A Very Memorable DayBy Frank J. Colletti
From page 44 of the May, 1999 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © May, 1999 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved
The year 1804 was a rather amazing one for our young nation. The Declaration of Independence had been signed only 28 years before, and the Constitution had become the law of the land within the memory of most of those alive at the time. Just think, George Washington had become the first President of the United States only 15 years before and Thomas Jefferson, our third President, was in office for his first term. The Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the country, had been approved by Congress only the year before, and Lewis and Clark were just starting their expedition to try to learn what President Jefferson had purchased.
Numismatically, there were just seven different denominations coined that year: half cents, cents, half dimes, quarters, dollars, half eagles ($5), and eagles ($10). Although mint records show that 19,570 dollars were minted, they were most likely dated 1803, since the mint commonly used dies until they were worn out. The famous 1804 silver dollar was probably first struck in 1834. There are a total of 15 pieces known of the 1804 silver dollar, in two types.
Of all of the coins minted that year, the half cent was minted in the largest quantity, for a total of 1,055,316. Remember, the infant mint had been in existence for only 11 years when these coins were produced. The mint frequently produced coinage in the denominations that they had blank planchets available for, and not based upon the demands of commerce. Their production of coinage that year is especially amazing when you consider that this is less than the current daily production of coinage at the Philadelphia mint.
Memorial Day 1996 was a day I shall remember as one that was to become especially memorable for me. The day started off as less than optimum for detecting. Rain had been falling since the night before and it didn't end until 11 a.m. At that time, my wife, Ilene, suggested I go out for two hours, since she knows I'm miserable when I don't get the opportunity to go out.
I couldn't decide where to go and finally decided to retry one school that had produced gold for me before; two months before it had produced an 1816 large cent and a George II British large cent from approximately 1770. Both coins had come from about 4 inches in depth, so I felt there was a possibility for more. Also, on one of my first trips there I had dug two gold rings and spotted a large gold hoop earring on the surface, so I thought "GOLD" as I got out my car. Although I do enjoy history, the year 1804 was probably the last thing on my mind as I fired up my machine.
I worked my way to the "gold field" and noticed the groundskeepers had mowed their way across half of the football field and had then stopped, leaving a nice straight line of short and tall grass that I could use as a marker for my search pattern. I had just started working the line when my White's Spectrum XLT rang out a solid signal that read 74 on the VDI and 2 inches in depth. Since this usually means a copper cent, and occasionally a wheat cent, I was not very excited, however, I dug anyway. At exactly two inches a round disk popped out. Larger than a cent, it was about the size of a quarter. I rechecked the VDI reading and still got a 74 on the scale. Oh well, probably a piece of junk. I picked it up and noticed the weight was too heavy for a bottle cap. My first reaction was that it was possibly a 2-cent piece. I had previously dug seven of those, all dated 1864, and this coin was the correct size.
A quick field cleaning and I spotted the Draped Bust of Liberty. At this point my hands started shaking, since I realized what I had. A little more careful cleaning and I saw the date 1804! An 1804 half cent.
I had never found a half cent before, although I have found 13 large cents; the earliest had been 1816 and never a Draped Bust type.
I carefully put the coin in the jar of water that I always carry with me, and then continued slowly working patterns around the area, hoping this was not an isolated find. When it was finally time to leave, I had found other modern coins, including one hole with 10 clad coins, one silver Roosevelt dime (1946 P) and a gold chain, but no other obsolete coinage.
When I returned home, I carefully removed the coin and washed it gently in warm water and soap. Unbelievably, the coin showed detail that it was probably in extremely fine condition when it was dropped. After 192 years, the ground had done its damage to the right side of the obverse and the reverse was difficult to read at first.
Later research revealed that there were five major types produced that year and, although mine was not the rarest of the five, it was not the most common. Careful study showed that the coin was the Plain 4, stemless variety, which had a Trends ("Coin World's" listing of current values) of $30 in Good-4.
Naturally, since my coin was slightly damaged and is in dug condition, it would not bring that price, but, regardless of its resale value, it was a Draped Bust coin and it was a half-cent. The most surprising part was that, although the half-cent was coined for 65 years, I had never found one before. More research was required. Over the 65-year history, the total mintage of the coin was less than 8,000,000 pieces (with several periods where the denomination was ignored, or nearly so - 1812 to 1824 with no production and 1840 to 1849 with proof coins only). Consider that the total production of 8,000,000 was less than the 2 cent piece's mintage during one year (1864 was nearly 20 million!)
At least it became more logical why I had never dug a half cent before. So, if you haven't found one yet, just keep searching those places where you have located large cents, perhaps one of these little treasures awaits you. After all, it took seven years and just over 60,000 coins for me to find my first one. For me it was truly a memorable day.