both excited and, after filling the holes, immediately swung our detectors to see if we could find more keepers. Well, a little while later we stopped with nothing more unearthed, but we knew we had a great find in hand regardless.

Matron Head large cent, circa early- to mid-1800s.

Matron Head large cent, circa early- to mid-1800s.

We walked into our hosts’ home where the rest of the family gathered in anticipation of our departure and impending good-byes, and I held up the coin. Everyone wanted to see it and they were all captivated by the sight of this old relic that was freshly plucked from the earth. I promised them that I would take the coin home, carefully clean it, and try to determine its date, as none was readily legible.

After judicious cleaning (though it didn’t clean up as well as I’d hoped), I could make out the last digit, 7, which would make it “18_7.” Thanks to the knowledgeable folks on, and based on some distinguishing features, it was determined to be an 1837 mintage.

I’m overjoyed that I finally found a large cent, as I’ve coveted these coins for a long time and have read with jealousy many others’ stories of such discoveries. However, what makes this particular find so memorable was not just that it was my first large cent; it was the sense of adventure I imparted on 2 young boys in the process. It’s a great thing to have a hobby that brings you great joy; it’s a much better thing to share it with others.

As such, now that I have a proper date and ID, I will be encasing the coin and will send it to the boys to keep as a tangible memory of that day and the history that lies beneath our feet. Hopefully, it will also serve to remind them of all the “treasures” that are attainable to us only if we have patience and enduring faith that they are there in the first place.

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