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My 2 Cents

Posted by on January 27, 2013

1866-2-cent-before-cleaning-featureIt seems as though my passion for metal detecting and unearthing relics bore its roots from the same soil that has given me some of my best finds. As a child, never could I have imagined that there were amazing, really old coins buried under the very grass that I was tearing up with my sneakers, BMX bikes, and 3-wheeler (a fun relic).

All my hunts at my childhood home have been short, but have each produced a great find! Last year I found a silver 1891 Canadian Half Dime after just minutes of detecting, while my mom watched from above on her backyard deck. What more would this property have to offer? Subsquent hunts in 2012 yielded mostly aluminum siding scraps and rusty nails, but did produce a cool Shell Gas Station token. This year I was determined to find some good stuff. The house dates back to 1880 and local yore (the old lady who used to live up the block) said it was the only house on the block for a long time. Now powered with a Minelab CTX 3030 metal detector (a top-of-the-line machine) and aided by unseasonably warm weather, I was anxious to get out and hunt!

Early this January, I returned from a 3-day business trip exhausted. I went to bed early and my biggest nemesis decided to show up: insomnia. Once again, I was up at midnight and simply couldn’t get back to sleep. At around 3am I decided to stop trying, got up and began catching up on work. By the time I witnessed yet another sunrise, I had gotten a lot done and was feeling pretty good. But as the morning dragged on, I too began to drag.

Working from home and as lunchtime approached, I felt like it was a good time to lie down and chill for a bit. My wife and daughter were at a Gymboree class, and all was quiet. But I felt like lying down would only make things worse, so why not metal detect? My childhood home is just blocks away and I could easily get a half hour in. And off I went!

Armed with my new detector I scored a wheat penny right off the bat. So I searched the surrounding area but found nothing but junk. Oh well, let me try the front lawn. Junk, aluminum shards, more junk  and more aluminum shards. Sigh… maybe I should have just relaxed on the couch. With my lunch hour nearing its end, I decided to return to the backyard and focus my search at the base of a tree. Right at the base I was getting a few signals. Some good, some junky. A big advantage of the Minelab CTX 303 is its ability to identify multiple targets at once, and it was doing its job. I dug a small plug and popped it out of the ground. My Pro Pointer picked up my target underneath some loose, dry dirt. I picked it up and held it and it was… a coin? My brain tried to make sense of it: “Yes, a coin! I think? Yes, a coin! But what coin? It HAS to be old. I don’t recognize the size at all!” I snapped a pic and texted James my find: “Found coin. ID TBD.”

This is what it looked like:

2 cent coin pre-cleaning

What is it?

I ran home (OK, I drove home) and gently cleaned off some dirt with mild soapy water. I could make out what looked to be a wreath, but I didn’t recognize the design. I got James on the phone and was giving him a play-by-play as I referenced my coin app. What could it be? As I scrolled through photos in the nickel category, I came upon a 2 cent coin and the slight design I could see looked dead on. “James, if this is what I think it is, I’m going to freak out!”

The app says a 2 cent coin measures 23mm in diameter. I quickly retrieved a caliper that I recently bought at Harbor Freight measured it. 20mm!? No! I measured again. 20mm. This cannot be. I regrouped and decided to measure just using a ruler and NOT the caliper. 23mm!!!! I was so excited that I almost fell over. And I learned a valuable lesson: spend more than 99 cents on a caliper. James was still on the phone to hear my freak-out session, but I imagine he would have done the same.

When I find a coin, I clean it. I’m not concerned about reselling it, so I can take some steps that coin collectors may not agree with. That being said, these are tried and true steps that many a metal detector has done with very good results, which don’t harm the coin in any way. So with that said, I dropped the coin into a boiling mug of hydrogen peroxide. She bubbled up like champagne on New Year’s Eve! After about 10 minutes I took the coin out and rubbed it with the tip of the toothpick, and the dirt was melting off. I could see a 2, and a date:


Awesome! In 1866, there were only 1,377,000 2-cent coins minted. To put that number in perspective, in 2011 there were over 4 billion pennies produced.

I repeated the hot peroxide bath and toothpick sequence about 5 or 6 times, but the baths got longer. The last one I soaked the coin overnight. I think she’s as good as she’s going to get. Behold!

1866 U.S. 2 Cent Coin

1866 U.S. 2 Cent Coin

This has been a thrilling find for me. And since I was on a very short hunt, I was confident that more opportunities were waiting back on my childhood property. I would be back!

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